Moorpark Drug & Alcohol Rehab, Scotland

Alcohol Detox Timeline

alcohol detox timeline

Alcohol Detox Timeline

There are many ways in which people try to control and arrest alcohol addiction, ranging from rehab clinics through medical detox (in-patient or out-patient) and self-detox, with or without alcohol withdrawal medication. Commonly, detoxing without any medical support is called “cold turkey”.

In heavy and/or dependent drinkers, medical support and advice are imperative. The self-detox route, simple as it may sound, is fraught with danger, and everyone in the addiction treatment industry would advise against simply stopping drinking if drinking to dependent levels.

Sudden cessation of alcohol by simply going ‘cold turkey’ is not only extremely difficult for dependent drinkers due to the withdrawal symptoms, but it also places the individual physically vulnerable to several traumatic responses and can even be fatal without the right monitoring.

Having said that, we know that many people want to stop and should try and stop, we simply advise that medical advice is sought. And we know, however frightening it may seem to stop drinking, that recognising there is a problem is the first step to a successful recovery journey. We advise anyone looking to stop drinking to speak to a medical professional about a managed alcohol detox.

The timeline outlined below is, of course, dependent on the individual and, as such, is a guide to estimate the potential effects and chronology of self-detox withdrawal and recovery. Everyone has their biological individuality, so some of the timescales and related symptoms or outcomes might vary slightly from person to person.

Alcohol Withdrawal Symptoms and Timeline

6 to 12 hours

Withdrawal symptoms start. These can include hand tremors (‘the shakes’), profuse sweating, nausea, vomiting or ‘dry retching’, headaches, depression, anxiety, irritability restlessness and insomnia.

12 to 48 hours

Minor withdrawal symptoms increase for most people. Sleep is disturbed, uncontrollable sweating, heartburn, acid reflux and headaches are all very common. Some people suffer hallucinations including audio, visual and touch. For very heavy drinkers, this is when the most severe withdrawal symptoms present themselves, and may include a dangerously raised heart rate, increased blood pressure and seizures.

48 to 72 hours

For some people, particularly lighter drinkers and those not having drank for an extended period, withdrawal symptoms might begin to recede or become more manageable. For heavy drinkers and those who have drunk continuously over a long period of time, some may notice the disturbing effects of delirium tremens (DTs).

3 to 7 days

Withdrawal symptoms will subside for most people. In rare cases, DTs can develop and become a medical emergency. This is why heavy drinkers should only stop drinking with medical supervision. Whilst sleep may be erratic, appetite should begin to increase.

1 week

Sleep patterns are likely to improve, though it can take up to a month or longer. Some anxiety may still be present. Alcohol cravings subside.

2 weeks

Those whose livers have not been badly damaged by drinking but have become ‘fatty’ can start showing signs of recovery. Possible weight loss due to removing alcoholic calories.

3 to 4 weeks

Blood pressure may reduce to healthier levels if drinking was causing an increase.  Your skin may start to look better.

1 month

More energy and a general sense of better health.

3 months

Beginning not to obsess about alcohol and improved thought processes.

1 year

At the 12-month mark, almost everyone will leave the above behind and begin to enjoy all the benefits of being drink-free, moving towards feelings of hope and a returning self-esteem. However, in rare cases, a degree of low energy, anxiety, sleeping troubles and/or alcohol cravings will still present themselves, though as stated, this is rare.

Post-Acute Withdrawal Syndrome (PAWS)

Increased research in the last 20 years has indicated that some people may suffer ongoing symptoms after detox for a considerable period of time. Naturally, this is dependent on a number of factors including the amount and duration of misuse, other health factors, age and so on.

It is supposed by some scientists that long-term alcohol misuse can affect the brain’s neural networks on a cellular level.  This affects our mood and behaviours, and reparation for the damage done here may take longer to heal.

Depression, anxiety, hostility, irritability, fatigue, insomnia, difficulties concentrating and thinking, decreased sex drive, and unexplained physical pain are some of the symptoms of PAWS. Some studies suggest that sleep problems can persist for 1-3 years after alcohol consumption stops. Anecdotal evidence indicates that symptoms can last 2 years or longer after the last drink.

So why put yourself through this?

Excessive alcohol consumption increases the risk of a range of cancers: colorectal, stomach, liver, mouth, voice box, upper throat, oesophagus and breast. Sexual function problems are also very widespread among heavy drinkers, and male fertility is seriously impacted. Alcohol Change UK says “women who drink between 14 and 35 units of alcohol per week, have a 15% chance of developing breast cancer, compared to an 11% chance for those who don’t drink. Men who drink up to 14 units of alcohol per week have a less than 1% chance of developing colorectal cancer, but an 11% chance if they drink more than 35 units per week”.

The road to recovery is not always a smooth curve. Almost everyone will have moments of feeling worse before they feel better, experiencing a sense of being stuck or relapsing, either emotionally or physically. However, with the right support, and that is the key, it is possible to leave alcohol and addiction behind and create a new, healthier, happier future.

Speak to our admissions team today if you need advice on alcohol detox or alcohol rehab for yourself or someone else.


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