When persistent, excessive consumption of alcohol leads to an alcohol use disorder it can have a negative impact on all aspects of a person’s life. In addition to the well-known adverse health effects, alcohol abuse can damage careers, relationships, personal finances, and lead to serious legal issues, such a DUI. When the negative consequences begin to pile up, the need for getting treatment for alcohol use disorder comes into sharp focus. There are, indeed, countless good reasons to proactively seek help for an alcohol problem.
The first step in the recovery process is detox and withdrawal, or the purging of the alcohol toxins from the body. When approaching this important step, many wonder what the average time for alcohol detox is. Understandably, it is helpful to have an idea of the timeline for detox and withdrawal. The short answer is, it varies. Several factors will help determine the length of time it will take to rid the body of the alcohol.
A careful assessment of the history and severity of an individual’s alcohol use is the first step of the detox process. A physician or addiction specialist will evaluate the likely withdrawal response based on this information, as well as the individual’s age, general health, and whether there is a co-occurring mental health disorder. This assessment will also guide the treatment plan that will follow after detox is completed.
But there is more to consider than just the average time for alcohol detox and withdrawal, as the journey to recovery from the grip of alcoholism exists on an ongoing continuum. Approaching treatment should include a commitment to persist in the long-term recovery efforts that sustained sobriety will require.
How a Medical Detox Makes Detox Safer and Less Painful
Someone wanting to quit drinking should never attempt to stop cold turkey. When ready to commit to sobriety, a medical detox provides the safest environment where a trained detox team can monitor withdrawal symptoms and respond to any medical issues swiftly. With an understanding of the potential for unpredictable withdrawal symptoms to become an emergency event, it is always recommended that an individual wanting to stop drinking do so via medical detox and then follow-up addiction treatment.
During a supervised medical detox, vital signs are monitored continually and the detox provider will provide medical interventions to help manage the withdrawal symptoms as they emerge and increase in intensity. Because alcohol detox is unpleasant, without this support it is common for someone to throw in the towel and return to drinking. A trained detox staff can guide the individual through the process from start to finish, then help them segue into treatment.
In addition to the medical support, a detox team is trained to provide the emotional support needed for what will be involved in taking that step to get sober. It helps to have someone to talk to, to discuss feelings, fears, or concerns regarding treatment and recovery. The detox team can stabilize the person both physically and emotionally, and prepare them for transitioning into active treatment immediately following detox.
The ultimate goal of the medical detox is to safely guide the individual through the stages of detox in order to successfully stabilize them for undertaking addiction treatment afterward. This is the key advantage of a medical detoxification, to make it through to the other side safely, thereby assisting the individual through the difficult patches that would otherwise cause them to give up.
Symptoms of Alcohol Detox
The symptoms associated with alcohol withdrawal arise as the brain responds to the absence of alcohol. The brain and central nervous system have gotten accustomed to the depressive effects of alcohol, so when it is abruptly halted, over-excitability results, causing the unpleasant symptoms.
The more entrenched the alcohol use disorder is, the more dangerous withdrawal symptoms may be. Generally, withdrawal symptoms can be divided into categories based on severity:
Mild Withdrawal Symptoms
- Hand tremors
- Muscle weakness
Moderate Withdrawal Symptoms
- Profound fatigue
- Mood swings
- Increased blood pressure
- Mild seizures
- Severe confusion
Severe Withdrawal Symptoms
- Suicidal thoughts
- Delirium tremens (DTs)
Alcohol Detox Stages
The average time for alcohol detox begins with evaluation and assessment of the degree of an individual’s alcohol use disorder, and lasts approximately 5-10 days. Although the severity of the withdrawal symptoms will vary, the detox process follows a predictable pattern of three stages:
Stage 1: Withdrawal symptoms commence about 6-8 hours after the last drink. During this stage, fatigue, heart palpitations, anxiety, nausea and vomiting, hand tremors, agitation, and foggy thinking are common.
Stage 2: This stage occurs 1-3 days after the last alcoholic beverage. During this stage symptoms intensify, including irregular heart rate, mental confusion, profuse sweating, irritability, mood disturbances, increased blood pressure and respiration, and fever.
Stage 3: This stage can occur between 3-7 days after the last alcoholic drink. During this stage many of the symptoms in stage 2 will begin to subside, however serious complications can occur without warning, including serious psychological effects or the sudden occurrence of the DTs.
During the medical detox, medications will be provided to ease symptoms of gastrointestinal distress, anxiety, insomnia, and fever.
What is Acute Alcohol Withdrawal?
The delirium tremens (DTs) can suddenly emerge at about 48-72 hours after the cessation of alcohol intake, and affects about 5% of individual in alcohol detox. However small that number, a significant number of these individuals, 15%-40% of them, will die from this serious complication. For this reason, alcohol detox should always be provided under medical supervision.
Symptoms of the delirium tremens include:
- High blood pressure
- Rapid heart rate
- Severe mental confusion
- Visual and auditory hallucinations
- Tactile delusions
- Profuse sweating
Emergency treatment for the DTs includes high doses of benzodiazepine, and sometimes an antipsychotic drug as well. Delivery of high doses of thiamine intravenously is also common in treating the DTs.
What are Post-Acute Withdrawal Symptoms (PAWS)?
The cluster of symptoms, both physical and psychological, that linger after the initial acute detox has been completed is referred to as post-acute withdrawal syndrome (PAWS). PAWS will typically emerge in individuals who have a long addiction history because many of their bodily systems have been significantly impacted over a lengthy period of time. The brain needs time to recalibrate after the alcohol intake has ceased, sometimes causing a prolonged period of psychological withdrawal symptoms.
PAWS can threaten recovery due to the feelings of depression that may persist for months, potentially leading someone to return to alcohol. For this reason, the longer the person can remain in a treatment program, the better his or her chances are for a successful, sustained recovery. In an extended treatment program, such as six months, the brain and body will have made the adjustment while the individual continues to receive therapy throughout the period, and this helps them to smoothly transition back to their home life.
Alcohol Addiction Recovery After Detox
Getting treatment for an alcohol use disorder is life changing. After completing a medical detox, the individual will enter into an extended period of active treatment involving a variety of therapeutic activities. These will include:
- Cognitive Behavioral Therapy. Because alcohol abuse may begin initially as a means of self-medication, CBT can help the client identify the distorted thought patterns that led to the maladaptive behavioral response. The therapist guides the client toward shifting these self-defeating thoughts toward positive, affirming thoughts that result in constructive behaviors. Other effective psychotherapies include Motivational Enhancement Therapy, Dialectical Behavior Therapy, and Contingency Management.
- Group therapy. The social component of recovery is a common feature in outpatient programs. Sharing personal stories and experiences with others who also battle alcohol dependency helps build social support as it helps build confidence. A skilled facilitator or therapist will guide discussion and offer feedback as well as teach coping skills.
- Medication-assisted treatment. Sometimes medications are needed to aid in the recovery process. Naltrexone has been shown to be very effective in helping to reduce alcohol cravings in early recovery. Naltrexone is non-narcotic, therefore is not addictive. Also, if there is a dual diagnosis, such as co-occurring depression or anxiety disorder, antidepressants or anti-anxiety medications may help stabilize the client from the outset of recovery.
- Relapse Prevention Planning. An inherent part of alcohol recovery is relapse prevention planning, where the individual will identify their particular triggers that might lead to a relapse. Once these are identified a list of actions to take is created to help avoid a relapse when encountering the stressor or trigger.
- Holistic Activities. To round out the alcohol treatment plan, holistic activities play an important role. Stress is a common trigger for relapse, so teaching individuals in recovery the benefits of relaxation techniques is an essential coping skill. These activities might include yoga, meditation, art therapy, journaling, or therapeutic massage.
While understandable to consider the average time for alcohol detox to be completed, it is more conducive to long-term recovery to instead consider the big picture, which is a lifelong journey that can lead to a fulfilling and healthy life.
Capo by the Sea Provides Comprehensive Alcohol Detox and Recovery Services
Capo by the Sea is a luxury residential rehab located in Southern California. Capo by the Sea will provide the most comprehensive alcohol recovery plan for alcohol addiction or dependence. Our top-tier clinical team is committed to helping individuals get sober through a safe medical detox and withdrawal, and then stay sober using an integrated approach to addiction treatment. For more information about the program, including questions about the average time for alcohol detox, please contact Capo By the Sea today at 888-529-2114.