How Long Does it Take to Detox from Alcohol?

The length of alcohol detox varies depending on how long you’ve been drinking, how much alcohol you’ve consumed recently, and your current health condition. If your withdrawal symptoms are mild, the detoxification process may take only a matter of hours. If you’ve been drinking for years and you’re having convulsions, severe tremors, hallucinations or hyperthermia, the process may take several days. If your body is heavily dependent on alcohol, detox should take place in a medically supervised setting where you can be closely monitored until your condition is stable.

As the first step in your recovery, alcohol detox is a critical process. During detoxification, your body is cleared of alcohol. The fluids and nutrients that you’ve lost due to drinking may be replaced, and you may receive medication to help you handle the symptoms of withdrawal. Detox has three primary goals:

  1. To keep you medically stable as your body withdraws from alcohol
  2. To prevent the severe side effects of withdrawal
  3. To prepare you for the next phase of rehabilitation

Length of Alcohol Withdrawal


For heavy drinkers, alcohol withdrawal symptoms may start as soon as two hours after your last drink. For drinkers in the earlier stages of alcoholism, symptoms may take six or more hours to start. According to the Merck Manual, these symptoms are typical of mild to moderate alcohol withdrawal:

  • Weakness
  • Shaking
  • Sweating
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Nervousness
  • Restlessness
  • Difficulty sleeping

Heavily dependent drinkers may experience all of these symptoms, plus these severe side effects:

  • Hallucinations
  • Delirium
  • Seizures
  • Convulsions
  • Fever
  • Increased heart rate
  • Sudden hypertension

The longer you’ve been drinking and the more you drink, the longer the withdrawal period may last. Columbia University estimates that withdrawal can last from 24 hours for mild drinkers to several weeks for heavy drinkers. The sooner you seek help from a qualified detox provider, the shorter and more tolerable the withdrawal period may be.

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Length of Rehabilitation


Detox itself is the beginning of a longer rehabilitation process. Hospitals, rehab clinics, emergency departments and jails offer basic detoxification services, but getting the comprehensive treatment you need to create a sober life requires a specialized recovery program. Once you’ve been declared medically stable and you no longer have the symptoms of alcohol withdrawal, you can truly begin the process of recovering your physical, mental and emotional health.

How long should rehabilitation last? Shorter rehab programs may last for as little as one week, while long-term programs typically last for 30 to 90 days. The more time you devote to recovery in a structured, secure setting, the longer you’ll have to acquire the coping skills that you need to reach your recovery goals. After you graduate from a residential treatment program, continuing your recovery with aftercare serviceswill help you maintain your sobriety and achieve the life you really want.

Alcohol addiction can take years to develop, and a full recovery won’t happen overnight. If you give yourself adequate time to adjust to sobriety and explore the roots of your addiction, you’ll boost your chances of remaining abstinent and avoiding relapses. Many recovering alcoholics continue to see counselors or therapists and attend self-help groups or 12-step meetings for years after they get sober. If you’re ready to start this rewarding journey, contact us for information about our integrated recovery services.