How Long Does it Take to Detox from Alcohol?

Alcohol detox is serious business. Alcohol withdrawal symptoms can be some of the most uncomfortable and dangerous of any substance. 

If you or someone close to you has an alcohol use disorder, you need to understand how detox works.

Educating yourself about alcohol detox means answering the following questions:

  • What is the alcohol detox timeline?
  • What are alcohol withdrawal symptoms?
  • What’s the detox process?
  • Should you detox at home?

Read on to find the answers to these important questions, and more:

Alcohol Withdrawal Symptoms

When a heavy drinker stops drinking suddenly, or reduces their normal alcohol intake drastically, they will experience withdrawal symptoms. Withdrawal is what happens when your body and brain try to find equilibrium without a substance that you have been relying on.

Alcohol withdrawal symptoms can be some of the most severe of any substance. Usually, it starts sometime between six hours and three days after your last drink. It can be mental, emotional, and physical.

They may include:

  • Anxiety
  • Nausea
  • Headache
  • Vomiting
  • Increased heart rate
  • Irritability
  • Insomnia
  • Confusion
  • Sweating
  • Tremors

Most drinkers will have some combination of the above symptoms. After a number of days or weeks, symptoms usually get better. However, in certain cases, a severe form of alcohol withdrawal called delirium tremens (DT) may occur. DT can be life-threatening.

Symptoms may include:

  • Confusion (delirium)
  • Agitation
  • Fever
  • Seizures
  • Hallucinations 

Because alcohol withdrawal can be so serious, it is important to have professional medical help during the process.

Alcohol Detox Timeline

Everyone’s detox from alcohol is different. The timeline and severity of your symptoms will depend on many factors. These may include your health, age, weight, and how heavy your drinking has been.

The following timeline can be used as a guide, but remember that your withdrawal may look very different:

6 Hours

Around 6 hours after the last drink, an alcoholic may begin to feel minor withdrawal symptoms. People who have been drinking heavily for a long time might even have a seizure after just 6 hours without a drink. Sweating, trouble sleeping, headache, nausea, and mild anxiety can all occur during this time.

12 to 24 Hours

Symptoms tend to get worse during this period. Rapid heart rate, seizures, memory problems, and hallucinations are all possible. Physical symptoms like upset stomach and sweating can continue during this time.

24 to 48 hours

Moderate symptoms persist and worsen during this time. People who are only having very minor withdrawal might start to feel better after 48 hours. Others will find that their symptoms have not yet peaked.

48 hours to 10 days or Longer

People who have DT will usually start to have severe symptoms after 48 hours. These might include: fever, tremors, seizures, and confusion. Some people with DT die during this stage if their withdrawal is not managed at a detox center.

Symptoms will usually get better after a few days, but some people report having symptoms weeks after their last drink. 

Alcohol detox can be dangerous, which is why you should always go to a detox center and go through the process with medical help.

Alcohol Detox Process

You don’t have to go through withdrawal on your own. For your safety, you should always find help to go through detox. Luckily, detox centers are common and they can help you get through the process smoothly.

Detox centers help you safely get through alcohol withdrawal. Before you can start a treatment plan for alcohol abuse, you need to go to detox. The entire detox process is carried out in a medical setting where you will be looked after by doctors and nurses.

There are three main stages of detox:

  • Evaluation: When you check into detox, you will be evaluated. Detox staff will ask you some questions and do a physical exam. This information will be used to create a detox plan that is just right for you. This stage shouldn’t take longer than an hour or two.
  • Stabilization: This is the main stage of detox. In this stage, you will go through withdrawal. You may be given medication to help with the process. You will be watched by medical staff the entire time, and given anything you need to make the process more comfortable and safe. Some people will finish this stage in just a couple of days, while others might take many days or even a few weeks if their withdrawal is very serious.
  • Transition: Once you are stable and your withdrawal symptoms have passed, detox staff will help you transition into alcohol treatment. Detox is not treatment by itself. If you go to detox, you should also get help for your alcohol abuse. Many detox centers are attached to rehab centers, so you can make a seamless transition.

Alcohol Detox at Home | The Risks & Alternatives

Some alcoholics who want to stop drinking might be tempted to try and do so without help. There are many reasons why this is a bad idea.

Risks of detoxing from alcohol at home include:

  • Complications: Alcohol withdrawal symptoms are hard to predict, and they can be serious. If you happen to have more severe symptoms, you may need medical help. The last thing you want is to be stranded in your home when you are having a seizure or are hallucinating.
  • Relapse: For most, alcohol withdrawal is not life-threatening. But it can still be very painful. Many drinkers will relapse if they try to detox at home. Imagine being unable to sleep, having an upset stomach and headaches, and having the remedy sitting in your fridge. Would you be able to resist?

Research has shown that detoxing at home makes relapse much more likely. The only smart alternative is to check into a detox center.

Benefits of detox centers include:

  • Lower rates of relapse.
  • Better long-term success with staying sober.

If you want to quit drinking, you should take it seriously. Call Bedrock Recovery Center today to start your path to a sober life.


Written by Bedrock Recovery Center Editorial Team

© 2023 Bedrock Recovery Center | All Rights Reserved

* This page does not provide medical advice.

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