How Long Does it Take to Detox From Alcohol
Alcohol & Culture of Dependence
Alcohol is one of the most celebrated and widely accepted substances in our society today. Whether it’s drinking a six-pack of beer on a public holiday, having a glass of wine with a co-worker at lunch or binge drinking on a Saturday night well into the early hours, it is no secret that alcohol remains a significant role in modern life. Statistics report that the United States spent over 234 billion U.S. dollars on alcoholic beverages in 2017 alone.
Despite this mainstream appeal alcohol is classified as a drug, and like many drugs, it can have devastating consequences on individuals and their families if regularly used in excess. The most negative consequence of long-term excessive drinking is the cycle of dependency and subsequent physical addiction that a user may gradually develop after years of sustained use.
Alcohol Use Disorder
The National Institute of Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA) estimates that 16 Million people in the United States currently suffer from AUD or Alcohol Use Disorder, as defined by the DSM-5. That approximates to around 7 percent of adults over the age of 18.
And it’s no secret that long-term alcohol abuse can have adverse effects on a person’s life, but more often than not, a significant impact on death. Alcohol-related deaths (Liver failure, overdose, drunk driving & other accidents) are also considered the third leading causes of preventable deaths in the country. The Center of Disease Control (CDC) estimates; “excessive alcohol use led to 88,000 deaths and 2.5 million years of potential life lost (YPLL) each year in the United States from 2006 – 2010, shortening the lives of those who died by an average of 30 years.”
From an economic standpoint, Alcohol misuse cost the United States $249.0 billion in 2010, with three-quarters of this cost related to binge drinking.
On a positive note, these consistently morbid statistics do help shine a light on the seriousness of an affliction that many struggles to cope with. As the holiday period approaches, and the champagne begins to flow, perhaps a detox is what you’re considering. Or, if you’re struggling with alcoholism, then you may be considering curbing your addiction altogether with legit alcohol detox. In any case, read on.
What Exactly is Detoxing?
While we often think of it as a withdrawal management process, detoxing is a natural physical process that the human body must go through to remove harmful toxins and cleanse the immune system. So then, how long does alcohol withdrawal take if yourself or a loved one is looking to detox?
When alcohol consumption is halted, the process begins almost immediately, with the initial symptoms of detox likely to occur within hours. Depending on the level of physical dependency, these symptoms of alcohol withdrawal can last anywhere from a few days to a week—and in more extreme cases, withdrawal can last 10-14 days or more.
If a user has chronically consumed alcohol for a longer period of time, they might face a lengthier period of withdrawal as they are essentially trying to completely rid themselves of a substance that may have altered their system. The NIAAA reports that neuroadaptive changes that result from continued alcohol abuse may have manifested themselves as a high tolerance or physiological dependence. Thus, any dramatic disruption to such dependency should be first considered and then effectively treated through a detoxification process.
It’s New Year’s day, and the time has come. You’ve committed to detox and long-term or permanent abstinence. The immediate residual effects of alcohol in your system following a late night of binge drinking are often described as a hangover, but there are numerous complex processes that are occurring in order to get back to homeostasis. Once the cessation of alcohol has been implemented, the symptoms of detox may begin as early as 6-8 hours into the process.
Let us first consider the liver, the unrelenting hero of all organs working to combat intoxication, as it has a big job ahead. When we first consume alcohol, around 20% of it is absorbed directly into the bloodstream, making its way to our brain and steering the user closer toward intoxication. The remaining 80% proceeds through the stomach to be digested in the smaller intestine before also being gradually released into the bloodstream.
According to the CDC, one standard drink contains about 0.6 ounces of pure alcohol. A standard drink is a quantifiable form to measure alcohol consumption. It can refer to a 12 oz glass of beer, a 5 oz glass of wine, or a 1.5 ounce shot among others. While the rate at which one standard drink can be processed by a human body varies depending on a person’s age, weight, gender, and individual metabolic rate, a general rule of thumb is that it takes about one hour to process a standard drink.
Unfortunately, there is no way to expedite the process, and should more drinks be consumed within the time period, each will simply compound onto the other. If a user consumes two drinks in the first hour it will take the body a full two hours to break them down.
Detoxification from alcohol is a complex chemical process. The NIAAA reports that; ‘In general, alcohol acts to suppress Central Nervous System (CNS) activity, and, as with other CNS depressants, withdrawal symptoms associated with cessation of chronic alcohol use are opposite in nature to the effects of intoxication.’
Meaning, that many of the positive benefits of alcohol consumption; increased confidence, elevated mood, and decreased anxiety, are the complete opposite during the process of detoxification.
Similarly, when alcohol is consumed it affects the reward centers in the brain, specifically the regulation of dopamine levels, which are naturally regulated in the human body. Consistent tampering with natural dopamine production in the brain via alcohol and the withdrawal that follows can create tolerance—leading to dopamine levels becoming dependent on its influence to function correctly.
Withdrawal Stages & Symptoms
These symptoms of detox will begin to take effect in as soon as 6-8 hours after drinking but will usually peak between 24-72 hours. They occur in stages ranging from mild anxiety and fatigue all the way up to full auditory and visual hallucinations. For this reason, it is helpful to break them into 3 distinct stages, as well as differentiate the early symptoms of detox from later and residual withdrawal symptoms, depending on the severity of a user’s physiological dependence. This broader journey can be referred to categorically as Alcohol Withdrawal Syndrome (AWS).
As reported by American Addiction Centers, stages 1 & 2 of alcohol detox are comprised mostly of symptoms that occur earlier on and could be considered less severe than those that might persist or even escalate past Stage 3. Also, multiple symptoms can be present across all stages and may persist or decrease in severity.
STAGE 1 – Mild
Short-term symptoms are those that are immediately noticeable within 6-8 hours of a user’s last alcoholic drink.
According to the U.S. National Library of Medicine, common symptoms include:
- Nausea & vomiting
STAGE 2 – Moderate
Additionally, more moderate symptoms of withdrawal may occur between 25-72 hours. This is noted at the peak period and those in Stage 3 symptoms can also begin to manifest in this stage:
- Elevated heart rate
- Increased blood pressure
- Increased body temperature
STAGE 3 – Severe (5 to 7 days)
While symptoms should begin to subside and decrease at this stage, those that persist can be an indication of whether a present physiological dependence is likely to continue to perpetuate more harmful effects of alcohol withdrawal:
- Tectorial, auditory and visual disturbances – hallucinations
- Delirium Tremens (DTs)
Approaches to Detoxing
A common approach to detoxing is known as quitting ‘cold turkey.’ This involves complete removal of the substance from the user’s system. Although radical in its implications, it is certainly the most typical practice for alcohol users who may not be classified under the DSM-5 as having Alcohol Use Disorder (AUD) and who are less vulnerable to relapse. Those who are considered vulnerable should consider professional supervision; a controlled environment and removal of any physical stimulus that could encourage behavioral patterns leading to a relapse—also known as rehab.
Another approach is to taper off alcohol use slowly, with the eventual aim of phasing it out completely. As there is no medical process of tapering off, it is more likely that users may choose to reduce their alcohol consumption themselves before they decide to seek treatment and ultimately cut it out cold turkey.
While results vary between individuals, users with a more severe physical dependency will not only need to overcome the symptoms of withdrawal, they will also face the challenge of muting established behavioral patterns that create the social environment in which they are prone to relapse. For this reason, it is recommended that severe cases require the additional support of a clinic or rehabilitation center.
Detoxing Under Medical Supervision
While it may be tempting to undergo detoxification on your own, detoxing under medical supervision is highly recommended. A medically supervised detox has the advantages of trained professionals, access to relevant and helpful medications as well as a controlled environment. Trained professionals have the goal of limiting or preventing withdrawal symptoms, as well as avoiding any potential health complications that may arise without the necessary medical support.
A medically supervised detox is also the most effective way to combat Post-Acute Withdrawal Syndrome (PAWS), born out of the entrenched behavioral patterns that negatively impact their mental health and can make an unsupervised user more likely to relapse.
PAWS presents a number of commonly observed mental health obstacles standing between a vulnerable user and effective detox. These obstacles include but are not limited to:
- Drug or alcohol craving
- Cognitive difficulty
- Agitation, irritability, and hostility
- Anxiety or panic
- Obsessive-compulsive behaviors
- Decreased motivation
- Apathy and pessimism
- Relationship troubles
Rehabilitation centers have several inpatient alcohol treatments and outpatient rehab programs that allow additional monitoring and counseling to patients with a severe dependency as they go through a medically supervised detox, and who will likely benefit from additional support before, during and after the process is complete.
Studies suggest that potential for relapse is highest during the first month of a severe detox, and for this reason, such rehabilitation centers recommend a minimum of 35 days of inpatient care for those who cannot afford to extend their stay.
Extended inpatient drug rehab programs demonstrate the level of time and care needed to effectively detox from a physical dependency that may have developed from a pattern of socially and culturally acceptable binge drinking. This is certainly food for thought when considering that next New Year’s resolution.
Seeking Addiction Treatment
It is important to note that while statistics demonstrate that alcohol is now as prevalent and celebrated in our society as it has ever been, the implications for substance abuse have a broad and far-reaching impact. Statistics show that approximately 23% of adult men report binge drinking 5 times a month and that 12% of women report binge drinking 3 times a month. And while 90% of people who binge drink are not alcoholics or alcohol dependent; a significant number of the population currently meets the criteria for alcohol dependence; about 4.5% of Men and 2.5% of women.
Simply taking the first initial steps to detox can ensure you mitigate and hopefully prevent the harmful long-term consequences of sustained dependency, and most importantly, demonstrate that you are more than a statistic. If you are someone suffering from AUD, however, it is imperative that you consider rehab or professionally-assisted detox. Unfortunately, depending on the severity of the condition, alcohol withdrawal can pose serious health complications.
At Beach House, we offer a number of inpatient and outpatient programs including alcohol detox. We are here to help you detox and ultimately gain control of your affliction. Reach out, get help, and know that you’re not alone.
Alcohol use disorder
The Center of Disease Control
NIAAA reports that neuroadaptive changes
According to the CDC
Alcohol Withdrawal Syndrome
U.S. National Library of medicine
Who may not be classified under DSM – 5
Post acute withdrawal syndrome – Beach house
Inpatient and outpatient