Alcohol Detox, Withdrawal, Stages & Treatments

Alcohol addiction is a dangerous condition that can ultimately become life-threatening.  Alcohol Detox allows the body to eliminate the presence of all alcohol in the body and return to its usual way of functioning.  An individual who has been struggling with a moderate to severe alcohol use disorder (alcohol addiction) has a significant likelihood of […]

Alcohol addiction is a dangerous condition that can ultimately become life-threatening.  Alcohol Detox allows the body to eliminate the presence of all alcohol in the body and return to its usual way of functioning.  An individual who has been struggling with a moderate to severe alcohol use disorder (alcohol addiction) has a significant likelihood of developing withdrawal symptoms and could benefit from the help of a detox program.  

The longer and heavier the drinking, the more prolonged and more severe detox will be.  For this reason, going through the process sooner than later, and getting help, is critical to recovery. Some people are apprehensive about quitting drinking due to withdrawal symptoms, but detoxing from alcohol is the first step in treating alcoholism.

The Alcohol Detox stage is the first step in treating alcoholism.  Withdrawal symptoms typically subside within approximately one to two weeks after starting detox; however, this could take longer depending on the severity of your Alcohol Use Disorder (AUD). 

From there, you will be able to focus on other aspects of the recovery process, such as different activities, therapies, counseling sessions, and support options. Alcohol is a depressant that your body begins to rely on over months and years of drinking.  Your brain eventually stops producing certain chemicals that it receives from alcohol, becoming dependent on the drug. 

That’s why when you quit drinking; it takes time for your body to adjust.  This causes withdrawal symptoms such as headache, fever, nausea, irregular heartbeat, and hallucinations.

Withdrawal symptoms can change quickly and aggressively, which is why it’s important to detox under the care of medical professionals.  Treatment professionals at a rehab facility will be able to help you manage your pain with different medications.  This allows you to focus on your recovery and get better.

Alcohol detox
The longer and heavier the drinking, the more prolonged and more severe detox will be.  For that reason, it is very important to seek help as soon as possible.

Alcohol Detox Symptoms 

The Alcohol Detox phase can involve withdrawal symptoms ranging from mild intensity to life-threatening.  The longevity and severity of your alcohol use disorder (AUD) will often play a role in the withdrawal symptoms you experience.  For example, individuals who have struggled with years of heavy drinking are more likely to develop severe withdrawal symptoms like seizures or delirium tremens. When alcohol detox program begins, starts the withdrawal symptoms and these may vary significantly from one person to another but may include any of the following physical and psychological symptoms: [1]

Physical Withdrawal Symptoms

  • Shaky hands
  • Headache
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Sweating
  • Racing heart
  • High blood pressure
  • Fever
  • Shakiness
  • Dilated pupils
  • Appetite loss
  • Pale skin
  • Tremor
  • Seizures

Psychological Withdrawal Symptoms

  • Anxiety
  • Insomnia
  • Confusion
  • Feeling irritable
  • Depression
  • Feeling wiped out and tired
  • Mood swings
  • Not being able to think clearly
  • Having nightmares
  • Extreme agitation
  • Hallucinations (feeling, seeing, or hearing things that aren’t there)

Treatable Withdrawal Symptoms

Treatable can mitigate withdrawal symptoms with a team of professionals. However, the withdrawal symptoms that you may suffer from without help include:

  • Seizures
  • Physical tremors
  • Alcohol cravings
  • Hallucinations
  • Increased agitation and anxiety
  • Increased blood pressure
  • Mood swings
  • Increased heartbeat

Although uncommon, the most severe effect of alcohol withdrawal are delirium tremens. It can start within two to five days after your last drink and can be life-threatening.  However, less than five percent of people will develop delirium tremens when quitting drinking.

Due to the severity of some withdrawal symptoms, Alcohol Detox should be monitored by a medical professional.  This is especially true for those with a history of lung or heart diseases, or other medical conditions, as withdrawal symptoms can quickly worsen. 

Your treatment specialist will be able to track your blood pressure and heart rate to make sure your situation doesn’t worsen.  You can also talk with them about the symptoms you are experiencing and if you are in any pain.   [1]

Alcohol Detox
The most severe effect of alcohol withdrawal are delirium tremens.

How Long Does It Take To Detox From Alcohol?

Alcohol Detox Timeline

According to a 2013 literature review in the Industrial Psychiatry Journal, the following are general guidelines about when you can expect to experience alcohol withdrawal symptoms: [2]

6 hours

Minor withdrawal symptoms usually begin about six hours after your last drink. A person who has a long history of heavy drinking could have a seizure six hours after stopping drinking.

12 to 24 hours

A small percentage of people going through alcohol withdrawal have hallucinations at this point. They may hear or see things that aren’t there. While this symptom can be scary, doctors don’t consider it a serious complication.

24 to 48 hours

Minor withdrawal symptoms usually continue during this time. These symptoms may include headache, tremors, and stomach upset. If a person goes through only minor withdrawal, their symptoms usually peak at 18 to 24 hours and start to decrease after four to five days.

48 hours to 72 hours

Some people experience a severe form of alcohol withdrawal that doctors call the delirium tremens (DTs) or alcohol withdrawal delirium. A person with this condition can have a very high heart rate, seizures, or a high body temperature.

72 hours

This is the time when alcohol withdrawal symptoms are usually at their worst. In rare cases, moderate withdrawal symptoms can last for a month. These include rapid heart rate and illusions (seeing things that aren’t there).

Alcohol Detox Process

There are three stages at the process of detox from alcohol, each one has a distinct level of severity and dangerousness, as well as different symptoms. 

Stage 1:

6-12 hоurѕ аftеr thе lаѕt drink:  You will begin to feel іrrіtаtіng symptoms, enough to be bothersome and noticeable: аnxіеtу, insomnia, nаuѕеа, lоѕѕ оf арреtіtе, ѕwеаtіng, hеаdасhе, and іnсrеаѕеd or irregular heartbeat. Sometimes agitation and mood swings are also experienced.

Stage 2:

12-24 hоurѕ аftеr thе lаѕt drіnk:  This stage is often аѕѕосіаtеd with assorted types of hаlluсіnаtіоnѕ: tасtіlе, аudіtоrу, аnd vіѕuаl.  You may experience a ѕеnѕе оf іtсhіng, burnіng, оr numbnеѕѕ, hear ѕоundѕ which dо nоt еxіѕt or see things which aren’t there.

Stage 3: 

Thе uѕеr ѕtаrtѕ еxреrіеnсіng wіthdrаwаl ѕеіzurеѕ and dеlіrіum trеmеnѕ. This is the most dangerous stage of withdrawal, and intensity will depend on the client and their use of alcohol. If not treated by a professional medical staff, аlсоhоl dеtоxіfісаtіоn mау rеѕult іn coma or dеаth. [1]

Delirium Tremens

Refers to the onset of confusion and severe hallucinations brought about during withdrawal from alcohol. It usually takes place during the second stage of Alcohol Detox, or three days after the last alcohol consumption and can last up to three more days. 

It is common for people to hallucinate and have physical symptoms such as irregular heart rate, high blood pressure, shaking, shivering, sweating.  These conditions can lead to increased body temperature and seizures, which can be fatal.

Alcohol Detox Treatments in California

According to, to assess a person’s withdrawal symptoms and recommend treatments, doctors often use a scale called the Clinical Institute for Withdrawal Assessment for Alcohol. The higher the number, the worse a person’s symptoms are and the more treatments they likely need.

You may not need any medications for alcohol withdrawal. You can still pursue therapy and support groups as you go through withdrawal.

You may need medications if you have moderate to severe withdrawal symptoms. Examples of these include: [3]

alcohol detox
Alcohol Detox Withdrawal symptoms can be treated with medicine, as well as the cravings for alcohol after the withdrawal has finished.
  • Benzodiazepines: Doctors prescribe these medicines to reduce the likelihood of seizures during alcohol withdrawals. Examples include diazepam (Valium), alprazolam (Xanax), and lorazepam (Ativan). Doctors often choose these drugs to treat alcohol withdrawals.
  • Neuroleptic medications: These medications can help depress nervous system activity and may be helpful in preventing seizures and agitation associated with alcohol withdrawal.
  • Nutritional support: Doctors may administer nutrients such as folic acid, thiamine, and magnesium to reduce withdrawal symptoms and to correct nutrient deficiencies caused by alcohol use.

Doctors may prescribe other medications to treat withdrawal-related symptoms. One example is a beta-blocker (such as propranolol) to reduce high blood pressure.

Once the immediate withdrawal symptoms have passed, a doctor may prescribe medicines to reduce the likelihood that a person will start drinking again. Examples include:

  • Disulfiram (Antabuse): This medication can reduce alcohol cravings and makes a person feel very ill if they drink while taking it.
  • Naltrexone (ReVia): Naltrexone can reduce alcohol cravings and help a person maintain their abstinence from alcohol by blocking opioid (feel-good) receptors in their body.
  • Topiramate (Topamax): This medicine may help reduce alcohol consumption and extend the periods of abstinence from alcohol abuse.

A doctor may discuss these and other medicines with you. At alcohol addiction treatment, you can choose to use these along with therapy and support groups to help you maintain your sobriety.

Take Caution as Alcohol Detox at Home

How to detox from Alcohol? At-home detox kits will not work and will not eliminate your addiction withdrawals or cravings. While Detoxing at home or by using untested products can be risky especially where severe withdrawal symptoms are not treated timely. Whereas, FDA-approved Detox medications specially designed to help you overcome addiction must undergo clinical trials.  These detox medications require U.S. Food and Drug Administration approval and must be prescribed by trained licensed physicians.

Alcohol Detox Centers In California

Alcohol Use Disorder is a condition that can cause major health, social, and economic problems that should not be taken lightly. We Level Up California Treatment Center can provide you, or someone you love, the tools to recover from this disease with professional and safe supervision for Alcohol Detox treatment. Feel free to call us to speak with one of our counselors. We can inform you about this condition by giving you relevant information. Our specialists know what you are going through. Please know that each call is private and confidential.


[1] We Level Up Treatment Center‘Alcohol Detox’ 

[2] Kattimani, S., & Bharadwaj, B. (2013). Clinical management of alcohol withdrawal: A systematic review. Industrial psychiatry journal, 22(2), 100–108. – U.S. National Library of Medicine (