Alcoholism is easily one of the most common addiction problems today, which is why treatment programs are so ubiquitous. Before taking steps to quit alcohol, knowing the detox timeline and what to expect during alcohol withdrawal is important. Quitting drinking is not always easy, but it can be eased and guided with professional supervision.
An Overview of Alcohol Withdrawal
Withdrawal symptoms occur because the body’s brain and central nervous system have become dependent on alcohol. When the brain and body are continually exposed to alcohol, they adapt to its presence. Prolonged exposure to dangerous amounts of alcohol forces the user to rely more and more on drinking to feel normal, let alone pleasured or relaxed by the alcohol.
When a person suddenly quits drinking, the body’s natural chemical and hormonal systems are thrown into disarray and confusion since those systems are most affected by chronic alcohol consumption. Specifically, since alcohol is a central nervous system depressant, the brain adjusts to become more active, balancing out the suppression that alcohol causes. When alcohol is suddenly stopped, alcohol withdrawal symptoms occur due to the brain’s increased activity level. Most symptoms during alcohol detox are related to overactive neurological signals and last until the brain readjusts.
Common Alcohol Withdrawal Symptoms
Alcohol withdrawal symptoms are common when someone who struggles with alcohol quits drinking. Common alcohol withdrawal symptoms include:
- Pulse faster than 100 beats per minute
- Hand tremors
- Trouble sleeping
- Nausea or vomiting
Severe Alcohol Withdrawal Symptoms
Alcohol withdrawal symptoms can quickly worsen, requiring immediate medical attention. Severe alcohol withdrawal symptoms include seizures and delirium tremens. Without treatment, delirium tremens, sometimes called “the DTs,” has a 15% mortality risk.
Symptoms of delirium tremens often occur within 48–96 hours after the last drink of alcohol but can occur up to 10 days after the last drink. Symptoms include:
- Changes in mental status and mood
- Extreme sleepiness
- Sudden severe confusion
- Excitement or bursts of energy
- Sensitivity to light, sounds and touch
Other alcohol withdrawal symptoms can occur before delirium tremens. Because it can be hard to tell when alcohol withdrawal symptoms are becoming severe, and delirium tremens is a great risk, medical supervision is important when you or a loved one stops drinking.
Alcohol Detox Timeline
Physically detoxing from alcohol will generally take around five days, although withdrawal can last longer. A typical alcohol withdrawal timeline can include:
- Six to eight hours after your last drink: Mild withdrawal symptoms like tremors, anxiety and nausea may begin.
- 12–24 hours after your last drink: Withdrawal symptoms can worsen. Tremors may worsen, and agitation, insomnia and hallucinations may occur. The risk of developing delirium tremens begins during this time.
- 24–48 hours after your last drink: Symptoms can continue to worsen, and alcohol withdrawal seizures may occur.
- Two to five days after your last drink: Withdrawal symptoms like confusion, agitation, fever, fast heartbeat, high blood pressure and sweating may occur. The risk of delirium tremens remains present.
- One to six months after your last drink: Although acute withdrawal may have subsided, a protracted withdrawal may occur at this time. Persistent anxiety and insomnia can occur and may sometimes last for years.
Factors That Influence the Alcohol Detox Timeline
Several factors can influence the severity of withdrawal and how long it takes to detox from alcohol. These include:
- How heavily a person used alcohol, as the risk of withdrawal increases with heavier alcohol use.
- How frequently a person used alcohol, as the risk of withdrawal increases in those who drink more often.
- Whether the person has gone through alcohol withdrawal before, as previous detox attempts increase the risk of serious withdrawal symptoms.
Alcohol Withdrawal Treatment
When you seek medical supervision for alcohol withdrawal, your medical team will ensure your comfort while treating developing symptoms. Expect frequent monitoring, especially as symptoms peak.
Medications used during medical alcohol detox target the receptors affected by alcohol withdrawal. Benzodiazepines like diazepam (Valium) or chlordiazepoxide (Librium) are the first-line choices for alcohol withdrawal because they inhibit the overactivity of brain receptors that alcohol withdrawal causes.
Once symptoms start subsiding, your medical team will discuss the next steps with you. Continued rehab treatment will follow medical detox and could include inpatient or outpatient rehab.
Finding a good medical alcohol detox center is essential to safely and comfortably withdraw from alcohol. Orlando Recovery Center is a professional yet relaxed environment that offers you safety and peace of mind while completing your medical detox in a place that will provide your best chance of effectively stopping alcohol. Contact us today to get started on your path to recovery.
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The Recovery Village aims to improve the quality of life for people struggling with a substance use or mental health disorder with fact-based content about the nature of behavioral health conditions, treatment options and their related outcomes. We publish material that is researched, cited, edited and reviewed by licensed medical professionals. The information we provide is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. It should not be used in place of the advice of your physician or other qualified healthcare provider.