How Long Does It Take To Detox From Alcohol?


Detoxing from alcohol can be one of the most difficult and dangerous detoxes that the human body can go through. Both the physical and psychological experience is demanding, and can result in significant suffering.

If you, or someone you care about, are considering undertaking a detox from alcohol, there may be more to consider than simply “stop drinking”. The question “how long does it take to detox from alcohol” may also appear to have a simple answer, however the reality is much more complex.

How Long Does It Take the Body to Detox From Alcohol?

How long it takes for the body to detox from alcohol depends largely on how much a person has been drinking, and for how long a time. On average, withdrawal symptoms typically peak within the first 24-78 hours after the last drink, and for most people the ‘physical’ withdrawal is considered complete after 2 weeks.

However, this period of time can be longer in more severe cases, and shorter in more mild cases. It is important to seek medical advice and assessment before attempting any self-supervised withdrawal or stopping ‘cold turkey’.

While the most unpleasant of physical symptoms may clear up within two weeks, its well recognised that the long term effects of alcohol on the brain pathways, liver, and other vital organs can take a long time to heal. In this way, some may consider the ‘recovery’ period of the physical body to be much longer.

Additionally, it is important to consider that psychological withdrawal can be much more of a challenge of will power, and sometimes more difficult. This not only refers to the potential recovery from addiction, but also to post-acute withdrawal symptoms (PAWS).

PAWS can include long term mood disturbances, sleep problems, and irritability. It can last for weeks or even months but tends to gradually improve over time. Accessing regular therapy or counselling can be crucial in managing PAWS and overcoming it to live your best possible life.

What Are the Symptoms of Alcohol Withdrawal?

Once a person’s body has grown physically dependent on alcohol, they will experience alcohol withdrawal when they quit drinking. This occurs as a result of the brain’s gradual adaptation to repeated alcohol consumption and the resulting adjustment in the levels of neurotransmitter activity. Because the brain does not have time to reactivate “normally” when that alcohol consumption abruptly ends, there are several unpleasant or deadly withdrawal symptoms.

Some of the typical alcohol withdrawal symptoms include:

  • Anxiety: Feeling restless, nervous, stressed and emotionally uneasy
  • Tremors: Shaking and trembling, especially in the hands
  • Sweating: Profuse sweating, particularly when sleeping – this is often enough to even wake a person, or require them to change their bed sheets
  • Nausea and Vomiting: This is quite common to experience, especially early in withdrawal
  • Increased Heartbeat: The feeling of a fast pulse as your heart rate increases, in addition to heart palpitations and high blood pressure
  • Insomnia: Difficulty either falling asleep or staying asleep
  • Agitation and Irritability: Mood swings are very common
  • Hallucinations: Some individuals, particularly long-time alcoholics, may experience auditory or visual hallucinations
  • Seizures: Severe cases of alcohol withdrawal may result in seizures, particularly in the first 48 hours of stopping drinking
  • Delirium Tremens: This is a severe form of alcohol withdrawal including many of the above symptoms such as confusion, hallucinations, fever, and seizures. This typically sets in between 2-4 days after stopping drinking and requires immediate medical attention

These symptoms are all attempts by the body to adjust to the absence of alcohol and alcohol’s effects on the central nervous system.

Is Alcohol Withdrawal Dangerous?

Yes, alcohol withdrawal can be dangerous and even deadly in the most severe cases. This is particularly the case when people who have been consuming large amounts over a long period of time stop drinking abruptly or wean themselves off too rapidly. This puts an immense amount of pressure on the body’s cardiac, respiratory, and neurological systems which can result in dangerous complications.

So why does this happen? The short answer is that alcohol slows down most functions in the brain, heart, and lungs, so much so that with time the body begins to depend on this depression and accelerates its ‘natural’ function to try and combat it. With the removal of alcohol, there is nothing stopping extreme acceleration of these systems and imbalance of neurotransmitters.

The reason we call alcohol a ‘depressant’, and refer to the ‘depression’ of the body above is because alcohol enhances the effects of GABA (gamma-aminobutyric acid) which is an inhibitory neurotransmitter while also suppressing glutamate, an excitatory neurotransmitter. It is effectively pushing on the brake pedal while also removing the gas pedal in the brain.

The brain starts to make up for this dual effect as chronic high-level alcohol consumption continues in an effort to counteract the negative effects of alcohol and maintain ‘normal’ levels of function. However, the neurological system becomes over excited when alcohol consumption is abruptly stopped, as mentioned above.

Because of this, many withdrawal symptoms — such as an increase in heart rate, irritability, difficulty falling asleep, etc. — are the reverse of what are felt when under the influence. Extreme alcohol use results in an extreme neurotransmitter imbalance, which causes an acute sense of withdrawal.

Detox From Alcohol Safely at Clinic Les Alpes

The safest way to detox from alcohol is to complete a medically assisted detox in an inpatient setting with 24/7 medical supervision. If you are interested in such a setting, then Clinic Les Alpes could be the perfect place for you.

The largest benefit to detoxing from alcohol at a private rehab clinic is that you will have access to medical and therapeutic staff who work around the clock to ensure you are as safe and comfortable as possible. The process of such a detox is as follows:

  • Assessment and Admission: Upon arrival, skilled personnel will perform a thorough medical evaluation with the greatest care and empathy. This consists of a group of nurses, a psychiatrist, and a somatic physician. This information will be incorporated into a personalised, integrated treatment plan.
  • Medication-Assisted Treatment: Throughout your detox, our medical team will regularly monitor your vital signs, the intensity of your withdrawals, and your general health. In some cases, medicine may be administered to help with sleep deprivation, support adequate eating, and lessen withdrawal symptoms.
  • Withdrawal Management: The medical team will work hard to alleviate your withdrawal symptoms and ensure that you are in as much comfort as can be expected while your body recovers. You also have access to other services such as a medicalised spa in order to offer complementary therapies. Clinic Les Alpes also provides daily access to a world-class therapy team to support you psychologically and emotionally..
  • Fluids and Nutrition: You will receive an individualised nutrition plan, created in consultation with the medical team and a dedicated dietician to ensure that you are receiving the fluids, vitamins, calories, and supplements necessary to help your body heal.
  • Emotional Support: As mentioned above, therapeutic interventions can be priceless in offering a degree of emotional and psychological support. Individual and group counselling helps you to cope with your thoughts and emotions while developing healthy coping strategies for life.
  • Transition Into Ongoing Treatment: You might be asking what you can do to make sure that you never have to go through detox again once you have completed it. Protecting your health and wellness requires committing to long-term treatment that addresses the underlying causes of addiction and supports your long-term recovery.

If you are interested in ensuring you can complete your alcohol detox in privacy, safety, and comfort, then Clinic Les Alpes is able to help. With 24/7 medical supervision in luxury accommodation, you can access daily therapeutic interventions and a medicalised spa to ensure that you start your road to recovery on the right foot. For more information, please do not hesitate to contact us.

Conclusion – How Long Does It Take To Detox From Alcohol?

The process of detoxing from alcohol is difficult and complex, and it differs from person to person. While the physical signs of withdrawal may resolve in a few weeks, the long-term effects on the body and mind may take considerably longer to recover from.

To guarantee safety and the best outcome, it is essential to approach alcohol detox cautiously and seek professional help. Remember, the question of “how long does it take to detox from alcohol” is just the beginning of a broader journey towards recovery.

Clinically Reviewed By

Brittany Hunt

Brittany Hunt is an internationally experienced clinician, specialised in treating addictions and co-occurring disorders. Having worked in the public and private sector, she utilises holistic and evidence-based approaches designed to empower the patients in their recovery journeys. A graduate of The University of Auckland, she has a Bachelor of Health Sciences majoring in Mental Health and Addictions, a diploma in Psychology and Counselling and a Post-Graduate degree in Health Sciences, majoring in Addictions. She is a fully registered practitioner under the Drug and Alcohol Association of Aotearoa New Zealand (DAPAANZ).

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