Alcohol Withdrawal Timeline

Alcohol use disorder (AUD) leads to a dependence on alcohol consumption that creates difficulty when trying to stop drinking and can lead to alcohol withdrawal symptoms. These symptoms of alcohol withdrawal can potentially be life threatening, which is why people with alcohol use disorder should strongly consider detoxing from alcohol at a rehab facility. Receiving treatment for alcoholism in a detox program is much safer, as patients are under supervision from medical professionals who are able to monitor withdrawal symptoms.

When people are first beginning their detox, they typically wonder “how long does it take to detox from alcohol?”. The alcohol detox timeline varies based on each individual’s alcohol consumption, as in the amount consumed and the frequency of consumption, as well as their tolerance, gender, weight, and age, along with whether they continued to drink while misusing other substances and how long they have been drinking. The severity of the alcohol addiction will also affect the intensity of the alcohol withdrawal symptoms.

In typical cases, alcohol detox can take about 72 hours to get through alcohol withdrawal and begin addiction treatment without any distractions. Even after the first three days when the worst of the symptoms have subsided, it’s important to stay at a treatment center to sustain sobriety since the risk of relapse is much higher in the first few weeks after detox.

During this time, treatment will be crucial in maintaining recovery, which is why Fusion Recovery offers support groups such as Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) along with counseling and behavior therapies. Besides reducing the risk of relapse and promoting safety of the patients with medical supervision, receiving treatment at a rehab facility is also beneficial as they can offer alcohol withdrawal medication to reduce alcohol cravings.

These medications include naltrexone, acamprosate, and disulfiram, and can be used either during detox or after detox to promote sobriety. Naltrexone and acamprosate are used to block the rewarding effects of alcohol consumption, while disulfiram causes unpleasant symptoms if alcohol is consumed.

Unlike medication assisted treatment (MAT) for other substance use disorders, medication for alcohol addiction does not typically alleviate withdrawal symptoms. However, in cases of severe withdrawal symptoms, patients may be prescribed benzodiazepines or anti-psychotics to prevent seizures and hallucinations as these symptoms can lead to serious consequences.

During detox from alcohol, patients with severe alcohol use disorder may suffer from alcohol withdrawal syndrome. This is a combination of physical, mental, and emotional symptoms that occur when the patient stops drinking. Since some symptoms can linger for a few weeks, medical detox at a rehab center will typically last about 3 to 14 days to assure that when recovery programs begin, the worst of the withdrawal symptoms have subsided.

Psychological symptoms include:

  • Depression and anxiety
  • Paranoia
  • Insomnia
  • Panic attacks
  • Intense drug cravings
  • Short-term memory loss
  • Delirium tremens

Physical symptoms include:

  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Diarrhea
  • Fatigue 
  • Fever and chills
  • Seizures
  • Excessive sweating and shaking
  • Heart palpitations

The timeline for alcohol detox symptoms begins between 4 to 12 hours after the last drink of alcohol. These withdrawal symptoms will reach their height of intensity during the first 24 to 72 hours, with the worst occurring about 2 days after the patient has quit their alcohol consumption. For patients who experience delirium tremens (DTs), a highly intense and dangerous symptom of alcohol withdrawal, these symptoms will typically begin about 48-72 hours after heavy drinking has stopped.

Symptoms of alcohol withdrawal will usually last for 3-4 days, although sometimes they may last yp to 8 days. Most withdrawal symptoms will fade during day 4 or 5, although in cases of severe alcohol dependence, these symptoms can linger for a few weeks. The symptoms that patients experience will vary based on which stage of withdrawal they are currently in.

In the first 8 hours of withdrawal, patients will experience mild symptoms such as restlessness, irritability, nervousness, pale or clammy skin, loss of appetite, nausea, and slight shakiness. Once they have reached hours 12-24, symptoms will become more noticeable and intense. These symptoms include depression, mood swings, night sweats, nightmares, headaches or migraines, insomnia or difficulty sleeping, and vomiting. In the 24 to 72 hour period, when withdrawal symptoms are peaking, individuals may experience severe symptoms such as nausea and vomiting, agitation, tremors, seizures, and hallucinations.

After this time period, the majority of symptoms will usually be alleviated, and this is when the recovery treatment can begin. During this treatment, Fusion Recovery will help patients address the issues that led to their alcohol use disorder and work with them to develop healthier coping mechanisms that reduces the risk of relapse and facilitates long term sobriety.

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