How Long Does it Take to Detox From Alcohol?

Detox from Alcohol
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The detox process itself is not too typically lengthy, in terms of actual days. This short amount of time can be viewed as intense, but remember, it’s also a temporary process. It won’t last forever. Many people in recovery have found detox to work better when complemented by other steps of treatment. We’ve found that you will not typically progress as far when trying to detox alone. Having a customized recovery plan in place is often the best way to successfully stay sober.

When you decide to detox from alcohol with the help of a treatment facility, this means you’re dedicating a period of time to receiving medical care to help you overcome alcohol addiction. Once you’ve gone through a detox, the next step includes rehabilitation, which often involves counseling, through either inpatient or outpatient care.

How long does it take to detox from alcohol? A detox timeline will vary from person to person since it is contingent on several factors and no experience is ever the same. For example, if you enter detox at an outpatient facility you can expect the initial intake, including a physical exam and the start of detoxification treatment, to last approximately 1 to 2 hours. The full span of detox treatment, however, has the possibility of lasting anywhere from 3 to 14 days, depending on your unique situation and the progress of detox.

Your alcohol detox depends on how long it takes the body to fully rid alcohol from your system, so you can begin the next phase of treatment. While this is can be a tough time the right treatment center can help provide you with the medical and emotional support you need to get back on track.

Side Effects of Alcohol Detox

To be frank, detoxing from alcohol is not a comfortable process, but a necessary one to allow the body to rid alcohol from the system completely. If you’ve drank alcohol on a regular basis for a longer period of time, you may experience harsher reactions or side effects. Don’t let this discourage you, however, as the temporary discomfort only means a stronger sense of self on your journey to long-term recovery.

Although each person will experience detox from alcohol differently, many of those who are in treatment will experience some of these common alcohol withdrawal symptoms such as:

  •      Nausea and/or vomiting;
  •      Mood swings;
  •      Anxiety or depression;
  •      Increased blood pressure;
  •      Hallucinations;
  •      Dizziness and/or confusion;
  •      Tremors or seizures; and/or
  •      Body pain.

These usually occur within the first couple days of alcohol withdrawal (also known as delirium tremens). It is also when they are known to be more intense, since the body and brain are adapting to being independent of alcohol after being used to functioning with it for so long. Signs and symptoms of alcohol withdrawal tend to begin between 6 and 48 hours after heavy alcohol consumption has decreased, according to studies presented by the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA).

Drinking alcohol regularly allows the body to build up a tolerance, which means the amount of alcohol you would need to become intoxicated in the beginning is not the same as it is now. High-functioning alcoholics, for example, may still be able to go through the motions of their daily lives without drawing too much attention to themselves. To them, their buzzed or drunken state may seem a normal way to live, especially if they aren’t outwardly affecting anyone.

But keep in mind, alcoholism is a disease that progresses over time. Regardless of what it may feel like, alcohol does short-term and long-term damage to your body, your mind, and your life. What can start as a habit of a few drinks every night for dinner can turn into a few drinks to start the day and eventually evolve into a more serious level of alcohol dependence. This slippery slope is one of the many reasons an alcohol detox program is recommended sooner rather than later.

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What to Expect from Alcohol Detox

No one follows the exact same road to alcoholism. It starts in different ways. It’s caused by different things and is a reaction to different triggers. These unique experiences also apply to the detoxification process. Alcohol detox programs may differ depending on several factors, including questions such as:

  •      How long have you been abusing alcohol?
  •      How much do you drink consistently?
  •      Is alcohol consumption paired with taking other illicit substances?
  •      Do you also suffer other health disorders?

Answers to these questions may start to shed light on a person’s detox timeline. It gives doctors and other caregivers a better understanding on how to approach your treatment from a medical and psychological standpoint.

With detox, there are similarities in experiences to use as a guide to what can be expected, but every individual will have a slightly different approach to their own treatment. Generally speaking, though, when you go through alcohol detoxification, cravings are typical in the beginning stages. When the body is dependent on alcohol, being suddenly deprived of it may cause intense reactions and side effects.

Because each reaction is unique and in some cases, unpredictable, it’s helpful to have trained assistance close by.  Many people choose to go through detox treatment in a specialized treatment facility, which has medical help and guiding support to help people through the tougher stages of detox and rehabilitation.

Alcohol withdrawal can have both a physical and mental impact. Now, more than ever, it’s important for you to have a proper support system in place. It’s not recommended to attempt alcohol detox alone, but rather receive detox treatment in a place that is comfortable, calm, and safe.

In some cases, certain medication has proven helpful for people who are going through detox. Prescribed medications can help eliminate the pain and discomfort of alcohol withdrawal, but it must always be administered and monitored by a professional who can track the doses and be ready to respond to any adverse reactions.

Disulfiram, naltrexone, and acamprosate are commonly used to assist with alcohol-related cravings. These medications have all be approved by the FDA and are used in several detox centers around the country. They are administered to help minimize alcohol withdrawal symptoms, but can also help prevent you from wanting to drink again.

Disulfiram, for example, makes you sick if you drink. The unpleasant response discourages people from returning to alcohol use. Alternatively, naltrexone helps reduce cravings by blocking opioid receptors in the brain. Just note that medication isn’t the right solution for everyone. It is used on a case-by-case basis through the determination of your doctor or other medical personnel.

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Stages of Alcohol Treatment

Treatment for alcoholism is usually fairly methodical. There are steps to take, which are designed to set you up for success without being overwhelming. Detox is always the first part of alcohol treatment. You have to start with a clean slate, so to speak, which means the body can no longer have alcohol or other illegal substances in the system.

This withdrawal period is not as easy as deciding one day to quit drinking. After all, alcoholism is a disease. As much as you might think it can be self-controlled, in the majority of situations, that’s not the case. During detox, the body may react unexpectedly. The discomfort may be too much to bear from someone going who choose to go through this withdrawal period alone. This is why relapse is reported more often in this period, especially if there is no outside help at this phase.

In a treatment facility, trained staff have the resources at their disposal to help make the detox experience as comfortable as possible for you. There are also the right people in place to help motivate you to the next step, especially in the first few days, which may seem like the hardest. Most importantly, seeking detox in a treatment facility means there is no temptation surrounding you. Alcohol, bad influences, and risky situations are not present, which allows you to put your health front and center.

After you have gone through the detox process, a rehabilitation plan follows. The two stages work hand in hand as part of a full treatment process. Why is rehab important?

Rehab allows you the time to come to terms with alcoholism. It helps you identify where problems with alcohol started. Knowing where it stems from and the triggers that contribute to your alcohol use will help you understand how to manage temptation and avoid less than ideal situations in the future. What you uncover may surprise you.

Rehab programs may follow the same general timeline, but like the detox period, each are tailored to accommodate your needs. You have the opportunity to choose what you believe will be the most successful path for you. This may be an inpatient program where you can get away from your normal day-to-day environment in the comfort of a professional treatment center surrounded by trained specialists. Others may choose outpatient rehab or opt for a combination of the two.

With rehabilitation, recovery professionals and counselors will help you address challenges you face in your current life. How has alcohol affected your health? Your family? Your work? In rehab, you can work through these questions with one-on-one counseling or in a group setting sharing stories with others who may have similar experiences as you. You’re not meant to have all the answers all at once. So, don’t worry if it takes times. That’s normal. The important part of rehab is, first and foremost, your health.

After you’ve tackled the hard-hitting questions, rehab offers the tools to learn how to make positive changes for the future. What kind of coping skills will you need? How can your lifestyle be adjusted to accommodate a new sober way of living? What concerns or fears do you have about sobriety?

Like with any disease or injury to the body, it takes time and adjustment. It takes time to heal. It takes adjustments to a life without alcohol of any kind. Don’t feel pressured to rush through any part of treatment or feel like it’s too difficult a road. Detox, rehabilitation, and the path to long-term sobriety is challenging but is one that has been achieved time and time again by following the right steps. You are capable of achieving it, too.

Detox Treatment and Care

There are signs of alcoholism family members and friends can look out for in their loved one. However, symptoms aren’t always easy to spot or may be kept hidden from the one who is suffering. If you are a family member of a person who struggles with alcohol, you may not always realize right away alcohol treatment is necessary.

Because the decision to enter detox doesn’t always come when you’ve hit “rock bottom” or been part of an intervention. The decision to detox may come when you are concerned about your own well-being; when you want to seek help and know it’s best not to try it out alone; or when you find yourself on a slippery slope and want to reset onto a steadier path for your future.

We’ll say it again, the process of detox and rehabilitation is unique for everyone. The focus is on your health and what works best for you, separate from anyone else. Sobriety will not happen overnight. It can feel like a slow process. But each step of treatment is important before beginning the next. There’s a lot to be absorbed and learned in the rehabilitation and recovery process. You will learn about the disease of alcoholism, how to take control of it in the future, and find the kind of support you can rely on long-term.

The alcohol detox timeline and what comes after only gives a general idea of what to expect. It won’t be completely accurate for each person and it might differ for many lasting several more days than anticipated.

The timeline and side effects of detox may sound unpleasant and uncomfortable, but detox is doable. It’s a short-lived stop on the way to a healthier, more enriching life. Think about how you want your future without alcohol to look and feel confident knowing there are people ready to help you get to where you want to be.


  1. MedlinePlus, Alcohol Withdrawal. Accessed March 7, 2016.
  2. WebMD, What Is Alcohol Withdrawal? Accessed Feb. 3, 2016.
  3. WebMD, Alcohol Detox and Rehab Programs: What to Know. Accessed March 3, 2016.
  4. WebMD, Do I Have an Alcohol Problem? Accessed April 4, 2016.
  5. WebMD, Could You Be Hooked? Surprising Addictions. Accessed Feb. 3, 2016.
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