What You Need To Know About Alcohol Detox

What You Need To Know About Alcohol Detox

Authored by Pin Ng PhD

Edited by Hugh Soames

Reviewed by Michael Por, MD

Alcohol Detox: The Facts

Ending alcoholism is not an easy step to take. Millions of people around the globe struggle with alcohol use disorder and only a small number of those people seek out help before it is too late. If you make the decision to seek out help, then you take the steps to a better life. Regardless of what stage alcoholism an individual is at, it is usually never too late to experience the benefits of quitting.

Attending alcohol detox does not automatically end your dependence on alcohol. It takes some time to end alcoholism and it is a continual fight. One of the major symptoms you are likely to experience by stopping alcohol consumption is withdrawal. Going through withdrawal can be difficult for heavy drinkers.1https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4085800/

The time in which it takes you to detox depends on a few factors. These factors include how much alcohol you consume, how long you have been an alcohol drinker, and whether you have experienced detox previously.

What is the alcohol detox timeline?

There is an alcohol detox timeline that many individuals go through. This is a general timeline and guideline set out by the Industrial Psychiatry Journal.

The alcohol detox timeline includes:


  • Around six hours into alcohol detox, you will have minor withdrawal symptoms. If you have a long history of heavy drinking, you may have a seizure six hours after finishing your last drink.
  • A small percentage of individuals experiencing alcohol withdrawal have hallucinations 12 to 24 hours after their last drink. They may see or hear things that aren’t actually there. Doctors do not consider this to be a major issue despite individuals experiencing them being scared.
  • Minor withdrawal symptoms typically continue 24 to 48 hours after their final drink. Symptoms may include headache, tremors, and an upset stomach. A person may go through minor withdrawal and the symptoms typically climax at 18 to 24 hours. After this point, the symptoms begin to decrease after four or five days.
  • Some individuals may experience a severe form of alcohol withdrawal 48 hours to 72 hours after their final drink. Doctors call this delirium tremens (DTs) or alcohol withdrawal delirium. An individual may have a very high heart rate, seizures, or a high body temperature when suffering from DTs.
  • At 72 hours, this is the time alcohol withdrawal symptoms are often at their worst. In rare cases, moderate withdrawal symptoms may last for a month. Symptoms may include a rapid heart rate and seeing things that are not there. Some clinics in the United States now offer rapid detox, during which the patient is placed into heavy medically supervised sedation for up to four days.


What are alcohol withdrawal symptoms?

Alcohol is a depressant that suppresses a person’s central nervous system. People who consume alcohol experience feelings of relaxation and euphoria. The body often works to maintain balance; it signals the brain to produce more neurotransmitter receptors2https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/full/10.1111/ane.12671. These excite or stimulate the central nervous system.

When a person stops drinking, they take away alcohol not only from the original receptors, but also from the additional receptors the body produces. Therefore, an alcoholic’s nervous system is overactive.

The overactive nervous system causes symptoms in alcohol detox including:

  • Anxiety
  • Irritability
  • Nausea
  • Rapid heart rate
  • Sweating
  • Tremors


In some severe alcohol detox cases, withdrawal symptoms may include:


  • Hallucinations
  • High body temperature
  • Illusions
  • Paranoia
  • Seizures


Why do people undergo alcohol detox?

Detox from substance misuse treatment is defined as “a set of interventions aimed at managing acute intoxication and withdrawal.” A person’s body goes through from alcohol and drugs during detox. Medical bodies such as the American Society of Addiction Management have changed the term ‘detox’ with the term ‘withdrawal management’. Alcohol detox and withdrawal can be life-threatening. Safety should be the utmost important thing when undergoing alcohol detox. The safest way to detox is under strict medical supervision. Having the support of experienced, specialized professionals enables you to detox from alcohol safely and properly.

Alcohol detox is most often the first step toward complete sobriety. It should be noted that detox is not a lasting solution to changing alcohol addiction. In fact, many people begin drinking once more during detox to end the symptoms of withdrawal. A person needs to attend a residential detox or regular meetings to receive the help they need to fully recover from alcohol addiction.

When should you seek alcohol detox?

Your alcohol use disorder history will dictate whether or not you need detox. Your history will include the amount of alcohol consumed on a regular basis, the length of time you have been a drinker, and the type of alcohol you consumed3https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6761824/. A medical professional is able to evaluate you and your issues. They can recommend treatment to end an addiction to alcohol. Your doctor or mental healthcare provider can connect you with the right people for help. A rehab facility will help you detox appropriately and treat you of your alcohol addiction.

Residential rehabs provide over-the-phone detox assessments as part of the intake process. You will follow up the detox assessment with a more in-depth evaluation with a medical professional from the rehab. If you recognize signs of alcohol abuse in a loved one or yourself, you may consider getting an alcohol detox evaluation for detox.

Signs of alcohol misuse include:


  • Cravings to drink alcohol
  • An inability to cut down or stop alcohol use
  • Drinking more alcohol than you plan to
  • Drinking alcohol for longer than intended
  • continuing to drink alcohol even when it puts you in danger or negatively affects your life


What are the alcohol detox treatments?

Medical care professionals often use a scale called the Clinical Institute for Withdrawal Assessment for Alcohol to determine your withdrawal symptoms and potential treatment. The higher the number on the scale, the worse a person’s symptoms. You will need more treatment as the symptoms become more severe. Medications can assist with alcohol withdrawal. Therapy and support groups can also be attended during withdrawal.

Some medications that doctors prescribe for individuals going through alcohol detox and withdrawal include:

  • Benzodiazepines: These are prescribed to reduce the possibility of seizures during alcohol withdrawal. Some examples of the medication include diazepam (Valium), alprazolam (Xanax), and lorazepam (Ativan). Doctors typically prescribed these drugs to treat alcohol withdrawal.
  • Neuroleptic medication: This drug may help depress nervous system activity. It can be helpful in preventing seizures and agitation due to alcohol withdrawal.
  • Nutritional support: You may be administered nutrients such as folic acid, thiamine, and magnesium to lower withdrawal symptoms. This is also used to correct nutrient deficiencies caused by alcohol use and can continue throughout treatment as a Biochemical Restoration.


If you are worried about your possible alcohol detox and withdrawal symptoms, speak to your doctor before detoxing. A medical healthcare provider can evaluate your health and alcohol use history to help you determine the likelihood of your symptoms.

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Alcohol detox and addiction explained

References: Alcohol Detox

  1. Cutshall BJ. The Saunders-Sutton syndrome: An analysis of delirium tremens. Quarterly Journal of Studies on Alcohol. 1964;26:423–448.[]
  2. Hayashida M, Alterman AI, McLellan AT. Comparative effectiveness and costs of inpatient and outpatient alcohol detoxification of patients with mild to moderate alcohol withdrawal syndrome. New England Journal of Medicine. 1989;320:358–365.[]
  3. Saitz R, O’Malley SS. Pharmacotherapies for alcohol abuse: Withdrawal and treatment. Medical Clinics of North America. 1997;81(4):881–907. [PubMed]
  4. Samet JH, Saitz R, Larson MJ. A case for enhanced linkage of substance abusers to primary medical care. Substance Abuse. 1996;17(4):181–192. []
  5. Thompson WL, Johnson AD, Maddrey WL Osler Medical Housestaff. Diazepam and paraldehyde for treatment of severe delirium tremens. Annals of Internal Medicine. 1975;82:175–180.[]
  6. Tovar R. Diagnosis and treatment of alcohol detoc. J Clin Outcomes Manag. 2011;18:361–70. []
  7. Bharadwaj B, Bernard M, Kattimani S, Rajkumar RP. Determinants of success of loading dose diazepam for alcohol detox and withdrawal: A chart review. J Pharmacol Pharmacother. 2012;3:270–2. [PMC free article] [PubMed] []
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