Alcohol addiction is a serious concern. And as with any other addiction, when you stop drinking alcohol, you will have to go through a detox process.
Learning more about the medical alcohol detox timeline will give you a better idea of what to expect. Once you realize how quickly the withdrawal symptoms will likely pass, that may be the motivation you need to go through the medical detox process.
3 Stages of Alcohol Withdrawal
There are three main stages in the medical alcohol detox timeline. Not everyone experiences all of them, but it is best to be prepared.
Stage 1 – Mild
This stage of the withdrawal process can include the following symptoms:
· Gastrointestinal disturbances
· Heart palpitations
Stage 2 – Moderate
In addition to the previous symptoms, this stage can also include:
· Increased heart rate
· Increased blood pressure
· Mild hyperthermia
· Rapid abnormal breathing
Stage 3 – Severe
If you experience stage 3 symptoms, you may experience any of the above as well as:
· Impaired attention
· Auditory or visual hallucinations
How the Stages Fit Into the Timeline
Once familiar with each stage, you’ll ask, “How do they fit into the medical alcohol detox timeline?”
Stage one typically starts within just eight hours. Stage two will begin within one to three days. Stage three starts within a week.
The Importance of Treatment
Importantly, this timeline is for a medical detox process with treatment and the supervision of a health care professional.
If you do not get treatment, the symptoms of stage three can last for weeks. Additionally, it may take less time than outlined above to move from stage two to stage three without proper treatment.
More Detailed Timeline By the Hour
While the above stages can give you a good general idea of the medical alcohol detox timeline, each stage covers a time range and various symptoms. The following is an example of a “typical” timeline.
Keep in mind that the hours refer to the time since the last drink at each point.
6 to 12 Hours
At just six to 12 hours after the last drink, patients may start to notice the mild symptoms associated with early withdrawal.
These include headaches, agitation, nausea, vomiting, stomach upset, small tremors, insomnia, and mild anxiety.
12 to 24 Hours
At this point, the symptoms may expand to include disorientation and hand tremors, as well as possible seizures.
At 24 Hours
At about 24 hours from the last drink, some people experience hallucinations. These can be tactile, auditory, or visual.
Within 24 to 72 Hours
The symptoms will have peaked for most patients and started to resolve themselves within 24 to 72 hours after the last drink. For the best chance of this quick recovery, it’s important to undergo a medical detox process with supervision.
That being said, the period of 24 to 48 hours after the last drink requires extra medical monitoring. This is when the risk of seizures is the highest.
Right after that phase, from 48 to 72 hours, there is a risk of withdrawal delirium (DTs) appearing. Delirium tremens is rare but severe. It can include delirium, extreme agitation, changes to the mental status, and occasional hallucinations. It only affects about 2% of those with alcohol use disorder.
About 48 hours after the last drink, other possible symptoms include insomnia, excessive sweating, and high fever. Most people will start to notice their withdrawal symptoms improve within five days.
Some People Experience Persistent Symptoms
Everyone is different, but some people will continue to notice withdrawal symptoms after the above medical alcohol detox timeline. This is post-acute withdrawal syndrome, which we will discuss in more detail. Most people will fully recover with the proper medical attention and withdrawal assistance.
But some people may notice some symptoms for months after their last drink. These potential longer-term symptoms may include sleep disturbances, mood changes, and fatigue.
Acute Alcohol Withdrawal Syndrome
Another important part of the medical detox process is the possibility of acute alcohol withdrawal syndrome. Not everyone experiences this, but it can occur in the days and weeks following quitting alcohol. This syndrome includes the potential for seizures, delirium tremens, and loss of consciousness.
The important thing to remember here is that there is a risk of life-threatening health complications when you quit alcohol. Because of that, it is best to have some type of medical supervision when you stop drinking. This will let medical professionals monitor your condition carefully.
Post-Acute Withdrawal Syndrome
Post-acute withdrawal syndrome (PAWS) refers to the potential prolonged symptoms that some people notice after they stop drinking. Not everyone experiences these, but they can last for just a few weeks or up to a year.
Some potential symptoms of PAWS include:
· Low energy
· Emotional outburst
· Trouble sleeping
· Memory problems
· Delayed reflexes
· Chronic nausea
· Intense cravings
· Increased accident proneness
These symptoms typically come and go. You may feel fine one day and have several symptoms the next. The good news is that most episodes of PAWS are only several days at most.
It is crucial to be aware of PAWS as it is among the most common causes of relapse. Anyone experiencing PAWS should remember that the episodes are brief, and there is a light at the end of the tunnel.
What Affects Your Detox Experience
It’s important to note that all of the information here about a medical alcohol detox timeline varies from person to person.
As mentioned, whether you receive treatment during the process will be a significant factor. Whether you have any mental or physical health issues will also play a role. The extent of your drinking will also play a role, including how much you typically drank and how long that had been your habit.
There is also a higher risk of severe symptoms during the medical alcohol detox timeline for those who used drugs in addition to alcohol.
Most people detoxing from alcohol will experience mild symptoms such as headaches, shaking, or anxiety in the hours after they stop drinking. 24 hours after they stop drinking, symptoms can include disorientation and seizures. Symptoms can worsen within the first 72 hours after the last drink, but they tend to get better after, especially with medical supervision.