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How Long Does Alcohol Withdrawal Last?

Woman looks out window mournfully as she ponders, "how long does alcohol withdrawal last?"

Millions of Americans struggle with varying degrees of alcohol use disorder (AUD). AUD is a chronic disease characterized by an impaired ability to control or stop alcohol use despite adverse consequences. Upon diagnosis, AUD is classified as mild, moderate, or severe, which helps dictate the best course of treatment for long-term recovery. When a person tries to stop, how long does alcohol withdrawal last?

Alcohol detox programs are a critical first step in alcohol treatment. Withdrawal from alcohol can pose serious health risks, and detox programs provide a safe environment where patients can receive medical and clinical support, monitoring, and interventions to minimize the potential dangers of alcohol withdrawal. Following detox, addiction specialists recommend comprehensive alcohol treatment to address the underlying causes of AUD and prevent relapse.

If you or a loved one needs help overcoming AUD, turn to Vertava Health. We provide comprehensive, evidence-based treatment through various programs and services designed to adapt to each patient’s unique needs and circumstances. Call 844.470.0410 to learn more.

How Long Does Alcohol Withdrawal Last? Understanding the Alcohol Detox Timeline

Alcohol withdrawal occurs when a person who has drunk heavily or for a prolonged time significantly reduces their alcohol intake or stops drinking. But how long does alcohol withdrawal last? The alcohol detox timeline varies from person to person and depends on several factors. However, the following is a general overview of the stages and symptoms of alcohol detox:

  • Within 6-24 hours – Early withdrawal symptoms begin within the first day after the last drink. Typical symptoms include headache, nausea, vomiting, sweating, irritability, insomnia, restlessness, tremors, and shaky hands. Cravings are common.
  • Within 24-72 hours – Symptoms usually peak during this time. Symptoms may intensify, including visual hallucinations, confusion, disorientation, high blood pressure, rapid breathing, and increased body temperature. Known as alcoholic hallucinosis, this stage can be very distressing.
  • 72+ hours – Some individuals experience severe withdrawals known as delirium tremens (DTs). Symptoms include severe tremors, confusion, fever, agitation, and auditory, visual, or tactile hallucinations. Seizures can also occur. DTs can be life-threatening and require immediate medical attention.

While most patients begin to stabilize within a week, symptoms like cravings, anxiety, and depression can persist. Individuals with severe AUD may develop Post-Acute Withdrawal Syndrome (PAWS), the symptoms of which are similar to anxiety and mood disorders. PAWS is thought to result from physiological changes in the brain resulting from long-term substance abuse.

Factors that Influence the Alcohol Withdrawal Timeline

Several factors, including the following, influence the duration of the alcohol withdrawal timeline:

  • Duration of alcohol use – The length of time a person has been drinking impacts the severity of withdrawal symptoms, with people who have been drinking for an extended period experiencing protracted withdrawal.
  • Severity of alcohol use – The quantity of alcohol consumed is a significant factor in the duration of withdrawals. Heavy drinkers will experience longer and more intense withdrawal symptoms, even if they’ve drunk for less time than a moderate drinker.
  • Individual factors – Unique body chemistry and genetic factors can influence the severity and duration of withdrawals. For example, people who metabolize alcohol more slowly can have a more extended withdrawal period.
  • Co-occurring disorders – Underlying medical or mental health conditions can complicate the detox process and potentially prolong the duration of symptoms.
  • Previous experiences – Individuals who have previously been through alcohol detox may have a shorter withdrawal period. However, if prior detoxes were complicated or a person has other drugs in their system, the current detox can be protracted.

Alcohol, particularly prolonged or heavy drinking, profoundly impacts the brain and body. It takes time for bodily systems to adapt to the absence of alcohol and normalize. Detox is physically and psychologically challenging, which is part of why detoxing alone is so difficult. In a medically assisted alcohol detox program, patients have access to the support needed to get over the hurdles of detox and the security of knowing they are medically safe.

Learn More About Alcohol Withdrawal at Vertava Health

Choosing to quit drinking is a life-changing decision. If you or your loved one has decided to stop drinking, Vertava Health can help. Our alcohol detox programs provide a safe, medically supervised detox where patients can access the support they need to endure the most complex parts of alcohol withdrawal.

Join the thousands of patients who have found lasting recovery through our programs and services. Contact us online or call 844.470.0410 to learn more about safe alcohol withdrawal at Vertava Health.