Detoxing from alcohol isn’t easy. This is especially true for people who attempt to tackle this herculean task without support. Once the brain and body have become chemically dependent upon alcohol, taking it away suddenly can be downright dangerous. The good news is that the rewards of detoxing are always well-worth the efforts.
Becoming sober gives the central nervous system an opportunity to heal. It additionally allows recovering alcoholics the opportunity to fully apply themselves to addiction treatment. Many of the damages caused by alcohol use can often be reversed with time, appropriate therapies, and ongoing abstinence. With the right support, the timeline for detox can be shortened, and people can avoid significant discomfort.
Alcohol Detox Timeline
The timeline for alcohol detox can vary from person to person. Factors such as:
- The length of heavy alcohol use
- Other substances used
- Body weight
- General health
All play important roles in determining how long it takes to recover from chemical dependency, and how severe the related detox symptoms are. The average length of alcohol withdrawal from a purely physical standpoint is approximately three to five days. For most people withdrawal symptoms will set in within just six to eight hours of their last drink. These symptoms can include:
- Cold, clammy skin
This general sense of illness can rapidly progress to include more uncomfortable symptoms, and increasingly dramatic changes in a person’s vital signs. Heavy alcohol use causes neurotransmitter burnout. Neurotransmitters are the chemicals produced and distributed by the brain’s reward system. Drinking triggers surges of neurotransmitters that make people feel happy, confident, and euphoric.
However, once chemical dependency is reached, over-triggered neurotransmitters become fatigued, and the normal production of these chemicals becomes disrupted or delayed. These chemicals play a role in promoting mood balance and feelings of elation. They also assist the body with many basic functions. This is in large part why detoxing alone or going “cold turkey” is both dangerous and ill-advised.
Absent medical intervention, people can enter into a severe stage of physical distress known as delirium tremens. Delirium tremens can develop within 24 to 48 hours of a person’s last drink. It can include wild fluctuations in basic vital signs including blood pressure, body temperature, and blood sugar. It can also affect general cognition. Delirium tremens can additionally include:
- Auditory hallucinations
Between 48 to 72 hours of alcohol detox, initial withdrawal symptoms may begin to peak. During this time, the risk of developing delirium tremens remains high if it has not manifested already. The body’s basic functions and vital signs will also struggle to normalize.
For many, physical withdrawal symptoms can peak and clear within just two to three days. However, the average length of alcohol withdrawal can be much longer for heavy, long-term drinkers, and for those with unmanaged delirium tremens. In many instances, severe symptoms of delirium tremens can take up to one week or even longer to fully abate.
What Causes Alcohol Withdrawal?
Alcohol withdrawal is ultimately a display of the distress that the body feels as it’s forced to function without alcohol. Heavy, long-term drinkers and those who drink regularly condition their brains and bodies to become dependent upon this substance. Given that neurotransmitters have an effect on both mood balance and basic physiological functions, the impact on sudden abstinence can be widespread.
The brain and body will adapt to functioning alcohol-free within just days. However, the full effects of neurotransmitter burnout can last for several weeks. Even after a person’s vital signs are capable of remaining stable without medical support, natural neurotransmitter production and distribution remain low. This causes secondary or post-acute withdrawal symptoms (PAWS) to set in.
Common Alcohol Withdrawal Detox Symptoms
During the early stages of alcohol detox, the body has a difficult time regulating its own temperature. Blood pressure can become elevated or may drop, and insulin levels and blood sugar levels can fluctuate. After the nausea, shaking, sweating, and confusion of initial detox have passed, most recovering alcoholics deal with considerable depression, anxiety, and malaise.
PAWS or secondary withdrawal symptoms can make recovery incredibly challenging even though the body has already overcome the worst of its physical distress. Whereas physical detox can last between two and six days, PAWS can last for several weeks. Throughout this time, feelings of hopelessness, problems with insomnia, restlessness, suicidal thoughts, and even suicidal tendencies may be experienced.
Treatment and Alcohol Detox
Medically assisted treatment (MAT) is always the safest and most comfortable way to complete an alcohol detox. At Mississippi Drug and Alcohol Treatment Center, we offer constant, around-the-clock monitoring and ongoing, needs-specific support. Our medical professionals work hard to ensure that patients are comfortable, stable, and not in danger of experiencing delirium tremens or other severe withdrawal symptoms.
Early interventions for alcohol detox symptoms limit the danger and discomfort of these distress signals. It also prevents them from spiraling out of control. In fact, early monitoring of initial detox symptoms has a very high likelihood of preventing more severe developments from ever occurring.
With proper medical supervision, people can avoid sustaining significant and potentially life-threatening medical conditions as the result of detoxing. MAT also has the potential to dramatically reduce overall detox times. This means that patients are ready to begin actively participating in more advanced forms of addiction treatment sooner.
Once physical detox symptoms abate, new interventions are leveraged for mitigating PAWS. These include efforts to alleviate feelings of restlessness and problems with insomnia, and to help patients feel motivated, focused, and engaged. Although early, physical withdrawal symptoms are the most dangerous effects of alcohol detox, there are definite dangers in undergoing PAWS without adequate support.
Self-managed efforts to detox from alcohol can be derailed by depression and feelings of hopelessness. In addition to having higher relapse rates, those who go “cold turkey” are also at an elevated risk of causing self-harm.
Understanding the alcohol detox timeline eliminates the fear of the unknown. Although detoxing is unpleasant, it’s guaranteed to have an end.
Inpatient Alcohol Rehab
If you’re tired of being addicted to alcohol and want to complete your detox in a safe, supportive, and controlled environment, we can help. Our program is designed to give every patient the end-to-end and wholly customized care that they deserve. Call us now to learn more about our alcohol addiction treatment and medical detox services at 855-334-6120. Our counselors are always ready to provide the answers and information you need.