How Long Does Alcohol Detox Take?
Quitting drinking can seem insurmountable. But this quick and easy breakdown of the timeline of alcohol detoxification provides a roadmap of what to expect.
What Is The Alcohol Detox Timeline?
No one wants to quit drinking just to feel even more terrible than they did when they were abusing alcohol. That’s why many individuals struggling with an alcohol use disorder find themselves wondering about what the detoxification, or detox, stage of the recovery process will entail. The alcohol detox timeline is different for everyone: some drinkers may experience mild or no symptoms, while others may have life-threatening complications when they stop drinking.
Almost half of those who struggle with alcoholism do experience some form of withdrawal when they stop drinking. While many factors will affect just what that will look like, there are some broad indications of what to expect when one decides to stop drinking.
The First Day Of The Alcohol Detox Timeline
The first symptoms of alcohol detox can start to appear as few as 6 hours after the last drink. These can include sleeplessness, nervousness, shaking, sweating, loss of appetite, gastric distress, headache, and a pounding heartbeat. In the most extreme cases, some may experience seizures this early in the timeline.
The second half of the first day is when “alcoholic hallucinosis” may occur. According to the American Family Physician Journal, these hallucinations can be “visual, auditory, or tactile.” This means one may experience seeing, hearing, or touching phenomena that aren’t really there.
The Second Day
Some of the lesser side effects of alcohol withdrawal may continue during this time. However, for those experiencing a more mild detox, the good news is that things shouldn’t get much more intense than they already have.
For those with more severe cases, the second day may include so-called tonic-clonic seizures (also called grand mal seizures.) The individual may pass out, become short of breath, or experience convulsions in the limbs.
Proper protocol for those experiencing a tonic-clonic seizure is to orient them onto their side, move anything around them that they may strike with their limbs while convulsing, and to pay close attention to how long the seizure lasts (longer seizures may indicate a more serious condition.)
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The Third Day
Delirium tremens may occur on the third day. This is marked by confusion and a life-threatening over-arousal of the nervous system. It can be deadly in up to 37% of cases if not treated properly. Those with polydrug addictions, damaged livers, the malnourished, and the elderly are all more at risk for delirium tremens. It’s estimated that between 3-5% of those who withdraw will have symptoms of high severity.
Beyond The Third Day
By the fifth day, the most severe symptoms have likely peaked. The more moderate symptoms, which can be psychosomatic in nature, can persist for a month or longer. If one has attempted detox before, it’s crucial to be aware of what’s known as “kindling.” Quite simply, kindling means that each successive detox tends to be more intense than the one before. So, if a drinker has already gone through the first 3 days of detox only to begin drinking again, it’s best to understand that symptoms will likely be more extreme than they were previously.
The good news is that most people who stay sober for longer don’t end up relapsing. After 5 years of sobriety, according to a multi-year study, the chance of relapse drops to less than 15%.
A Successful Detox From Alcohol
There’s no crystal ball that will be able to predict exactly what any given individual’s alcohol detox timeline will involve or how long it will last. The range of symptoms extends from those reminiscent of a mild flu or cold all the way across the spectrum to the most dangerous kinds of seizures.
Fortunately, there are many tools in a licensed treatment professional’s arsenal that can be used to address many of the issues those going through detox will face. These can include the use of an IV to restore bodily fluids, the use of vitamins and supplements to foster mental and physical health during withdrawal, and the application of a wide variety of medications that can be used to gently calm (or heavily sedate, depending on the case) the individual in recovery.
One thing is certain: having a powerful ally under the care of a medical professional can go a long way toward making detox manageable and increasing the likelihood of long-lasting sobriety. No matter the severity of your case, you can learn about how to get help right now.
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