Skip to content


Alcohol Detox

Alcohol detox can be a very painful and dangerous process if done without medical supervision. However, it is the first step in overcoming addiction to alcohol.

What Is Alcohol Detox?

People who suffer from alcoholism often find that the first step in their road to recovery is detoxification, or detox. Detox is the elimination of alcohol from the body after the body has adjusted itself chemically to having the substance regularly. It can be done in an outpatient or inpatient medical detox setting. Detox is done to help the body get through withdrawal symptoms. Withdrawal symptoms can vary from mild to severe depending on various factors, such as how much the individual drank, how often, and if they have any co-occurring disorders. While this alone doesn’t guarantee life-long abstinence, alcohol detox can provide the first step in living cleanly when followed by rehabilitation or therapy.

Need Addiction Support?

Help is available. Enter your phone number to receive a call from a treatment provider.

Why Should I Avoid Alcohol Detox At Home?

If someone has been heavily drinking for a long time and stops abruptly, they can experience withdrawal symptoms within 24 hours. This occurs a result of the alcohol being absent after your brain has become used to it being present.

Withdrawal symptoms can be very painful and dangerous. These symptoms include:

  • Anxiety
  • Irritability
  • Mood swings
  • Headaches
  • Fevers
  • Insomnia
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Excessive sweating
  • Weakness
  • Changes in blood pressure/heart rate
  • Low energy
  • Poor appetite
  • Poor coordination
  • Gastrointestinal issues
  • Heart Palpitations
  • Physical Tremors
  • Seizures
  • Kidney or liver dysfunction
  • Delirium tremens
  • Death

It takes time for the brain to adjust back to living without alcohol. Alcohol withdrawal symptoms can become severe if not treated properly, and may include:

Alcohol Hallucinosis

Alcohol hallucinosis causes hallucinations that usually occur within 12 to 24 hours after a person’s last drink and may last as long as two days.

Alcohol Withdrawal Seizures

Seizures may occur 6 to 48 hours after the last drink. The peak is usually after 24 hours.

Delirium Tremens

Delirium tremens commonly begins two to three days after the last alcoholic beverage. However, it may be delayed for more than a week for some individuals. This condition causes dangerous changes to your body’s temperature control, breathing, blood pressure, and heart rate. Delirium tremens can also temporarily reduce the amount of blood flow to the brain, resulting in confusion, disorientation, nervousness, agitation, irrational beliefs, soaking sweats, sleep disturbances, hallucinations, and loss of consciousness. High risk for dehydration can also occur.

Symptoms of alcohol withdrawal typically improve within five days, though some patients may have prolonged symptoms lasting weeks, however the severe symptoms listed above do not last for weeks.

Alcohol detox under professional supervision can drastically reduce withdrawal symptoms by providing a suitable environment, proper medical attention, and even medications to reduce the pain and risk of complications. The discomfort and risk that comes with alcohol withdrawal could reduce motivation to continue the detox at home and could result in a spiraling cycle back into addiction through relapse. Detoxing at home is a serious decision, and if not done properly, could result in death.

How Long Does Alcohol Detox Take?

The amount of time needed to complete alcohol detox depends on a number of factors, including:

  • How much and how frequently alcohol is used
  • Whether additional drugs have been used along with alcohol
  • Any underlying medical or mental health issues
  • Family history
  • Age
  • Gender
  • Body weight

Detox takes an average of one-week, depending on the circumstances. It might take longer in severe cases. Despite detox ending, it may take weeks or months for the body to fully heal the mind and the associated addictive behaviors or habits.

The liver also plays an important role in the length of withdrawal. If the addiction has severely damaged the liver, it could take much longer for it to process the alcohol out of the system and therefore take much longer to heal.

Paid Advertising. We may receive advertising fees if you follow links to the BetterHelp site.

Online Addiction Counseling

Get professional help from an online addiction and mental health counselor from BetterHelp.

Get Matched
Begin Therapy
  • Personalized Matching Process
  • Easy Online Scheduling
  • 30,000+ Licensed Therapists


The Alcohol Detox Process

While the process of alcohol detox can vary depending upon severity of the addiction, amount of alcohol regularly consumed, allergies, and co-occurring disorders, most experiences can be broken down into four stages.

Early Stage

  1. Withdrawal and detox begin as early as two hours after the last drink, but more frequently begin around 6-24 hours after the last drink.
  2. Symptoms are generally mild.
  3. Medication is not typically required.

Peak Stage

  1. Generally, the worst stage for most addictions.
  2. Typically, occurs between 24-48 hours after the last drink.
  3. Nearly all of the alcohol has left the body.
  4. Relapse is most likely.
  5. This is when medication and therapy are most crucial.

Weakening Stage

  1. The body is growing accustomed to the absence of alcohol.
  2. Symptoms begin to subside.
  3. Medication can be weaned off or ceased.
  4. Other forms of therapy may be introduced.
  5. Rarely, when the most intense and severe symptoms (delirium tremens) set in.

Final Stage

  1. This stage lasts between 5 to 14 days after detox begins.
  2. Inpatients are capable of leaving detox and entering residential treatment.

Medication Used For Alcohol Detox

Alcohol withdrawal can have significant physical effects on the body. It can produce very uncomfortable side effects and risky complications. To get through the pain and ensure a much higher success rate, doctors prescribe certain medications to reduce the severity of withdrawal symptoms and the risk of complications.

Benzodiazepines are commonly prescribed drugs to help with the negative side effects of alcohol withdrawal as well as reduce possible seizures. The purpose of Benzodiazepines is to slow down the central nervous system, thus providing a calming sensation and treating insomnia, muscle spasms, and anxiety.

Where Can I Safely Detox?

Depending on the severity of your addiction and the facilities you are considering, both inpatient and outpatient programs can help you safely detox. For those who have a more severe addiction, it is recommended to admit to an inpatient program for round the clock observation and help in efficiently succeeding in alcohol detox. If you are struggling with alcohol abuse, it is so important to detox under professional help due to the extreme risks involved with detoxing at home. Contact a provider today.

Start Your Recovery Today

Help is available. Explore your recovery options and break free from addiction.