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How Long Does It Take To Detox From Alcohol?


Alcohol is one of the most commonly abused substances in the United States. In fact, the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA) reported in 2012 that 17 million adults in the United States had an alcohol use disorder, and only 1.4 million of them sought treatment. Professional treatment can help people overcome alcohol abuse to live happy and healthy lives that are free from the chains of addiction.

If you are among the people who have decided to move forward with treatment, you likely want to know what you can expect during the alcohol treatment and recovery process. The first step of treatment for an addiction to alcohol involves detox. During this time, you stop drinking alcohol, allowing the substance to leave your body.

When people detox from alcohol, they will experience different alcohol withdrawal symptoms that vary in severity and duration. Since the alcohol withdrawal timeline symptoms that appear during detox can be uncomfortable, and sometimes painful, you might be wondering about the alcohol detox timeline. Our alcohol treatment professionals are here to explain how long it takes to detox from alcohol and what to expect.


How Alcohol Impacts the Body and Brain

First, it’s important to understand alcohol’s effect on the body and brain. When you drink alcohol, you ingest a substance called ethanol, which enters your digestive system and travels through your bloodstream. Ethanol impacts each organ of the body in different ways; however, its effect on the brain plays the biggest role in alcohol addiction. When you consume alcohol, the following things happen in your brain:

  • Your brain releases a chemical called dopamine that makes you feel good.
  • You feel relaxed and sleepy when ethanol binds to gamma aminobutyric acid (GABA).
  • Ethanol deactivates glutamate, which slows your brain’s response to stimuli.

Together, these changes make you feel drunk. When you drink alcohol to excess for an extended period of time, you can become addicted to the substance. When you become addicted to alcohol, changes occur in the body and brain, including tolerance and dependency. Tolerance means that you need to ingest more alcohol over time to achieve the same effect, while dependence means that you need to keep drinking alcohol to prevent withdrawal symptoms. Alcohol withdrawal symptoms can be gradual, because they can start within hours of the last drink and persist for weeks.


What Factors Influence Alcohol Withdrawal Symptoms

If you have an alcohol addiction, you will experience alcohol withdrawal symptoms when you stop or even cut back on drinking. For some people, withdrawal symptoms are mildly unpleasant, while others may experience severe or life-threatening symptoms.

There can be a great deal of variation in alcohol withdrawal symptoms from person to person, but what makes the symptoms so different? The length, severity, and type of symptoms vary based on several different factors.

  • Length and amount of alcohol consumption: Withdrawal symptoms are less intense for people who have been drinking for months rather than years. Also, people who drink every day tend to have more severe symptoms than people who drink less often.
  • Use of other substances: People who use other substances in conjunction with alcohol tend to have more intense withdrawal symptoms.
  • Coexisting mental health issues: Mental health disorders can make the detox process more complicated for people who are recovering from an addiction to alcohol.
  • Age and physical health: Alcohol withdrawal symptoms tend to be less severe if you are young and healthy.


Alcohol Withdrawal Symptoms

When it comes to the alcohol withdrawal process symptoms, there are several different groups of symptoms. The first are minor symptoms, which tend to begin five to 10 hours after the last drink and often peak after 24 to 48 hours. These symptoms may include anxiety, headache, insomnia, irritability, nausea, nightmares, rapid breathing, rapid pulse, sweating, tremors, and vomiting.

The next symptoms of alcohol withdrawal are moderate, which usually begin 12 to 24 hours after the last drink and can last for up to 48 hours. One of the most common moderate symptoms are hallucinations, often of groups of small, moving objects such as insects. While people know these hallucinations are not real, they still find them distressing.

Withdrawal seizures are a more serious alcohol withdrawal symptom that may happen six to forty-eight hours after the last drink. However, the risk often peaks at twenty-four hours. If you have undergone alcohol detox more than once, you have an increased risk of having withdrawal seizures.

The most serious symptom of alcohol withdrawal is delirium tremens (DTs), as 1% to 5% of people die from this symptom. DTs tend to occur 48 to 72 hours after the last drink, but some people may have this symptom seven to 10 days after the last drink. Symptoms of DTs can be frightening, and include confusion, dehydration, delirium, disorientation, excessive sweating, fever, hallucinations, high blood pressure, intense anxiety, rapid heartbeat, seizures, severe tremors, and sleeping for one day or longer.

All alcohol withdrawal symptoms can rapidly worsen, so it’s important to monitor even minor symptoms. If your alcohol consumption has been chronic and heavy, you have an increased risk of developing DTs and you should not detox at home. However, receiving the right treatment during the detox process can help manage your alcohol withdrawal symptoms to prevent them from turning into something more serious.


How Long to Detox from Alcohol

If you have no other underlying physical or mental conditions and you have not been using any other addictive substances, the alcohol detox timeline has three phases. Each phase has distinct withdrawal symptoms that are associated with it.

  1. During acute withdrawal, you may experience a variety of alcohol withdrawal symptoms, ranging from mild symptoms to serious DTs.
  2. During early abstinence, you may have anxiety, depression, and sleep problem. These symptoms tend to improve within three to six weeks, but it can take longer for women.
  3. During protracted abstinence, you do not have anxiety or depression every day, but stress can cause these feelings and increase the risk of relapse.


Treating Alcohol Addiction

To treat an alcohol addiction, both the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) recommends detox and an addiction treatment program that is at least 90 days long. It is true that attending even a short treatment program can be helpful, but you will see greater success if you attend a program that is 90 days or longer.

Three months may seem like a long time to spend in a program, but addiction causes physical and psychological changes that do not disappear overnight. It took time to develop an addiction, so it will take time to treat it.

Program length isn’t the only aspect of a treatment program to consider. It’s equally important to think about its location. The ideal location of detox and treatment will vary from patient to patient. If you have minor symptoms, you may be able to detox at home, although this is not recommended. If you have severe alcohol withdrawal symptoms, you should only detox at a treatment center or in a hospital setting.

To find the best detox and treatment setting for you, you should talk to your physician about your home environment, medical history, and symptoms. This information can help you and your physician select the best environment for your detox and addiction treatment.

  • Home may be an option if you are dealing with mild withdrawal symptoms; however, it is much more difficult to detox in a home setting. You will need the right medical and psychological support to succeed with an at-home detox.
  • Alcohol and drug treatment centers provide a safe and supportive setting for detox. The team at Luminance Recovery works to create a home-like environment that offers a holistic approach to help you complete detox and achieve lasting sobriety.

Once you and your physician decide what is the right length and location for your detox and treatment program, you should consider what type of program you want to attend. A holistic treatment approach that combines detox, medication, counseling, and support produces the greatest success rates. For this reason, this is the approach that we use at Luminance Recovery.

All credible alcohol treatment programs should include detox to allow your body to cleanse itself of alcohol. Since your body has come to depend on alcohol, you will experience some form of withdrawal symptoms during the detox process. However, in a detox program, physicians can prescribe medication and supplements to help manage your withdrawal symptoms.

  • Ativan and Librium can reduce anxiety that is caused by withdrawal symptoms. It is critically important to manage anxiety because it tends to remain throughout all stages of withdrawal and it can jeopardize treatment success, if left untreated.
  • Nutritional supplements are necessary because withdrawal symptoms can deplete vitamins and minerals, including folate, magnesium, phosphate, thiamine, and zinc. It’s critical to replace these essential nutrients to keep you healthy.

After you complete detox, you can feel proud that you have overcome a major hurdle in the recovery process. You can also begin receiving treatment for your addiction. Treatment may include counseling, treating mental disorders, and ongoing support.

  • Counseling seeks to identify and change the behaviors and thoughts that caused your addiction. You can attend counseling on an outpatient or inpatient basis, and it is available as individual, group, or family counseling. It is often wise to take advantage of all three forms of counseling, because they all have unique benefits.
  • Treating coexisting mental disorders is common, because many people with an alcohol addiction also have another untreated mental disorder. Diagnosing and treating these disorders can help prevent a future relapse, while also improving overall quality of life.
  • Ongoing support is necessary to help you achieve long-term sobriety. For many people, support comes from a variety of sources, including family, friends, physicians, therapists, and support group members. Each of these sources is important for different reasons. Support and love from friends and family can make you feel valued, while providing encouragement. Supportive treatment professionals like physicians and therapists can hold you accountable and help you stay on track with your recovery. Members of support groups are also valuable because they show you that you aren’t alone and they can provide first-hand tips to help you stay clean and sober.

Many people feel overwhelmed when they first learn about the withdrawal symptoms that they can experience during alcohol detox. While the symptoms can be uncomfortable and they don’t disappear immediately, they don’t last forever. In fact, the most intense symptoms last for only a week or so for most people, and all of the symptoms can be managed with proper treatment at detox center.

Luminance Recovery is committed to making alcohol detox and treatment as comfortable and safe as possible. Our experienced team members offer holistic care that is individually tailored to each client’s unique needs. Our alcohol rehab treatment center helps clients detox from alcohol by providing comprehensive care with medical monitoring. After detox, we help clients explore and overcome the causes of their addiction with a wide variety of effective therapies.

If you or someone you love is suffering from an addiction to alcohol, the team at Luminance Recovery is here to help. Please contact us today to learn more about our holistic approach to helping clients overcome the symptoms of alcohol withdrawal, and ultimately addiction. With the right treatment and support, you can live a life free from addiction.

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