How Long Does It Take to Detox From Alcohol?

 

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Alcohol Withdrawal: Physical Symptoms of Alcohol Detox

Everyone will experience alcohol detox differently. However, most people will experience at least some of the following withdrawal symptoms:2

  • Racing heart beat
  • Increased blood pressure
  • Fever
  • Sweating
  • Headache
  • Mood swings
  • Anxiety
  • Confusion
  • Agitation
  • Seizures
Seizures are the most dangerous of the acute alcohol withdrawal symptoms. They occur because your brain and the cells within it actually begin to change as they grow accustomed to the persistent presence of alcohol and its sedating effects throughout your system.

When alcohol is abruptly removed from your system, your brain struggles to adjust to the rebounding level of stimulation. Sometimes the brain can’t keep up with all this new excitatory neuronal activity, and this can result in a seizure.3

The risk of seizure remains high, in some cases, for several days after the last drink. Therefore, it is vital to your treatment course that you begin with detox and have all of the alcohol removed from your body first. Beginning treatment for alcohol abuse after safely completing detox is the best way to set yourself up to maintain sobriety — that way, the most physically uncomfortable part is over, and you can focus your efforts on recovery.

What to Expect from Alcohol Detox

The severity of a person’s withdrawal during detox is closely related to how severe and long-standing his or her addiction has been to that point.It is important to keep in mind that your experience of detox — its severity and duration — can differ from what you read here or what you may have observed in other people. Exactly how your detox progresses will be influenced by many factors, so it’s difficult to determine with accuracy what course your detox may take.

However, it is possible to get a general time frame for the detox process, complete with the progression of symptoms.

The First Hours of Alcohol Detox. Cravings are some of the first symptoms of alcohol withdrawal, and a definitive sign that the body is beginning the detox process.

  • Cravings can occur within hours of taking a final drink and continue far into the detox process.

The first hours of detox may also involve symptoms such as:2

  • Physical sickness.
  • Anxiety, depression, or irritability.
  • Spikes in heart rate and blood pressure.
  • Nightmares, insomnia.
  • Tremors: Physical tremors are quite common for all levels of alcohol addiction.
  • For more extensive addictions, symptoms may persist and get progressively worse throughout the detox process.

 

The First Two Days of Alcohol Detox. After the initial hours of detox come more severe symptoms of alcohol withdrawal, which can range from from hallucinations to deadly seizures.

The symptoms that develop within the first two days of detox can become life-threatening as the brain reacts to alcohol leaving the system.2

  • Hallucinations are possible during this stage of detox.
  • Seizures are possible as well, most commonly in the first 12 to 48 hours after the last drink, but can continue for days after the process begins.3
  • Rapid heart rate will continue and chest pain may arise, which may indicate heart or blood pressure issues.
  • Delirium tremens: a severe, dangerous effect of acute alcohol withdrawal (see below for symptoms).4
  • For many, the detox process does not end at 48 hours.
  • Severe or long-standing cases of alcohol addiction may require particularly close monitoring for days after the decision to detox is made.

The Rest of the Alcohol Detox Process. Detox can continue for many days after the initial withdrawal symptoms develop. It is likely that your cravings will grow and physical discomfort will increase somewhat as detox gets underway. If present, and not managed closely, seizure activity may continue and also increase in severity.

After the first 48 hours of detox, seizure risk will begin to lessen in many cases. However, continued medical observation may be required, as the risk of extreme confusion and cardiovascular events such as heart attack, and even stroke remains elevated.

These symptoms usually occur within 48 to 96 hours after the last drink, but occasionally they have a delayed onset, starting between 7 and 10 days after the last drink.2

Delirium tremens symptoms include:4

  • Body tremors.
  • Agitation or irritability.
  • Fever and sweating.
  • Extreme confusion or disorientation.
  • Rapid mood changes.
  • Hallucinations.
  • Seizures.

As mortality rates in unmanaged cases of delirium tremens are quite high, sedating medications, diligent supervision, and supportive care will be important until the health risks subside over the course of a few days.

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