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How Long Does It Take to Detox From Alcohol?: Detox Timeline

Although the alcohol detox timeline may be different from person to person, generally you can expect withdrawal symptoms to emerge within 4-12 hours and last for about 5 days, although delirium tremens can last for over a week after DTs emerge.[1],[2]

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How long it takes to detox from alcohol depends on many factors like how severe your dependence is, previous withdrawal experiences, whether you receive detox medication or not, and more. 
However, if you quit alcohol on your own, the alcohol withdrawal timeline looks like this:[1]

  • Symptoms emerge within 6-12 hours of the last drink
  • Symptoms peak within 1-3 days
  • Symptoms start to resolve within 4-5 days

it will generally take a few days to a week for acute alcohol withdrawal symptoms to resolve although some protracted withdrawal symptoms can linger for weeks, months, or even years.[1],[2]

Medical detox, which involves 24-hour medical supervision, care, and monitoring in a hospital setting, is the safest way to undergo alcohol withdrawal. This type of care can help prevent and treat complications.

How Long Does Alcohol Detox Take in a Treatment Setting?

Quick Answer

In a detox treatment setting, such as a hospital where medical detox is offered, alcohol detox may take longer than the typical timeline. This is because your medical team will use benzodiazepines to treat your alcohol withdrawal symptoms and prevent complications like seizures. They will then need to gradually taper you off of benzodiazepines to prevent complications. This might take a little over a week or two. And if you experience a severe form of alcohol withdrawal known as delirium tremens, then that may elongate your detox timeline as well, with these symptoms lasting a week or longer. [2], [3]

Key Takeaways

  • Cold turkey alcohol detox may take 5-7 days, depending on many factors.
  • Medical detox for alcohol withdrawal in a treatment facility may last a few weeks due to medications.
  • Protracted alcohol withdrawal is a type of post-acute withdrawal syndrome that lingers for weeks, months, or years.
  • Detoxing from alcohol on your own can be dangerous due to the risk of delirium tremens and seizures.
  • The safest treatment setting for alcohol detox is in a hospital.

Alcohol Detox Timeline

The alcohol detox timeline differs depending on whether you quit on your own (“cold turkey”) or whether you receive medical detox services in a hospital or inpatient setting.

Quitting Cold Turkey: Without Professional Treatment

If you are dependent on or addicted to alcohol and abruptly quit drinking, you’ll experience acute alcohol withdrawal symptoms within 4-12 hours after your last drink.[1]

Alcohol withdrawal symptoms tend to worsen until they peak in intensity on the second or third day. They gradually begin to lessen in intensity until they improve by the fourth or fifth day.[2]

However, once acute withdrawal resolves, you may experience post-acute or protracted withdrawal symptoms like anxiety for up to 6 months.[1]

If you abruptly quit drinking alcohol, your withdrawal symptoms will appear within 4-12 hours after your last drink and it may take about 5 days for you to detox.

The alcohol withdrawal timeline is as follows:[2]

Time Since Last DrinkSymptomsSymptom Intensity
6 hoursInsomnia, anxiety, nausea, heart palpitations, increased blood pressure, tremorsMild
12-24 hoursContinued mild symptoms; some people may experience hallucinations or seizuresMild or moderate
1-2 daysTremors, GI symptoms, headaches may continueMild or moderate
3 daysPrevious symptoms peakSevere, symptoms peak in intensity
4-5 daysMild symptoms like anxiety and insomniaSymptoms reduce then resolve

It’s important to note that it’s not recommended to detox from alcohol at home because of the risk of life-threatening symptoms like seizures and distressing symptoms like psychosis. The recommended treatment setting is medical detox in a hospital or an inpatient detox center.

It’s not recommended to detox from alcohol at home because of the risk of life-threatening symptoms like seizures and distressing symptoms like psychosis.

With Medical Detox Services

Medical detox treatment can help keep you safe and treat and prevent complications during alcohol withdrawal by providing you with medications, 24-hour medical care and supervision, and emotional support. 

The gold standard medication for alcohol withdrawal management is benzodiazepines, which are cross-tolerant with alcohol. They are able to relieve alcohol withdrawal symptoms and prevent severe symptoms like seizures and hallucinations.[2],[4],[5]

The most common benzodiazepines used for alcohol detox are diazepam and chlordiazepoxide, which have long half-lives, reducing the risk of rebound symptoms like seizures.[4]

Receiving withdrawal medications like benzodiazepines can affect the alcohol detox timeline because the medical team needs to wean you off the benzodiazepine medication once you’ve been stabilized. This timeframe can vary greatly, but research indicates that after three days of medical stabilization, the benzo may be tapered off over a period of 7-10 days.[5]

Taking benzodiazepines during a medical detox program can prolong your alcohol detox timeline by several days or a week, but it is a much safer environment to detox in.

The Need for Professional Alcohol Detox

Although medical detox can benefit anyone at risk of alcohol withdrawal, experts strongly recommend inpatient or hospital settings for those:[2]

  • Without a support system
  • With abnormal lab results
  • Suicidal thoughts or behaviors
  • Polysubstance abuse
  • Co-occurring psychiatric conditions
  • High risk of delirium tremens
  • History of withdrawal seizures

No matter how or where you go through alcohol detox, it’s essential to have a strong and sober support system—of family, friends, and fellow people in recovery—to provide you with emotional support, empowerment, and encouragement during this tough time.

Factors that Affect How Long Alcohol Detox Lasts

Alcohol detox timeline, severity, and symptoms depend on many factors, such as:

  • How much you typically drink 
  • How often you drink
  • How long you have been drinking
  • Whether you mix alcohol with other substances
  • The presence of underlying medical or mental health conditions
  • Previous alcohol detox experiences
  • Individual physiology
  • Liver functioning
  • Age
  • Genetics

Previous alcohol detox experiences and withdrawal episodes may increase the risk of experiencing severe alcohol withdrawal symptoms, such as seizures. This is due to “kindling,” which may be caused by pathways in the brain that have been primed for withdrawal and are more sensitive to withdrawal episodes. Kindling causes a person to experience worse withdrawal symptoms every time they quit.[8]

Alcohol Withdrawal Symptoms

When you suddenly quit drinking, you may experience distressing alcohol withdrawal symptoms. About 50% of people with alcohol addiction, also known as alcohol use disorder, experience withdrawal syndrome. About no more than 10% of those who experience alcohol withdrawal symptoms progress to severe symptoms like withdrawal delirium, and about 3% of people experience seizures.[1],[6]

Alcohol withdrawal symptoms may include:[1],[2]

  • Tremors
  • Anxiety
  • Sweating
  • Disorientation
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Headaches
  • Auditory disturbances
  • Hallucinations or visual disturbances
  • Paranoia
  • Agitation
  • Rapid heart rate
  • Heart palpitations
  • Increased blood pressure
  • Fever
  • Seizures

Protracted Withdrawal Symptoms

Protracted or post-acute withdrawal occurs when acute alcohol withdrawal has resolved and yet certain symptoms may linger and fluctuate for weeks, months, or even years. These may include:[1], [7]

  • Insomnia
  • Anxiety
  • Irritability
  • Panic attacks
  • Depression
  • Difficulties with memory, learning, and problem-solving
  • Apathy
  • Alcohol cravings
  • Increased sensitivity to stress
  • Sleep disturbances

Post-acute alcohol withdrawal symptoms may flair up during times of stress or triggers. It’s important to commit to recovery in the long term, receiving ongoing support, therapy, and care.

It’s important to manage post-acute withdrawal symptoms in order to prevent the risk of relapse. You can do this by following an aftercare plan that includes support methods, such as:

  • 12-step groups like Alcoholics Anonymous (AA)
  • Non-12-step groups like SMART Recovery
  • Sober living
  • Ongoing group counseling
  • Ongoing individual therapy
  • Step-down care like a partial hospitalization program or intensive outpatient program
  • Vocational classes
  • Drug education or relapse prevention classes

If you are struggling with alcohol use and want to quit, Boca Recovery Center’s medical detox program can provide you with the around-the-clock medical care, supervision, and monitoring you need to detox safely and comfortably. And once you are medically stabilized and finish detox, you can begin treatment in an inpatient or outpatient setting, where you will receive a variety of interventions like individual therapy, group counseling, and medication-assisted treatment (MAT).

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Medically Reviewed By Dr. Alison Tarlow

Dr. Alison Tarlow is a Licensed Clinical Psychologist in the States of Florida and Pennsylvania, and a Certified Addictions Professional (CAP). She has been a practicing psychologist for over 15 years. Sh... Read More

Updated March 22, 2024
  1. Diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders (5th ed.). American Psychiatric Association. (2013).
  2. Alcohol Withdrawal Newman RK, Stobart Gallagher MA, Gomez AE. (2022). Treasure Island (FL): StatPearls Publishing; 2023 Jan-.
  3. Clinical management of alcohol withdrawal: A systematic review. Kattimani, S., & Bharadwaj, B. (2013). Industrial psychiatry journal, 22(2), 100–108.
  4. Alcohol Withdrawal Syndrome: Benzodiazepines and Beyond. Sachdeva, A., Choudhary, M., & Chandra, M. (2015). Journal of clinical and diagnostic research : JCDR, 9(9), VE01–VE07.
  5. Clinical management of alcohol withdrawal: A systematic review. Kattimani, S., & Bharadwaj, B. (2013). Industrial psychiatry journal, 22(2), 100–108.
  6. Management of withdrawal delirium (delirium tremens). (2015) Schuckit, Marc A.
  7. Post-Acute Withdrawal Syndrome (PAWS). (n.d.). SEMEL Institute for Neuroscience and Human Behavior.
  8. Kindling in Alcohol Withdrawal Becker HC. Alcohol Health Res World. 1998;22(1):25-33.
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