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How Long Does Alcohol Detox Take?

Written By
Matt Gonzales
This page features
3 Cited Research Articles

For people with mild or moderate alcoholism, detox generally begins within eight hours after the last drink, and the process typically lasts between five and seven days. For those with severe alcoholism, withdrawal symptoms can last more than eight days after the start of delirium tremens.

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 detox depends on various factors, including the severity of a person’s alcoholism. The more severe the substance use disorder, the longer detox takes.

Man going through alcohol withdrawal

The Length of Alcohol Detox

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.

Detox from Mild and Moderate Alcohol Addiction

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.

Detox for these individuals typically begins within eight hours of their last drink, according to a 2014 report published in The New England Journal of Medicine. Withdrawal effects peak at about 72 hours after their last drink, and symptoms reduce between days five and seven.

Detox from Severe Alcohol Addiction

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.

Withdrawal symptoms caused by delirium tremens 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.

Alcohol Detox at Rehab

Detoxing from alcohol 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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