How Long Does It Take To Detox From Alcohol? 9 Things You Should Expect

Last Updated: Jul 23rd 2019

Reviewed by Brittany Polansky, MSW, LCSW

Who could have known that that first time you got drunk, back in high school at some party, would be the start of a new addiction? Now, you may jokingly wonder ‘how long does it take to detox from alcohol,’ when faced with the uncomfortable reality of being alcohol dependent. 

You remember the exciting stories of keg stands, a crowd cheering you on. But maybe you didn’t realize at first that alcohol was what made you more outgoing, confident, and fun. Slowly, you felt the need to drink, or at least hold one in your hand, to feel comfortable at social events.

Don’t feel bad about it, though. More than 15 million people over the age of 18 struggle with alcohol use disorder.

People develop addictions for any number of factors outside of their control. The way they were raised, the societal pressures they face, a chemical imbalance in their brain. It makes sense that people develop an addiction to things that make them feel good, and they shouldn’t be blamed for that.

But as humans with conscious minds, we can control the way we manage our biological impulses and learned habits. Alcohol addiction destroys relationships, the body, and the mind.

Don’t be afraid to ask for help when struggling with something as overwhelmingly difficult as detoxing from alcohol.

How Long Does It Take to Detox from Alcohol?

Drinking alcohol raises dopamine levels in your brain. This rush of ‘the good stuff’ is what makes us feel happy, satisfied, or pleased by a situation. Reading something really funny, watching your favorite team score a goal, getting a notification on Instagram. 

When the event that produced the pleasant feeling is over, (i.e. your liver metabolizes that shot of whiskey and processes alcohol out of your bloodstream) those good feelings go away. So you take another drink and keep feeling good.

As you become more and more addicted to alcohol for that good feeling (or eventually, a feeling of normalcy), your brain stops making the chemicals it gets bombarded with every time you drink. This forms a dependence. 

Repeated use of alcohol for the release of dopamine weakens your brain’s ability to produce it on its own. The longer you rely on this addiction, the longer and more severe your detox from alcohol will be.

Withdrawal symptoms will be unique to you, but generally, last one or two weeks after your last drink. 

How Long Does Alcohol Withdrawal Last?

As your body is detoxing from alcohol, you will experience some combination of withdrawal symptoms. Some are considered minor, like nausea, headaches, anxiety, increased perspiration, and insomnia. While others are more severe, like hallucinations, disorientation, and seizures.

The most severe withdrawal symptom is delirium tremens. The sudden removal of large amounts of depressants to your central nervous system causes the rapid onset of numerous symptoms at once. This includes hallucinations, and life-threatening fever and seizures. 

Detox Timeline

2-12 hours after your last drink – Minor symptoms begin. You may feel nausea, headaches, and stomach pain. You may become snappy and irritable with others. Without alcohol, you may feel an anxiety that keeps you up at night. 

10-30 hours after your last drink – Withdrawal symptoms start to reach peak discomfort. You might become confused and start to shake uncontrollably. Your blood pressure and temperature will rise as alcohol is purged from the body.

40 – 72 hours after your last drink – Symptoms may start to lessen. The anxiety and hallucinations caused by withdrawal may induce panic attacks. Symptoms come and go, and come back again, which may be frustrating and increase agitation.

72 hours – 1 week after your last drink – You are most at risk for delirium tremens. The most uncomfortable symptoms begin to subside. 

More than a week after your last drink – Only a few minor symptoms remain. In some cases, you may experience post-acute withdrawal syndrome. This prolongs feelings of anxiety, lack of energy, insomnia, and delayed reaction time for as long as one year after your last drink. 

Why Go to A Detox Center?

Even if you can trust yourself to slowly wean off alcohol, or believe that you can cut yourself off cold turkey, the symptoms of alcohol withdrawal are often too much for individuals or untrained persons to handle.

Detox centers provide stability in your path to recovery. A regular sleep schedule, proper diet, therapy and counseling, and proper medication are the many moving parts required to overcome this life-consuming addiction.

If you have a serious drinking problem, you should not suddenly stop all consumption without medical supervision. It can be fatal. Your brain and nervous system will struggle to bounce back from prolonged dependence without supplemental medication. 

Anyone with medical conditions, such as heart disease or lung disease, should seek medical assistance before detoxing from alcohol. Medical professionals will ensure your heart rate and blood pressure are monitored to avoid more severe conditions.

Symptoms can change rapidly. Independent recovery may be derailed by unexpected and overwhelming symptoms, leading to relapse. Detox programs offer medication to manage your pain, so you can stick with your recovery plan to the end.

Detox Medications

To combat cravings and chemical imbalances caused by alcohol dependents, the following medications may be administered:

  • Campral – Works to reduces alcohol cravings without negatively reacting to alcohol consumption.
  • ReVia, Depade (pill) or Vivitrol (injection) – Stops ‘high’ feeling caused by alcohol consumption and reduces cravings.
  • Librium and Valium – Benzos used to calm anxiety, insomnia, and muscle spasms brought on by withdrawal.

Find Professionals Who Know How Hard It Can Get

The first step to recovering from alcohol addiction is flushing the system. The first step is always the hardest.

Addiction professionals at 1st Step Behavioral Health understand how hard it can be to detox from alcohol, and have the resources to help you get through it. 

Here you can ask questions like ‘how long does it take to detox from alcohol,’ or ‘how can I fight my addiction,’ and get answers specifically tailored to you. Everyone has a unique set of experiences, so to fight your addiction, you need to understand your individual needs.

Request more information on how 1st Step’s detox center can help you or a loved one recover from alcohol addiction here

Reviewed for Medical & Clinical Accuracy by Brittany Polansky, MSW, LCSW

Brittany has been working in behavioral health since 2012 and is the Assistant Clinical Director at our facility. She is an LCSW and holds a master’s degree in social work. She has great experience with chemical dependency and co-occurring mental health diagnoses as well as various therapeutic techniques. Brittany is passionate about treating all clients with dignity and respect, and providing a safe environment where clients can begin their healing journey in recovery.