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How Long Does It Take to Detox From Alcohol?

The Detox Process
Detox is a process in which your body processes the remaining alcohol out of your system. It can last anywhere from a few days to a few weeks. Seizures and delirium tremens are the major risks and can be fatal. Medically assisted detox is recommended for people who have been drinking for a long period of time.

Man at table with alcohol bottleAlcohol is one of the most common substances of abuse in our society. Statistics from the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism show that 43% of men have engaged in binge drinking, and the duration of abuse ­— prolonged and severe alcoholism — can lead to the accumulation of a number of devastating consequences on a person’s life.1

Alcohol dependency leads to health problems that encompass both the physical and psychological aspects of a person’s life. The best decision you can make for yourself is to choose to end your battle with alcoholism.

What Is Detox?

Detoxification, or detox, is the first phase of substance abuse recovery. It involves a period of time after your last drink that you dedicate to ridding all of the alcohol or toxins in your body so that you can begin treatment with a clean slate.

The primary goal of detox is to safely and comfortably embark upon a period of abstinence at the start of the recovery process. Once you are clean, recovery can begin.

Why Is It Necessary to Detox Properly from Alcohol?

Alcohol can be one of the most dangerous substances to detox from. As detox progresses, withdrawal symptoms may become life-threatening, so professional medical monitoring is often necessary in many cases of abuse and dependency.While the importance of physically ridding yourself of alcohol is stressed in detoxification, it is also important to evaluate for any of the psychological factors that often accompany severe alcohol dependence, since they are likely to complicate treatment and evaluation plans.

Some detox facilities — especially high-end luxury programs, that are designed to offer one-on-one care — may make assessments about individual psychopathology during detox so that any psychological issues may be managed properly.

It is important that you understand that the struggle doesn’t end with this decision; the treatment can be uncomfortable. Detox can be the most difficult part of the treatment process because the body struggles without the presence of alcohol that it has grown accustomed to, and this can lead to painful withdrawal symptoms.

Alcohol Withdrawal: Physical Symptoms

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

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.

Risk Factors for Delirium Tremens

Man experiencing symptoms in bedDelirium tremens won’t develop in every recovering drinker, but because it is so dangerous you should have a physician or other addiction treatment professional assess your risk in order to best prepare for potential complications.

The rapidity of onset and severity of symptoms can depend on how much and how often a person drank.

Risk factors for developing delirium tremens during alcohol withdrawal include:4

  • The cessation of drinking after a time of drinking heavily.
  • Not eating enough food during a period of chronic or heavy drinking.
  • Head injury, infection, or illness in a person with a history of heavy drinking.
  • History of alcohol withdrawal experiences.
  • Drinking a lot or often for more than 10 years.

Alcohol detox and withdrawal can be physically and psychologically taxing — health complications, cravings, and mood swings are not uncommon. This sounds like scary information, but it’s important to know the detox process inside and out, especially when you have a severe dependency.

Can I Do It at Home?

Even if you decide that you’d prefer to detox from alcohol abuse at home, finding professional supervision is extremely important.Alcohol detox and withdrawal carry the risk of extreme health consequences, including hallucinations, seizures, and death. Finding a proper detox program — whether it be conducted on an inpatient or outpatient basis — is paramount to your recovery safety.

There are outpatient recovery programs that allow you to work through recovery from home, but you should consult with your healthcare provider before committing to outpatient detox, as it may not be the most appropriate option in all instances.

Relatively mild symptoms of withdrawal may be managed at home with appropriate medications and frequent check-ins with a supervising physician. However, it is difficult to predict every last withdrawal development and, further, tough to control for all the variables at home. For these and other reasons, undergoing detox at a facility and then working through the rest of treatment from home is a great option for many in early recovery.

Alcohol Detox Treatment

Many of the symptoms of acute alcohol withdrawal will have largely faded after five days of detox, though some may persist for a week or longer. Any serious symptoms still present at this point will continue to be medically managed at the detox center.

Medically assisted detoxification involves professional health monitoring during the detox phase to ensure your safety throughout the risky alcohol withdrawal effects.

Traditional treatment will offer you supportive therapy that will help prepare you for returning to everyday life and drinking temptations.

Luxury treatment also provides quality substance abuse treatment, but these facilities additionally place focus on privacy and comfort. In a luxury or executive program, you’ll find many amenities — private rooms, internet access, recreational entertainment, and more one-on-one care.

Because alcohol detox, withdrawal, and recovery can initially be such an uncomfortable process, luxury settings are ideal for recovering alcoholics. Many opt to undergo treatment in the best luxury residential rehab programs in the country, where they will also receive psychological counseling, and support from other recovering alcoholics.

That said, traditional treatment programs employ similar therapeutic approaches, and can be every bit as beneficial to those in recovery. The number of amenities may come close to that of the luxury centers, but the treatment services are frequently offered at a lower cost. Whatever your choice, make sure that you put your health first — both physical and mental — throughout the process.


  1. National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. (2016). Drinking Levels Defined.
  2. U.S. National Library of Medicine: MedlinePlus. (2016). Alcohol withdrawal.
  3. Rogawski, M. A. (2005). Update on the neurobiology of alcohol withdrawal seizures. Current Review in Basic Science, 5(6), 225-230.
  4. U.S. National Library of Medicine: MedlinePlus. (2016). Delirium Tremens.