Detox from alcohol can begin within hours of discontinuing a drinking session. Typically, alcohol withdrawal symptoms happen for heavier drinkers.
Alcohol withdrawal can begin within hours of ending a drinking session. However, not everyone will experience withdrawal symptoms in the same way — some people will experience less severe symptoms than others, for example. You are more likely to go through severe withdrawal if you:
- Drink heavily
- Have been drinking for a long period of time
- Have previously had withdrawals
- Have other health conditions
The amount of time that it takes for alcohol to completely leave your bloodstream depends on multiple factors, including age, gender, health, genetic makeup and history of alcohol use. According to the National Library of Medicine, alcohol withdrawal typically begins within eight hours after the last drink, but it can also take a few days to begin in some cases. The symptoms usually peak within 24 to 72 hours, but some can continue for several weeks. Alcohol detection tests can still detect alcohol in your urine, saliva and hair after it has been completely eliminated from your bloodstream.
Article at a Glance:
- There are generally considered to be four stages in the alcohol withdrawal timeline: stage one (first six to 12 hours), stage two (next 12–48 hours), stage three (last 48–72 hours) and stage four (three to seven days).
- The brain, body and neurotransmitters go into shock when deprived of the alcohol they have become dependent on.
- Age, weight, drinking habits and other health problems affect the detox timeline.
- It is important to seek professional treatment for alcohol detox in a comprehensive alcohol rehab program.
When Does Alcohol Withdrawal Start?
Alcohol withdrawal will begin once the levels of alcohol in the bloodstream drop below what is normal for the person. Mild symptoms may begin as early as six hours after the last drink for some people. The time it takes withdrawal to start depends on factors like age, gender, genetics, overall health and alcohol use history.
Withdrawal symptoms can also occur when alcohol use is significantly reduced but not stopped entirely. The start of alcohol withdrawal symptoms may be longer and less obvious in these situations.
How Long Does Alcohol Withdrawal Last?
The length of alcohol withdrawal will be different for everyone, and it mainly depends on how heavily and frequently alcohol was used. Physical alcohol withdrawal symptoms will normally peak around 48 to 72 hours after the last drink and last seven to 10 days, but they can last as long as two weeks. Symptoms that occur after two weeks are usually more psychological in nature and can last for several months in some cases.
Alcohol withdrawal symptoms may vary from person to person, but the general timeline can be broken down into four stages:
- Stage one: In the first six to 12 hours, people will experience headaches, anxiety, stomach pains, insomnia, poor appetite and nausea.
- Stage two: In the next 12 to 48 hours, withdrawal escalates to include symptoms like hallucinations and seizures.
- Stage three: In the following 48 to 72 hours, withdrawal symptoms can include fever, sweating, confusion, quick heart rate, high blood pressure and delirium tremens — a potentially fatal condition.
- Stage four: Withdrawal symptoms will start to improve after 72 hours and gradually dissipate over the next four to seven days.
Stage three involves the worst of the withdrawal symptoms. Alcohol withdrawal can be a potentially life-threatening event if not handled or treated properly, so it’s important to know what helps with alcohol withdrawal.
What Is Delirium Tremens?
Delirium tremens (DTs), or “alcohol withdrawal delirium,” is one of the more extreme symptoms that can occur after quitting alcohol. It is marked by delirium and a change in the level of consciousness, and it can be fatal in 5% to 15% of cases. Older patients with a history of heavy alcohol use, a previous history of DTs, poor liver function and more severe withdrawal symptoms at the outset are more likely to experience DTs.
What Causes Alcohol Withdrawal?
People who drink a significant amount or drink on a regular basis can develop a chemical dependence on the substance. When they suddenly stop giving the body the substance it has become dependent on, it can send the body, brain and neurotransmitters into shock.
The brain’s neurotransmitters are heavily suppressed by alcohol consumption. When alcohol use is stopped, the neurotransmitters must readjust to gain the sensitivity needed to correctly function.
What Happens During Alcohol Withdrawal and Detox?
Alcohol stays in your system for varying amounts of time based on your body weight, metabolism and how many drinks you’ve had. Once you stop drinking, you can expect to experience certain symptoms, especially if you are a chronic drinker.
We surveyed 2,136 American adults who either wanted to stop drinking alcohol or had already tried to quit (successfully or not). Of those surveyed, 1,559 had detoxed before. We asked them about their alcohol use, reasons for drinking, alcohol-related outcomes, health and more.
Respondents’ withdrawal symptoms lasted for an average of 4.83 days. For 95% of respondents, withdrawal symptoms lasted for two to eight days. This range stayed the same whether they were using home remedies for alcohol withdrawal or detoxing at a medical facility.
Respondents who had detoxed from alcohol reported experiencing the following withdrawal symptoms:
- 47% reported irritability
- 42% reported fatigue
- 45% reported sweating
- 49% reported stress or anxiety
- 34% reported hand tremors
- 24% reported nausea or vomiting
- 24% reported mood swings
- 23% reported rapid heart rate
- 13% reported hallucinations
- 11% reported delirium tremens
- 8% reported seizures
Across the board, heavy alcohol users were more likely to experience withdrawal symptoms. Heavy drinkers more than doubled their risk for hallucinations during detox, being 2.39 times more likely than other alcohol users to experience them. Compared to others during detox, heavy drinkers were:
- 90% more likely to experience delirium tremens
- 45% more likely to experience seizures
- 95% more likely to experience rapid heart rate
- 147% more likely to experience hand tremors
- 69% more likely to experience sweating
- 65% more likely to experience nausea or vomiting
- 35% more likely to experience irritability
- 28% more likely to experience fatigue
- 28% more likely to experience stress or anxiety
- 27% more likely to experience mood swings
Common Withdrawal and Detox Symptoms
The most common alcohol withdrawal and detox symptoms include:
- Extreme Fatigue
- Sweating or hot flashes
- Mood swings
- Rapid heart rate
- Dangerous dehydration
- Alcoholic tremors
- Delirium tremens
Factors That May Influence the Detox Timeline
Each person’s alcohol detox timeline will vary based on a number of different factors, including:
- Amount of alcohol typically consumed
- How often the person has been drinking on a regular basis
- Whether alcohol is combined with other substances
- Whether co-occurring mental health conditions like depression, anxiety or eating disorders are present
- Additional physical health problems
What Is the Treatment for Alcohol Withdrawal?
Treatment for alcohol withdrawal symptoms is best handled by medical professionals in a detox program, rehab facility or similar inpatient setting. Those who may experience severe withdrawal symptoms should be sure to seek professional help, as detoxing alone can be very dangerous.
The goal of treatment is to ease the symptoms of withdrawal and support the patient as they detox. Typical treatment for alcohol withdrawal may include:
- Initial observations of the patient to determine the severity of withdrawal symptoms
- Anti-anxiety drugs like benzodiazepines, which reduce anxiety triggered by withdrawal symptoms
- Anti-seizures drugs like Depakote, which helps prevent seizures
- Beta-blockers, which can slow the heart rate, reduce tremors, improve anxiety and sometimes help with alcohol cravings
Related Topic: Alcoholic seizures treatment
Alcohol withdrawal is mentally, physically and emotionally exhausting. This is why skilled rehabilitation centers, where competent and compassionate professionals can supervise the detoxification process and manage withdrawal symptoms, are so vital for patient health and safety. Withdrawal and detox are the difficult first steps toward sobriety, but they are well worth taking. People who feel they aren’t ready to detox in a rehab facility sometimes try to taper off alcohol themselves. However, it’s important to keep in mind that tapering is rarely an effective approach to alcohol addiction treatment.
What Is the Long-Term Outlook for Alcohol Withdrawal?
The long-term outlook for alcohol addiction treatment depends on the extent of organ damage and whether the person continues to drink after rehab. In the months after treatment, patients may still experience sleep disturbances, mood swings and low energy levels.
A complete recovery is possible. If patients return to drinking, however, they are at risk for developing serious health conditions like liver, heart and nervous system disease or damage.
Related Topic: How to cleanse your liver from alcohol
The Importance of Professional Help
If you or someone you love is experiencing withdrawal symptoms or attempting to self-detox, it’s important to reach out and get medical attention. If severe symptoms like delirium tremens are present, death can become a very likely outcome.
The safest way to address alcohol abuse and begin detox is to consult with a medical professional or seek professional treatment. When speaking with your medical professional about how to detox from alcohol, they will tell you it’s 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 and undergoing treatment after detox.
Sobriety can be a hard path to begin, but The Recovery Village can help you find your way to a healthier, alcohol-free future. Contact us today to learn more about alcohol addiction treatment programs that can work well for your needs.
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U.S. National Library of Medicine. “Alcohol Withdrawal.” MedlinePlus, January 10, 2019. Accessed December 30, 2019.
Alcohol.org.nz. “What happens when you drink alcohol?” 2022. Accessed February 10, 2022.
Newman, Richard K.; Stobart Gallagher, Megan A.; Gomez, Anna E. “Alcohol Withdrawal.” StatPearls, November 13, 2021. Accessed February 10, 2022.
Bayard, Max; Mcintyre, Jonah; et al. “Alcohol Withdrawal Syndrome.” American Family Physician, March 2004. Accessed February 10, 2022.
Burns, Michael James. “What is the mortality rate for delirium tremens (DTs)?” Medscape, November 6, 2020. Accessed February 10, 2022.
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