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How Long Does Drug and Alcohol Detox Take? (Timeline)

Detoxification from alcohol and drugs might occur within hours of the last drink or drug being consumed. Severe withdrawal symptoms from alcohol use are more common among heavy drinkers.


When an alcoholic stops drinking, withdrawal symptoms might appear quickly. Some individuals may suffer milder withdrawal symptoms than others, but this is not the case for everyone. If you have any of the following conditions, you increase your risk of experiencing severe withdrawal:


  • Drink to excess.

  • Have a history of excessive drinking and drug abuse.

  • Been through withdrawals before.

  • Have a history of medical issues.


In addition to the individual's age, gender, fitness, genetic background, and addiction use history, many other variables affect how long it requires for drugs and alcohol to exit the system entirely. National Library of Medicine reports that the first signs of alcohol withdrawal often appear about 8 hours shortly after the last drink; however, they may appear as late as several days following abstinence.


The worst symptoms should be over within 2 or 3 days, but some may linger for weeks. Even if all traces of alcohol have been flushed out of your system, tests designed for that purpose may still find them in your urine, saliva, and hair.

How Soon Does Alcohol Withdrawal Set In?

When the amount of alcohol in a person's system falls to a level lower than what is considered normal, the withdrawal symptoms associated with alcohol use will start to appear. Some individuals get the first signs of mild hangover symptoms as soon as 6 hours after their last drink. 


Signs of withdrawal might also appear if one drastically cuts down on alcohol use rather than quitting altogether. In such cases, the onset of withdrawal symptoms after alcohol use may be more gradual and less noticeable.

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Expert Contributor

Dr. Williams presently serves on the board of Directors for two non-profit service organizations. He holds a Master’s degree in Human Services from Lincoln University, Philadelphia, Pa and a Ph.D. with a concentration in Clinical Psychology from Union Institute and University. In Cincinnati, Ohio. He is licensed to practice addictions counseling in both New Jersey and Connecticut and has a pending application as a practicing Psychologist in New Jersey.

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How Long Does It Take to Get Through Alcohol Withdrawal?

The severity and frequency of alcohol consumption will determine how long the detox process from alcohol will last. Most people experience the worst physical alcohol withdrawal symptoms between 48 and 72 hours after their last drink and for the next seven to ten days, although they may persist for as long as 14 days. Post-two-week symptoms tend to be more behavioral and might last for many months.


While the severity and duration of alcohol withdrawal effects may vary significantly from one individual to the next, the process can generally be divided into four phases:


  1. People will feel poorly during the first 6 to 12 hours, experiencing symptoms including dizziness, vomiting, and a lack of hunger.

  2. Within the following 12 to 48 hours, the withdrawal will progress to the point when symptoms such as hallucinations and convulsions may begin to appear.

  3. In the next 48-72 hours, a person experiencing withdrawal may have fever, perspiration, disorientation, a rapid heartbeat, elevated blood pressure, and extrapyramidal symptoms, all potentially lethal conditions.

  4. After 72 hours, you should begin to feel relief from withdrawal symptoms, which should completely go away over the following week.


The third stage has the most intense withdrawal symptoms. Inadequate management or treatment of alcohol withdrawal may have fatal consequences; thus, it is crucial to understand what aids in the withdrawal process.

Why Does One Go Through Alcohol Withdrawal?

Chemical dependency on alcohol is a real risk for heavy or chronic drinkers. In some instances, the body, brain, and neurotransmitters will go into distress if the person abruptly stops administering the substance to which they have been addicted.


Drinking alcohol has a profound depressant effect on the brain's neurotransmitters. However, after abstaining from alcohol, the chemicals regain their usual sensitivity.

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Typical Withdrawal and Detoxification Signs

Some of the most typical after-effects of alcohol and drug detoxification are:


  • Nausea

  • Sweating or hot flashes

  • Mood swings

  • Alcoholic tremors

  • Delirium tremens

  • Seizures

  • Vomiting

  • Irritability

  • Rapid heart rate

  • Depression

  • Anxiety

  • Dangerous dehydration

  • Extreme Fatigue

Things That Could Affect Your Detox Timeline

The length of time it takes to detox from drugs and alcohol ultimately depends on a variety of variables, such as:


  • Whatever chemicals may be used with alcohol.

  • The presence of mental health issues.

  • Average daily alcohol and drug intake.

  • Weight & Age.

  • Complications to your current physical health.

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How Does One Get Help for Drug & Alcohol Withdrawal Symptoms?

Detox programs, rehabilitation centers, and other inpatient settings are ideal for treating drug and alcohol withdrawal symptoms under the supervision of medical specialists. If you think you could encounter intense withdrawal symptoms, getting medical assistance is vital since detoxing on your own can be harmful.

Normal Course of Treatment

The purpose of therapy is to lessen the severity of withdrawal and provide emotional and physical support during the detox process. A few of the standard methods used to treat alcohol and drug withdrawal are:


  • Preliminary evaluation of the patient's withdrawal symptoms.

  • Medication to alleviate anxiety, such as benzodiazepines, might be helpful for those experiencing withdrawal symptoms.

  • Medication like Depakote, inhibits convulsions.

  • The use of beta-blockers, which work by decreasing heart rate, has been shown to reduce convulsions, relieve stress, and in some cases, even minimize alcohol cravings.


Quitting drinking is a challenging ordeal on many levels. For this reason, patients' health and safety must have access to specialized rehab facilities where experienced and sympathetic staff can oversee detoxification and treat withdrawal symptoms.


The early stages toward recovery, through withdrawal and detox, are challenging yet essential. Self-tapering is an option for those who don't think they're ready for medical detoxification from alcohol and drugs. On the other hand, it is essential to bear in mind that tapering is not often a successful method for treating alcoholism and substance abuse.

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How Does it Look for Someone Who Is Trying to Quit Drinking?

In the long run, the success of treating drug abuse and alcoholism is conditional on the severity of the disease, namely the amount of organ dysfunction and the patient's decision to continue drinking after rehabilitation. In addition, patients may struggle with sleep disruptions, mood fluctuations, and fatigue months after therapy.


There is hope for a full recovery. But on the other hand, patients who relapse into heavy drinking increase their chance of developing life-threatening illnesses.

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Typical withdrawal and detoxification signs
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