How Long Does Alcohol Detox Take?


Alcohol detoxification is a process that lasts about six weeks. The most severe withdrawal symptoms occur during the first three weeks. The later weeks also can be uncomfortable, however, with residual symptoms of insomnia and anxiety. While some choose to detox at home, others opt go to treatment centers. It's a personal choice. Detoxification is the beginning of the journey to recovery. Always consult a doctor before starting any type of detoxification program.

When to Start Alcohol Detox

  • Detoxification is treatment for the physical dependence that an alcoholic's body has on alcohol. The detoxification process flushes the body of alcohol, allowing the alcoholic to start recovery treatment programs.

Weeks 1 to 3

  • Intense symptoms tend to occur during the first one to three weeks of alcohol detox. The nervous system has been depressed by alcohol abuse, and suffers from synapses firing when alcohol intake stops. Symptoms during this time can include tremors, anxiety, severe seizures, hallucinations, shakes and sometimes even heart failure. The initial stages of detox can be dangerous, and death may result. Because of these intense side effects of alcohol withdrawal, doctors often cross-medicate in the first three weeks, giving the patient an anti-anxiety or seizure medication.

Weeks 3 to 6

  • Serious side effects of alcohol detox usually subside by week three or four. The body is sufficiently flushed of alcohol by the third week, so symptoms are lingering and not as acute. These could include insomnia and anxiety. Anxiety and insomnia, however, could last from several months to a year.

Inpatient vs. Outpatient Detox

  • The six-week process of alcohol detoxification can take place at home or at a residential treatment center. Patients who choose the home method should check-in regularly with a doctor or addiction specialist. A doctor may refer a person with mental health issues to an inpatient treatment center.

The Next Step

  • After the initial six weeks of alcohol detoxification, people usually begin a program to learn how to deal with their mental and emotional dependence on alcohol. They may seek the aid of a therapist, and attend meetings of Alcoholics Anonymous. Those who have been in detox at a treatment center may remain there, and complete a rehabilitation program. The length of these programs vary, but they last on average about three to six months.

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