Alcohol Detox Timelines for Alcohol Withdrawal

Authored by First City Recovery Center    Reviewed by Dr. Vahid Osman    Last Updated: August 31st, 2021


Dr. Vahid Osman Medical Reviewer
Dr. Vahid Osman, MD is a psychiatry specialist in Indianapolis, IN. Dr. Osman completed a residency at Austin State Hospital. He has over 32 years of experience in Psychiatry & Behavioral Health. He is board certified by the American Board of Psychiatry and Neurology.

Many people have an idea of what withdrawals are, but most people associate them with hard and illegal drugs. The truth is that withdrawal symptoms are as common as feeling sluggish several hours after a cup of coffee. You might be surprised to know that not only are there alcohol withdrawal symptoms, but they can be more serious than those associated with many other substances.

Reasons for Alcohol Withdrawal

You might be wondering why alcohol causes withdrawal symptoms. You likely know that alcohol has a depressive effect on the body, but is that enough to cause withdrawal symptoms? This depressive effect actually slows your brain functions and reduces the speed at which your nerves fire. Once you no longer have alcohol in your body, your brain’s chemicals will have to readjust, and this is when withdrawal starts.

If you only drink occasionally, then there is a low chance you will experience major withdrawal symptoms. You might feel sluggish and have a headache the next day, but that should be it. If you drink large quantities of alcohol and drink frequently, then this is when you are at a higher risk of facing serious withdrawal issues.

Your brain and central nervous system will become accustomed to having alcohol and functioning in a different state. This forces your nerves to work harder to send messages. Once the alcohol is gone, your brain might remain in this state. This is what leads to more severe and fatal symptoms.

The main factors to consider aside from your biological processes are quantity and time. If you drink a larger quantity and over a longer period of time, then it’s harder for your body to return to a normal state. The harder this process is, the worse the withdrawal symptoms typically are.

Common Alcohol Withdrawal Symptoms

Some withdrawal symptoms are more common and less dangerous than others. These symptoms most commonly occur about six hours after your last drink and should clear up quickly enough. At the same time, if you have consumed a significant amount of alcohol and for a long period of time, then check the next section on more severe symptoms.

The most common alcohol withdrawal symptoms are:
• Shaking hands and limbs
• Headache
• Worry and anxiety
• Insomnia
• Vomiting
• Sweating

These symptoms most often occur if you drank just a little too much or if you are facing a more mild case of alcohol dependence. At the same time, the withdrawal symptoms can become worse if you have drunk for a long period of time.

Severe Alcohol Withdrawal Symptoms

These are the more severe symptoms, and they most often occur 12 to 48 hours after your last drink. You may or may not face these as it largely depends on how much you consume.

More severe withdrawal symptoms include:
• Auditory hallucinations
• Visual hallucinations
• Seizures
• Significant confusion
• Fever

Delirium Tremens

Delirium tremens, or DT, are the worst alcohol withdrawal symptoms, and they can even be fatal. If you are facing these symptoms, seek medical attention as they can truly be life-threatening. You should at the very least make your friends and family members aware that you are going through this and that they may need to get medical attention for you.

Many of these symptoms associated with delirium tremens are associated with mild and severe alcohol withdrawal. The difference is that DT symptoms are stronger, more significant, and far more severe. DT symptoms commonly include:
• Extreme confusion
• Heart racing or pounding
• High blood pressure
• Significant fever
• Excessive sweating
• Seizures
• Vivid hallucinations
• Delusions

The good news is that only a small percentage of those who go through alcohol withdrawals will have to worry about DT. If you find that your withdrawal symptoms are not gone about 48 to 72 hours after your last drink, then you are at risk for facing these symptoms. While they most commonly appear after the 72 hour mark, some people have found that it takes seven days or more. DT most commonly affects those who drank heavily for 10 years or more.

Alcohol Detox Timeline

Detoxing from alcohol can be tougher than people think, but you can get through it. The amount of time you need to completely detox or for the alcohol to leave your body and for the withdrawal symptoms to stop, depends on many factors. You should consider your body’s individual response to alcohol, how long you drank, and how much you consumed daily on average.

Detox starts as quickly as six hours after your last drink. This is when the common symptoms appear. You might start facing hallucinations and moderate to severe withdrawal symptoms around the 12- to 24-hour mark.

If your use was more significant, then you can continue detoxing and facing symptoms around 72 hours after your last drink. This is when you are at risk for the symptoms of DT. Many people find that the symptoms tend to subside around this time, but if your alcohol use was significant, the symptoms can persist for weeks or months. Like with the rest of the detox timeline, this depends on your overall use.

Also, keep in mind that this is only the physical side of detoxing. The mental side of detoxing can take longer as you may have cravings even after the withdrawal symptoms are gone. This is why connecting with a self-help group or therapist is crucial during this time.

Medical Detox

When you hear of a medical detox program you probably think about opioids and other similar substances. A medical detox program can be very helpful with alcohol use. First of all, this ensures that a member of our medical staff is checking your symptoms, which can literally be a lifesaver if you are at risk of facing DT. Our doctors can gauge your overall risk and will help you prepare for what the symptoms will look like.

The point of medical detox isn’t just to get the substance out of your body but to do it in the safest way possible. This involves testing your overall health and checking your blood to see how much alcohol is there. You may also be prescribed medications to make the symptoms easier to manage and to reduce your overall cravings. There are medications that are useful for reducing alcohol cravings, so be sure to ask about this.

Recovery Groups

If you’re interested in a self-help group, or a peer-driven group of others who are looking to recover, then the good news is that the biggest self-help group was designed specifically for alcohol use. You have probably heard of it: Alcoholics Anonymous is a free group of people who are looking to recover from alcohol use.

Not only will you be able to meet with others who are going through similar struggles, but you can also talk about what led to your use, and you can find a sponsor to help you. Sponsors are people who have been through the recovery process and are taking newcomers under their wing; think of it like a sobriety mentor. This helps a person who is new to recovery because the sponsor is a good role model, and having a sponsor helps a lot because they have a good grasp on getting through cravings and know how to navigate the sober world.

Be sure to ask us about self-help groups with your counselors at First City Recovery Center. We are located in Kokomo, Indiana, and can recommend a group for you based on your specific needs. We can also give you insight into the local groups to help you determine which one is right for you.

Alcohol Detox & Rehab Programs at First City Recovery Center

If you’re interested in therapy, then we want you to know that there are several levels of care to consider. Some clients who come to us know what they need, but far more are unaware that there are different levels, and they don’t know where to start.

The first level of care is outpatient care. Many people consider this standard care or just regular counseling, and that’s exactly what it is. Outpatient care has you meeting with your assigned therapist for a weekly session for one hour. The sessions can be reduced to biweekly or monthly as you progress in your recovery. This allows you to discuss your thoughts and feelings with a professional who can help you abstain from alcohol while also helping you with other parts of your life, like the factors that contributed to your drinking.

The next level of care is called intensive outpatient or IOP. This provides you with more time with therapists and peers, but it’s still outpatient and allows you to work, see friends and family members, and go about your life. This is a type of group therapy that is a little longer than most other groups, but that’s good because it gives everyone time to share their situation while learning new coping skills.

IOP lasts for three hours, and you will meet three times a week. That’s a total of nine hours. You may also notice a phenomenon called “vicarious learning.” This means that you will learn from others based on what they are saying and doing. Many people find group therapy to be very useful because of this.

If you find that IOP isn’t enough, then you may want to consider a partial hospitalization program or PHP. This is similar to inpatient care, but you only stay for half the day. You will come to our facility to stay for eight hours most or all days of the week. You’ll find this very useful if your cravings are severe or if your environment isn’t supportive of recovery. PHP care allows you to attend doctor’s appointments and therapy sessions and recover without having to worry about your other stressors.

If you know which one sounds best to you, then let us know. If you aren’t sure or if you have questions, then talk to us about your situation and what you’re looking for. We’ll be able to steer you in the right direction.

Many people don’t realize it, but there are alcohol withdrawal symptoms. The symptoms can be very severe or even fatal if you’ve been drinking for a very long time. If you’re ready to stop using or to reduce how much you use, then contact us today, and we can help you with medical detox, therapy, or any of our other services.

We are here for you. Recovery can be tough, but it’s possible, and we can help you through it. Contact us, and we can help you close this chapter of your life and start a new one.

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