Breaking Down The Alcohol Withdrawal Timeline

Edited by Paul Alexander

Last updated January 14, 2020

Alcoholism is a progressive disease that worsens over time. It starts with excessive drinking behavior that may include binge drinking which increases the body’s tolerance level. The more a person drinks, the more alcohol it takes for that person to become intoxicated. Eventually, the body becomes used to functioning with alcohol in the system and starts to depend on it to feel “normal.” When this effect becomes daily life, the power of alcohol addiction begins to take over. You no longer know how or when to stop drinking. 

Since this lead up to alcoholism doesn’t happen over a few days, the alcohol withdrawal timeline to detox and heal takes time to progress as well. While the process itself typically lasts five to seven days, it’s common to relapse during this period, especially if you’re going through recovery on your own. If a relapse occurs, the medical detox has to start over. 

As the body adjusts to being without alcohol, it reacts in intense ways that make it difficult to abstain from alcohol. It’s highly recommended to seek addiction treatment at a detox center to help you through this process due to the pain and discomfort of alcohol withdrawal symptoms. Our medical staff and therapists will supervise your progress and make it as comfortable as possible for you, while monitoring your physical and mental health. 

Going through alcohol withdrawal is extremely wearing on the body. A team of dedicated, caring support staff and an inviting place to rest and recover can make such a difference on your road to recovery. The effects of alcohol withdrawal timeline differs slightly with each person, but a general breakdown is as follows:

  • Within the first eight hours, physical symptoms will begin. These may include headaches, irritability, increased blood pressure, and an inability to focus
  • Within 24 to 72 hours, the symptoms become more severe and may also involve vomiting, heart palpitations, hand tremors, and hallucinations. 
  • Alcohol withdrawal symptoms continue over the next few days and slowly begin to decrease in intensity and frequency, depending on your history of alcohol use. 

Delirium tremens are the most severe form of alcohol withdrawal symptoms and may cause seizures, fever, and severe confusion. During the medical detox process, it’s possible to receive a dual diagnosis of anxiety or depression, which further heightens the reaction and recovery time of alcohol withdrawal. Although the timeline itself typically lasts about a week, the pain and discomfort can make it feel like longer. The exact timespan depends on when your body has fully eliminated alcohol from the system and symptoms have subsided.

Factors That Affect the Alcohol Withdrawal Timeline

Not everyone will feel the effects of withdrawal symptoms as intensely or finish detox in only one week. There are several factors that come into play that affect an alcohol withdrawal symptoms timeline. These include: 

  • Length of time drinking excessively
  • Amount of drinks per day
  • General health conditions 
  • Age 

For example, a young adult who is in general good health may take less time to recover than a person who has been battling addiction for years and already faces other health problems. It requires a lot of strength and stamina both physically and mentally to go through alcohol detox and withdrawal. If you are already in poor health, the amount of effort it takes your body to adapt can extend the timeline. 

Relapse is another factor that affects the alcohol withdrawal timeline of symptoms. Within the first few hours of the last drink, the body will begin to crave alcohol in order to satisfy the addiction. Because of these strong physical symptoms, relapse is a regular occurrence, which is why the detox period is such a crucial time. It’s best experienced under the supervision of those who are trained to handle the side effects and unpredictable nature of alcohol withdrawal.

Detoxing Within the Safety and Security of a Detox Center

Due to the intensity of the pain and withdrawal symptoms and the increased likelihood of relapse when trying to withdraw from alcohol on your own, it’s safer to go through this phase at a detox center. It’s a secure and comfortable place that’s equipped with the tools, resources, and support staff that can provide continuous help while going through a detox from alcohol. 

Once the body becomes addicted to drinking alcohol, it’s not about whether you have enough willpower to overcome withdrawal symptoms. Your body is reacting against your best intentions to abstain from alcohol. Alcohol addiction treatment requires a peaceful environment to ensure that your health and safety is monitored and you’re not in a position to be tempted or influenced by others to continue drinking.

As with any other disease, alcoholism already puts you in a vulnerable state of health. Your body and mind aren’t functioning at their most optimal levels. Allow others to help you regain your strength and get you back to a state of balance and well-being through detox and subsequent treatment.

Continuing the Treatment Timeline: What Happens Following Detox?

The alcohol withdrawal timeline is the first phase of a full treatment plan. Once the body is substance-free, the next step is usually a residential treatment. This involves a temporary stay at a comfortable treatment facility where you can focus on your healing. The recommended length of time is 90 days based on what’s determined to be the best route of care. 

Our residential treatment includes group and individual therapy sessions, meditation and reflection, exercise and free time to engage with others, and healthy meals to round out a typical day. If someone has experienced residential treatment before and is concerned about a slip or has relapsed, they may opt to go straight to outpatient care following the detox process. 

Outpatient care is an extension of residential treatment and follows much of the same structure. It still requires a time commitment, but the schedule is flexible and it doesn’t include overnight stays. It’s ideal for people who want a trusting resource to turn to get them back on track and provide support as needed for long-term recovery.

Each treatment program is customized per individual. Generally speaking, it involves a mix of therapy, education, and tools to transition back into the world alcohol-free. They’re designed to instill confidence, strength, and a clearer state of mind in order to handle future temptations, stressors, and influences that may affect a person’s long-term recovery.

Many people seek treatment at the urging of loved ones, but there are tell-tale signs that will determine if you suffer from alcoholism or if you have alcohol-dependent behavior. 

Identifying Signs of Alcohol Abuse

Alcoholism may go untreated for years depending on how well a person functions in their daily life and how big of an impact alcohol has made. Although it won’t look the same for everyone, here are a few questions that may reveal if it’s time to receive help. 

  • Have there been times when you’ve continued drinking far longer than others?
  • Do you sneak drinks or lie to friends and family about how much you drink? 
  • Do you experience alcohol cravings and frequent urges to drink? 
  • Have you experienced legal, work, or personal problems as a result of drinking alcohol?
  • Has drinking prevented you from reaching certain goals? 

If you’re able to answer “yes” to any of these questions, it’s a sign that you may be suffering from alcohol abuse. Even if you feel functional or like you have a handle on how much you drink, addiction is beyond your control without treatment to address the disease head-on. 

In addition to how alcoholism changes your lifestyle, it also causes internal damage to your liver, heart, and brain. As it worsens, it puts you at risk for irreversible health complications, such as cirrhosis, stroke, and heart failure. Alcoholism treatment is important for healing and to put you on a healthier, more positive path for the future.

Seeking Alcoholism Treatment As a Turning Point

Navigating through the alcohol withdrawal timeline is safest when in the care of a detox facility. Detox is intense, painful, and unpredictable. Our team will be able to monitor your vitals, including your blood pressure, body temperature, and heart rate. We’ll help you maintain a schedule that allows you to stay hydrated and well-nourished during this time to give your body as much strength as possible to overcome withdrawal symptoms more quickly. It’s a challenging time, but one that’s short-lived and is the first big step toward recovery. 

It can feel unnerving to start the process and go through the treatment phase, but there are people who will support you every step of the way. By collaborating with your team of therapists about the best route to take, you can begin to take back control of your life and start down a path of healing. With customized treatment plans available, start by considering different options that will work with where you are in life and what you require to move forward with recovery.

Alcoholism can often make you feel isolated and alone, but recovery is a time to lean on the expertise and strength of specialists who know how to treat the symptoms and likely have been where you are before. In addition to treatment for your alcoholism disease, it’s the compassionate support and understanding of others that will guide you along your journey in a more peaceful way. The desire to seek alcoholism treatment marks a turning point in how you want your life to play out. 

If you suffer from an alcohol use disorder, the time to get help is now. Don’t let your substance abuse define who you are. Regain your clean, sober life with the help of our treatment center. For more questions about detoxing, call one of our professional staff members at Northbound Treatment Center today.

Source:

“Alcohol Withdrawal: MedlinePlus Medical Encyclopedia.” MedlinePlus, U.S. National Library of Medicine, 1 Oct. 2019, medlineplus.gov/ency/article/000764.htm.

Article Reviewed by Paul Alexander

Paul AlexanderPaul Alexander is the founder and CEO of Northbound Treatment. He received his Certified Addiction Treatment Specialist training at Saddleback College in Mission Viejo, CA, and was awarded Outstanding Alumni Service Award in 2002. Paul holds a Bachelor of Arts degree in Criminology, Law and Society, Summa Cum Laude, from University of California, Irvine, and a Juris Doctorate degree from Loyola Law School of Los Angeles. He believes wholeheartedly in transformational leadership, organizational health and effective, fully integrated substance use disorder treatment.

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