Alcohol addiction is a serious issue that can have a significant impact on a person’s physical and mental health. If you or someone you know is struggling with alcohol dependence, it’s essential to understand the process of alcohol detox and how it can help in the journey towards sobriety. In this comprehensive guide, we will explore the various stages of alcohol detox, what to expect during the process, and how long it typically takes. We will also discuss the importance of ongoing care and support for maintaining long-term sobriety.
What is Alcohol Detox?
Alcohol detox is the natural process the body goes through while trying to flush out the toxins from the system after long-term alcohol intake. Detoxification is not a cure in and of itself, but the first step to recovery for people with alcohol addiction.
When a person is dependent on alcohol, not drinking can be a challenge. An alcohol detox occurs once a person stops drinking, and alcohol starts to leave the person’s system. This can be a difficult and uncomfortable process, especially for those who have been misusing alcohol for a long time.
Most detox programs conducted by treatment providers include medication, medical monitoring, and behavioral therapy. It assists recovering patients in overcoming unpleasant withdrawal symptoms without giving in to their cravings. Depending on the severity of alcohol withdrawal syndrome, the recovery process may vary from person to person.
Primary Keyword: Alcohol Detox
Factors Influencing the Duration of Alcohol Detox
The time it takes to detox from alcohol varies from person to person. It’s often influenced by many factors, such as age, weight, drinking history, and the severity of alcohol use disorder (AUD). These variables make it difficult to determine how long detoxification will take, but in general, most people can overcome their cravings and alcohol withdrawal symptoms in four to five days and their initial detox phase in around a week.
Some of the factors that can influence the duration of alcohol detox include:
- Gender, weight, and age
- The length of alcohol consumption
- The severity of alcohol abuse
- Overall mental and physical health
- History of substance use disorder
- Whether or not alcohol has been combined with other drugs
- Whether or not they have experienced alcohol withdrawal in the past
Alcohol Detox Timeline
There are generally four stages in the alcohol withdrawal timeline. The following is an overview of what people typically experience during each phase of withdrawal:
Typically, mild symptoms appear six hours after the last drink. Alcohol cravings are one of the initial symptoms to manifest. Individuals may also experience nausea, headaches, insomnia, and tremors during this detox period.
After 12 hours of sobriety, moderate withdrawal symptoms may begin to manifest. For those with a mild to moderate dependence on alcohol, these symptoms typically peak between 18 and 24 hours and subside within four to five days.
During this alcohol detox phase, patients may experience alcohol cravings, anxiety, rapid breathing, hypertension, irregular heartbeat, clammy skin, rapid mood swings, fever, and confusion.
This stage of the withdrawal process is the most intense and may require medical supervision. People are most at risk of experiencing life-threatening symptoms such as alcohol withdrawal delirium, visual hallucinations, abnormal heart rate, heart attacks, and alcohol withdrawal seizures during this alcohol detox phase.
Withdrawal Symptoms Experienced During Detox
When a person stops drinking, the nervous system becomes overactive, which can lead to various mental and physical symptoms. The most common alcohol detox symptoms include the following:
- Alcohol cold
- Extreme fatigue
- Rapid heart rate
- Abnormal breathing
- High blood pressure
- Increased body temperature
- Sweating or hot flashes
- Body tremors
- Cravings for alcohol
More severe withdrawal symptoms include mental confusion, delirium tremens (DTs), and seizures. According to the U.S. National Library of Medicine, DTs are the most severe form of alcohol withdrawal, with an anticipated mortality rate of up to 37% without professional treatment. DTs can persist for up to 5 days and occur as early as 48 hours after abrupt cessation of alcohol use in individuals with an AUD. For this reason, detoxification can be extremely dangerous if not done under medical supervision for a heavy drinker who is used to binge drinking.
When detox occurs in a medical center, healthcare professionals often use medication to treat the symptoms of withdrawal. Doctors may prescribe benzodiazepines to manage seizures and other alcohol withdrawal symptoms.
In a rehab center, the healthcare team will monitor the person’s body temperature, blood pressure, and breathing.
In some cases, a person may choose to reduce their alcohol consumption gradually over several weeks. In these cases, a person should work with a doctor or healthcare provider to develop a schedule that they can follow safely to decrease dependency.
If a person slowly detoxes, they may be able to avoid the symptoms of alcohol withdrawal. A doctor might also recommend certain dietary changes or supplements, such as vitamins B-1 (thiamin) and B-9 (folic acid), to help the body cope with the decreasing alcohol intake.
Signs of Alcohol Addiction
As with other addictions, alcohol dependency can negatively affect a person’s life.
Signs of alcohol use disorder vary from person to person, but they may include:
- Drinking in secret or alone
- Short-term memory loss
- Experiencing blackouts
- Making excuses to drink, for example, saying that it is to manage stress or to relax
- Extreme mood swings
- Changing appearance or friends
- Choosing drinking over obligations or responsibilities
- Feeling hungover even when not drinking
- Isolation from friends and family members
Anyone can develop alcohol use disorder. It is important that people seek help if they suspect that they are becoming dependent on alcohol.
When to Seek Help
A person should seek help if they notice that they or someone they love has symptoms of alcohol use disorder. Seeking help can be challenging for the person who is struggling with addiction. Loved ones and friends can help by letting the person know that they are not alone in their struggle.
If a person is unsure whether they need help, Recovery Worldwide suggests that they use a tool called CAGE, which is a short questionnaire that healthcare professionals may use to help screen people for treatment.
If a person can answer yes to two or more of the CAGE questions, they should consider seeking treatment.
The CAGE questions are as follows:
- Have you ever felt that you should cut down on your drinking?
- Have people annoyed you by criticizing your drinking?
- Have you ever felt bad or guilty about your drinking?
- Have you ever had a drink first thing in the morning to steady your nerves or get over a hangover?
Continuing Care After Detox
After completing a medical detox program, patients must continue with treatment to address and overcome their addiction at a rehab facility. Depending on the severity of their condition, patients can receive treatment at inpatient treatment, an intensive outpatient program (IOP), or a partial hospitalization program (PHP). These rehab programs offer individual and group counseling, family therapy, 12-step programs, and dual diagnosis treatment, among other evidence-based treatments. These treatment programs help people in early recovery develop healthy routines, stay accountable, and maintain their motivation to stay sober.
The first stage in alcohol addiction rehabilitation is to complete an alcohol detox program. Most patients require months or years of ongoing treatment to reduce the risk of relapse and sustain sobriety. Therefore, ongoing treatment is of the utmost importance.
The Bottom Line
The process of alcohol detox is a critical first step towards recovery from alcohol use disorder. While the timeline for detox may vary depending on individual factors, most people can expect to complete the initial phase within a week. It is essential to seek professional help during this process to ensure safety and provide the necessary support for managing withdrawal symptoms. Remember that detoxification is just the beginning, and ongoing care is crucial to maintain long-term sobriety and prevent relapse.
Our counselors are available 24 hours a day. Call 855-509-1697