Detox is the process of removing toxins, such as alcohol, from the body. During this time, people with alcohol addiction may experience withdrawal symptoms such as fatigue, tremors or hallucinations.
This process can be painful and, at times, dangerous. The length of alcohol detox depends on various factors, including the severity of a person’s alcoholism. The more severe the substance use disorder, the longer detox takes.
Detox is the first stage of treatment for alcoholism. Someone who has dealt with alcoholism for multiple years likely will endure a longer detox period than a person who has experienced alcohol addiction for a few months.
During the early stages of alcoholism, drinking tolerance increases as the body adapts to alcohol use. When they stop drinking, people with mild or moderate alcoholism may begin to feel negative side effects, including alcohol withdrawal symptoms such as insomnia or anxiety.
Withdrawal effects peak about 72 hours after the last drink, and symptoms reduce between days five and seven.
Symptoms of withdrawal typically begin within eight hours of the last drink, according to a 2014 report published in The New England Journal of Medicine. Withdrawal effects peak at about 72 hours, and symptoms reduce between days five and seven.
For those with severe alcoholism, detox takes longer. Severe alcoholics may experience delirium tremens when they stop drinking. Delirium tremens is a set of severe alcohol withdrawal symptoms that often affects people with late-stage alcoholism. These symptoms may include confusion, hallucinations and tremors.
Delirium tremens is a rare and serious condition. In fact, research has indicated that about 3 to 5 percent of people hospitalized for alcohol withdrawal experience delirium tremens, according to The New England Journal of Medicine’s report.
Delirium tremens symptoms typically begin about three days after the start of detox. They generally last two to three days, but they can extend past eight days depending on the severity of withdrawal effects. Delirium tremens can lead to death.
A person’s tolerance to alcohol and the severity of his or her addiction are two of the biggest factors that influence the length of time that it takes to detox. The amount of time someone has been dependent on alcohol and the average amount of alcohol consumed also affect detox duration.
Factors that determine how long alcohol detox lasts include:
The way that a person approaches detox can also quicken or shorten the time it takes to get through withdrawal. Quitting alcohol cold turkey is the fastest way to detox, but it’s also the most dangerous.
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Going through alcohol detox at home can be dangerous for someone with alcohol addiction. People with severe alcoholism who suddenly stop drinking can experience dangerous alcohol withdrawal symptoms that they may not know how to manage.
Alcohol rehab offers a safe, secure location for people to detox. Trained medical professionals can employ medication-assisted therapy to alleviate painful withdrawal symptoms. This can expedite the detox process.
Medical staff check the vital signs of people experiencing delirium tremens every 15 to 30 minutes. They also provide medications, such as benzodiazepines, to promote sleep, control agitation and decrease the likelihood of seizures.
After completing detox, people with alcohol addiction enter residential or outpatient treatment, where they can work on changing their feelings toward alcohol and learn ways to control their cravings. They may also participate in alcohol addiction counseling.
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