Learn / How Long Does it Take to Detox From Alcohol?

How Long Does it Take to Detox From Alcohol?

Hannah Friedman
 June 6th, 2023|   Clinically Reviewed by 
Rajnandini Rathod

Key Points

  • The exact timeline for alcohol withdrawal is different for everyone.
  • Symptoms usually peak within 48-72 hours.
  • Some people experience complications that last longer.

When you’re ready to recover from alcohol addiction, detox is an important first step. Most people detox from alcohol in a week or less. During that process, you’ll likely experience withdrawal symptoms. These can be uncomfortable or even life-threatening—but they’re temporary. And in a medical detox program, your care team will keep you safe from any serious side effects. Proper treatment can set you up for success when you move on to the next phase of recovery.

Symptoms of Alcohol Withdrawal

Everyone’s alcohol withdrawal symptoms are a little different. Your experience will depend on a few factors, including how long and how much you’ve been drinking. About 50% of people with alcohol addiction1 have withdrawal symptoms when they start recovery. Within that group, 3-5% have severe symptoms that could be fatal. The first symptoms of withdrawal2 usually appear about 8 hours after your last drink:

  • Alcohol cravings
  • Irritability
  • Anxiety
  • Insomnia
  • Nightmares
  • Tremors
  • Headaches
  • Nausea and vomiting

Even mild alcohol withdrawal symptoms can be uncomfortable. Perhaps as a result, withdrawal symptoms can lead to relapse.3 Medically assisted detox provides a more comfortable withdrawal experience. You may still have symptoms, but your care team will help you manage them. Most programs include non-addictive medications, talk therapy, and some complementary treatments. 

Delirium Tremens

Withdrawal from severe alcohol addiction sometimes leads to delirium tremens4 (DTs, also referred to as DT), also called alcohol withdrawal delirium. While it’s not very common, this tends to affect people with chronically excessive drinking habits. This condition presents with a few key symptoms:

  • Hallucinations
  • Confusion
  • Elevated blood pressure
  • Elevated body temperature
  • Agitation or aggressive behavior
  • Seizures 

Without proper treatment, these symptoms can be fatal. Certain people are more at risk for DTs than others. If you have multiple addictions, abnormal liver function, a history of DTs, or a history of seizures, this condition is more likely. Certain short-term health issues can also increase your risk, like dehydration and low potassium levels.

Medical detox is extremely important for anyone with a risk of DTs—even a low one. In these programs, you’ll work with a team of doctors, nurses, and other experts. They can manage your symptoms with medication and offer round-the-clock care in case of emergency.

Post-Acute Withdrawal Syndrome (PAWS)

For some people, withdrawal-like symptoms last for weeks or even months after detox. This is called post-acute withdrawal syndrome, or PAWS. People experience PAWS differently, but the symptoms are often more psychological5 and less physical than those of acute withdrawal:

  • Mood swings
  • Brain fog
  • Anxiety
  • Depression
  • Lack of motivation
  • Decreased sex drive
  • Memory or concentration issues

PAWS is often triggered by stress. Because PAWS can cause relapse,6 it’s important to have a treatment plan in place. With the right approach, you can manage your symptoms and continue to focus on recovery. 

Stages of Alcohol Withdrawal

Most symptoms of alcohol withdrawal7 appear during the first few days after your last drink. However, the precise timeline for alcohol withdrawal is different for everyone. Depending on the severity of your addiction, your symptoms may be mild or more intense.

6-12 Hours

Withdrawal symptoms normally start within 6-8 hours after your last drink. You might have a headache or start sweating. You may also feel nauseous or nervous. For people with a long history of heavy drinking, it’s possible to have a seizure in the first 6-12 hours of withdrawal.

12-24 Hours

Mild symptoms continue to build in the first 24 hours of withdrawal. You might have tremors, particularly in your hands. Some people experience insomnia. For those with more severe withdrawal symptoms, hallucinations may start to occur in the first 24 hours. These can be visual, auditory, or tactile hallucinations.

24-48 Hours

If you have only mild withdrawal symptoms, they may peak 24-48 hours after you stop drinking. From then on, symptoms like headaches, tremors, rapid heart rate, and nausea could decrease. 

People with more severe symptoms might have seizures 48 hours into the detox process. 

48-96 Hours

If your symptoms are more severe, they may also last longer. For some people, peak withdrawal occurs within 72 hours of quitting alcohol. After that point, you’ll probably start to feel better.

Other people are at risk for developing delirium tremens on the 3rd day of withdrawal, starting around 72 hours into detox. You might not know in advance whether this is a risk for you. This is why it’s so important to get proper care during alcohol detox. Your team can stand by during this crucial time, ready to help you if new symptoms develop. 

96 Hours and Beyond

Most people start to feel completely better around day 4 or 5 of detox. At this point, your body stops compensating for the lack of alcohol in your system. You’ll reach a new equilibrium as tremors, nausea, anxiety, and other symptoms subside. Most people complete withdrawal sometime between days 5-7.

If you experience delirium tremens, you may need more time to detox. Delirium tremens symptoms usually last 7 days, and sometimes longer.

Treatments for Alcohol Withdrawal

You’ve got a few options for alcohol withdrawal treatment, including hospitals, medical detox centers, and rehab. Most detox programs follow similar treatment plans, though some provide more therapeutic support than others. 

Treatment typically begins with a thorough physical exam. Doctors will ask about any pre-existing conditions that might impact your withdrawal experience. From there, you’ll begin detox. 

Over the first few days, your medical team will monitor you closely. They might provide medication if you need it. If you don’t show any signs of withdrawal symptoms after 48-72 hours, you might be released to outpatient care or residential rehab. If you’re detoxing in rehab, you might progress to the next stage of treatment. 

Risk Factors for Detoxing From Alcohol at Home

While it’s a vital part of recovery, detox is dangerous without medical care. In particular, withdrawal from alcohol8 can be fatal. 5-15%of people with delirium tremens die9 from their symptoms. 

For some people, the fear of alcohol withdrawal symptoms10 is a barrier to treatment. Medical detox programs can keep you safe and as comfortable as possible while you detox.

How Long Will It Take to Detox from Alcohol?

How long alcohol stays in your system is unique for everyone. In most cases, acute withdrawal symptoms end after 5-7 days. You can go through this process in an onsite or offsite detox program. Most care plans include medical treatment, non-addictive prescriptions, and psychotherapy. 

Onsite Detox

Some inpatient rehabs offer onsite detox. This approach lets you move seamlessly from initial detox into longer-term treatment. You can get medical and therapeutic support in the same place, instead of moving to a new center in the middle of treatment. 

For example, at Noosa Confidential in Australia, clients stay in a waterfront retreat with 24-hour access to staff. Here, you’ll work with the same clinicians throughout detox and residential treatment.11 This consistency makes it easier to build trust with your care team.

Off-site Detox

In a program with offsite detox, you’ll go through withdrawal in a separate facility before you start inpatient care. For people with more severe withdrawal symptoms, more complex medical treatment might be necessary. With offsite detox, you can still transition smoothly into rehab when you’re ready.

The Beekeeper House in Thailand is an inpatient rehab with an offsite detox program. They work with their partner facility, The Warm, to determine the best plan of action for your detox.12 Many patients go through detox at The Warm before they start residential treatment. If you have more complex medical needs, you can transfer to their partner hospital in Chiang Mai before returning for rehab.

New Jersey’s Enlightened Solutions also has offsite detox as part of their flexible detox options.13 You can detox in their inpatient rehab, at one of their partner facilities, or an independent detox center before you start longer-term treatment. 

Will Health Insurance Cover the Cost of Alcohol Detox?

Many detox centers accept insurance, including Medicaid. The cost of detox varies depending on the facility and the level of care you receive. Check with your insurance provider in advance to see what you plan will cover. Your treatment program’s admissions team can also offer guidance. There are options for everyone, even if you don’t have insurance. If you’re interested, you can learn more about alcohol detox and inpatient rehab programs that accept insurance.

Detox is an essential step in the healing process. Medical detox programs can help you start recovery as safely as possible. When you’re ready to start addiction treatment, you can find a rehab that offers alcohol detox

Frequently Asked Questions About Alcohol Detox

How long does alcohol detox last?

The duration of alcohol detox varies for each person. In general, most people complete alcohol detox within a week or less.

What are the symptoms of alcohol withdrawal?

Alcohol withdrawal symptoms can vary depending on factors like the duration and amount of alcohol you consumed. About 50% of people with alcohol addiction experience withdrawal symptoms when starting recovery, with 3-5% facing severe symptoms that can be life-threatening. Common early withdrawal symptoms (which start about 8 hours after the last drink) include intense cravings, irritability, anxiety, insomnia, nightmares, tremors, headaches, and nausea/vomiting. Even mild symptoms can be uncomfortable and increase the risk of relapse. Medically assisted detox programs provide a safer and more comfortable experience.

What are delirium tremens (DTs), and who is at risk?

Delirium tremens (DTs) can happen during withdrawal from severe alcohol addiction, although it’s relatively uncommon and typically affects people with chronic excessive drinking habits. DT symptoms include hallucinations, confusion, elevated blood pressure, elevated body temperature, agitation or aggressive behavior, and seizures. Without proper treatment, DTs can be fatal. Certain factors increase the risk of developing DTs, including multiple addictions, abnormal liver function, a previous history of DTs or seizures, and short-term health issues like dehydration and low potassium levels.

Return to Resource Library

Our Promise

How Is Recovery.com Different?

We believe everyone deserves access to accurate, unbiased information about mental health and addiction. That’s why we have a comprehensive set of treatment providers and don't charge for inclusion. Any center that meets our criteria can list for free. We do not and have never accepted fees for referring someone to a particular center. Providers who advertise with us must be verified by our Research Team and we clearly mark their status as advertisers.

Our goal is to help you choose the best path for your recovery. That begins with information you can trust.