If you’ve decided to seek treatment for your alcohol addiction, the first step, even before you start your program, is to detox from alcohol. Nearly all rehabilitation programs and therapists will only accept clients once they’ve stopped drinking, and for most people addicted, this means detoxing from alcohol. However, suddenly quitting drinking can have deadly consequences, so before you quit cold turkey, it’s best to consult your doctor about your options.
What is Alcohol Detox?
Alcohol detox is essentially what it sounds like – your body is removing the toxin of alcohol from your system. Although your blood alcohol content (BAC) may reach zero (no alcohol in your system) within 24 hours after your last drink, alcohol withdrawal symptoms can last up to two weeks, depending on how long you drank and how often. Symptoms of alcohol withdrawal include:
- Headache and sensitivity to noise or light
- Exhaustion and listlessness
- Nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea
- Elevated heart rate and heart palpitations
- Excessive sweating, especially at night
- Trembling hands
- Feeling anxious or depressed
- Hallucinations, both auditory and visual
You’re not wrong if these symptoms look like those you experience from a hangover. In fact, a hangover is alcohol withdrawal. Withdrawal symptoms can be severe and even deadly. Elevated heatrate may lead to a stroke, and some people undergoing severe withdrawal may have seizures. And the symptoms of alcohol withdrawal can change abruptly and aggressively, which can be dangerous.
The most serious symptom of alcohol withdrawal is Delirium Tremens or DTs. It starts between two and five days after your last drink – so after your BAC is zero, and happens to about 5% of alcoholics. Don’t let the low percentage of occurrence cause you to dismiss DTs. There’s no way to tell who will develop them and who will not, and they could be life-threatening. It’s important to have your detox medically monitored, especially if you have a history of heart disease or high blood pressure since symptoms can worsen without warning. Furthermore, 30% of those who get DTs also develop Aspiration Pneumonia.
The Timeline For Alcohol Detoxification
You may not have withdrawal symptoms starting within a few hours of taking your last drink, and while the most serious effects subside after about a week, milder symptoms may persist for several weeks afterward. While everyone is different and may experience different symptoms and severity, here’s a typical timeline of what to expect at each point in the process.
The First 6 to 12 Hours
This is the “hangover” period; withdrawal symptoms start mild but progressively worsen. You’ll likely have a headache and nausea or feel shaky. Being irritable and anxious is common. Your symptoms will get increasingly severe as the first day progresses. Beyond the physical symptoms of detoxifying, you may feel disoriented, have hand tremors, or even have a seizure.
Days One and Two
Towards the end of day one, your physical and mental symptoms will worsen, often peaking on day two. Many people report that day two is the most painful day of detox. This is when you’re likely to have hallucinations or a panic attack. If you’re going through medical detox, be very honest about your symptoms, so your nurses can give you the right medication to ease your pain and keep you safe. Mood swings are common, and you may be very tired, so rest as much as possible.
Days Three to Seven
As the withdrawal process continues, symptoms will come and go. Some people may suddenly have symptoms emerge that they hadn’t experienced earlier, while others may see some symptoms worsen. You’re most vulnerable to DTs and other life-threatening complications these days.
After Your First Week Quitting Drinking
By day seven comes to a close, most of the severe withdrawal symptoms are gone, and you’re most likely out of the danger zone for deadly seizures and delirium tremens. However, some people may experience physical symptoms over the following few weeks; for the most part, you’ll start to feel better each day. Many people are more tired than usual, which is to be expected. You’ve put your body through the wringer; healing can tax your energy. Drink lots of water and eat fresh, healthy foods as much as possible.
Post-Accute Withdrawl Syndrome (PAWS)
Prolonged symptoms of alcohol withdrawal include low energy or trouble sleeping, delayed reflexes, and anxiety. You may see these symptoms increase if you also suffer from an anxiety disorder. PAWS can last several months to a year and may come and go. If you suddenly feel exhausted, irritable, and anxious, it’s probably PAWS and your body’s healing from alcohol dependence.
Timeline Summary From The Last Drink
- 1-2 hours: withdrawal begins
- 10-30 hours: peak severity of symptoms
- 40-50 hours: physical withdrawal symptoms and anxiety lessen
- 48-120 hours: highest chance of delirium tremens or seizure
Do You Need Help With Alcohol Detox?
If you’re worried about your alcohol use or concerned about a loved one who may be addicted, we can help. Baystate Recovery Center partners with local detox facilities that provide medically supervised alcohol detox for people with mild to severe Alcohol Use Disorder (AUD). Once you’ve finished your detox, you may enter one of our evidence-based addiction treatment programs, which include Intensive Outpatient Therapy and family counseling to help you strengthen your relationships in recovery. Contact us today for a confidential consultation.