You do not have to be an alcoholic to experience alcohol withdrawal. Alcohol withdrawal can be a very scary experience, especially for someone who doesn’t realize they are consuming too much alcohol or for someone who is not ready or willing to admit they have a problem. Similarly, you don’t have to be in treatment for alcoholism to experience withdrawal.

Detoxing From Alcohol

Detox from alcohol can begin within hours of discontinuing a drinking session. Typically, alcohol withdrawal symptoms happen for people who drink very regularly and heavily; when they suddenly stop drinking, symptoms start to form.

What Happens During Alcohol Detox?

Alcohol withdrawal syndrome can be a potentially life-threatening event if not handled or treated properly. A person who has been drinking a significant amount and or is drinking on a regular basis develops a chemical addiction to the substances.

When they all of a sudden stop giving the body the substances it has grown to be dependent on, it can send the body, brain neurotransmitters and blood levels into shock.

The brain’s neurotransmitters are heavily suppressed during alcohol consumption. Once alcohol consumption is reduced or stopped, glutamate rapidly surges and hits sensitive neurotransmitters, causing an adverse effect on the brain and body.

  • Common Withdrawal & Detox Symptoms:

    • Irritability
    • Depression
    • Anxiety
    • Extreme Fatigue
    • Sweating
    • Vomiting
    • Nausea
    • Mood swings
    • Rapid heart rate
    • Dangerous dehydration
    • Alcoholic tremors
    • Delirium Tremens (DTs)
    • Seizures

How Long Does Alcohol Detox Take?

Anyone experiencing the discomfort of detoxing from alcohol may ask the question, “how long does alcohol withdrawal last?” The duration of alcohol detox is different for everyone.

According to the National Library of Medicine, “Alcohol withdrawal usually occurs within 8 hours after the last drink, but can occur days later. Symptoms usually peak by 24 to 72 hours, but may go on for weeks.” The acute withdrawal stage will be the worst of the withdrawal symptoms.

  • Factors That May Influence the Detox Timeline:

    There is no one-size-fits-all answer to address exactly how long detox will last. Several factors can play a role in the number of days detoxification will continue, including:

    • Amount of alcohol consumed
    • How long the person has been drinking
    • How often the person has been drinking on a regular basis
    • Nutritional considerations
    • Weight and age
    • Whether the alcohol combined with other substances
    • Whether the person has any other co-occurring mental health conditions such as depression, eating disorders, etc.
    • Additional physical health problems

The Importance of Professional Help

If you or a loved one are experiencing alcohol detox symptoms, it’s important to reach out and get medical attention. If Delirium Tremens (DTs) is present in an alcohol withdrawal episode, death can become a very likely outcome. A kindling effect can also occur if withdrawal is not addressed immediately, which can lead to rapidly worsening withdrawal symptoms later.

The safest way to address alcohol abuse, as well as detox, is to consult with a medical professional or seek professional treatment. Alcohol detox is the first step of a comprehensive rehab program. If you are facing withdrawal symptoms, you should address the root of the problem by getting professional help or undergoing inpatient treatment.

Sobriety from alcohol can be a hard path to begin, but by having the resources and education in place, you can find your way to lasting recovery.

  • Sources

    U.S. National Library of Medicine. “Alcohol Withdrawal” Reviewed January 10, 2019. Accessed December 30, 2019.

Medical Disclaimer: The Recovery Village aims to improve the quality of life for people struggling with a substance use or mental health disorder with fact-based content about the nature of behavioral health conditions, treatment options and their related outcomes. We publish material that is researched, cited, edited and reviewed by licensed medical professionals. The information we provide is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. It should not be used in place of the advice of your physician or other qualified healthcare provider.