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We don’t always think of alcohol as a drug like cocaine or heroin. But for many people, it has the same destructive effect on their lives and relationships.

In fact, 17.6 million Americans are either dependent or addicted to alcohol. That’s one in twelve individuals. What’s more, this number doesn’t include the large number of people who are periodic binge-drinkers.

Consuming huge quantities of alcohol has many, well-studied negative health effects. If you have been struggling with alcohol addiction, you can reap many benefits by stopping alcohol altogether. That can be a scary prospect, though, especially with the looming specter of alcohol withdrawal.

But it can be done! And knowing what might happen to your body can make the process easier. Let’s look together at the alcohol withdrawal timeline. It will give you an idea of what to expect and help you feel empowered.

What Happens When You Detox From Alcohol?

Before getting into specifics about the withdrawal timeline, let’s look at alcohol’s effects on the brain. Then you’ll understand why withdrawal symptoms occur when you stop drinking.

Alcohol has a depressive effect on the brain. It makes nerve cells less excited, and they slow down. A lot. Which is why you experience things like slurred speech or delayed reaction times after having had too much to drink.

But alcohol also affects the behavior of neurotransmitters. They are a key component of the brain’s communication system. Too much alcohol alters the way they send messages to each other.

One of these affected neurotransmitters is dopamine. You may know already that dopamine helps control movement and emotions, as well as things like pleasure and pain.

At first, alcohol causes your brain to release large amounts of dopamine, and you feel great! Over time, though, your brain adapts to the constant presence of alcohol.

It stops producing dopamine, and you start to feel less happy. But you keep trying to regain the euphoric feelings dopamine produced when you first started drinking. So you drink more and more.

When you cut off the alcohol, your brain and entire central nervous system are freaking out. They have adapted to the constant alcohol and want it back to restore normal function.

That’s how you end up with withdrawal symptoms. In time, your body will recover, and these symptoms go away.

How Long Does Alcohol Withdrawal Last: An Overview

Once you stop drinking, your body may respond as early as six hours later. In fact, the first symptoms of alcohol withdrawal usually begin six to twelve hours after cessation.

Symptoms progress in three stages from mild to intense, peaking between 48 and 72 hours after your last drink. Not everybody responds to withdrawal the same way, though. Also, the severity of your symptoms is related to how dependent you were.

Other factors influencing the duration and intensity of withdrawal symptoms include:

  • The length of time you drank
  • How much you drank each time
  • Your medical history
  • Whether you have a family history of addiction
  • Whether you have any unresolved childhood trauma
  • How much stress you feel

What’s more, if you are withdrawing from any drugs as well as alcohol, your withdrawal symptoms will be affected. Again, not everybody will experience withdrawal the same way. Some people may even skip a withdrawal stage altogether.

Because you don’t know how withdrawal will affect you, make sure you are under medical supervision during the process. The best place to obtain support is an experienced rehabilitation center. Compassionate and educated professionals can guide you through the process, making sure you have a safe recovery.

Alcohol Detox Timeline: The Specifics

As noted above, there are three stages of alcohol withdrawal. Here is a summary of their specific side effects and how long they last:

Stage One

This is the mildest of the three stages, and it can begin six hours after your last drink. The most common symptoms include:

  • Hand tremors
  • Insomnia
  • Anxiety
  • Gastrointestinal complaints (loss of appetite, upset stomach, nausea, vomiting, abdominal pain)
  • Headaches

You might also experience:

  • Depression
  • Foggy thinking
  • Mood swings
  • Sweating
  • Heart palpitations

These symptoms are considered minor and may feel like another bad hangover. They typically reach their peak intensity one to three days after the alcohol stops.

Stage Two

The second stage of alcohol withdrawal escalates to more serious side effects. They are still considered moderate but can be scary nonetheless. Expect them to begin anywhere from 12 to 48 hours after your last drink.

They include:

  • An increase in body temperature
  • Heightened respiration
  • High blood pressure
  • Irregular or unusual heart rate
  • Mental confusion, including hallucinations
  • Sweating
  • Mood disturbances, especially irritability

During stage two, you may continue to experience stage one side effects as well. Additionally, some people do not go through stage two at all. Remember, not everybody will experience withdrawal the same way.

Stage Three

This part of withdrawal is the most dangerous. Symptoms in stage three are serious and can be life-threatening. They begin about 48 to 72 hours after the cessation of alcohol.

At this point, you may have:

  • More hallucinations
  • Fever
  • Seizures
  • Disorientation, confusion, and agitation
  • Increased heart rate, blood pressure, and temperature
  • Sweating
  • Delirium tremens

Delirium Tremens

This last side effect, delirium tremens, occurs in about three to five percent of people in withdrawal. It is characterized by changes in consciousness and delirium.

Delerium Tremens can begin without warning, and without proper medical treatment, can be fatal. Those most at risk are older individuals with:

  • a long history of alcohol abuse
  • poor liver function
  • more intense withdrawal symptoms at the outset

It is an extremely dangerous condition and can begin without warning. For these reasons, anyone undergoing detox needs close medical supervision. That is the only way to ensure your safety during the process.

Detox From Alcohol: When Is it Over?

These three stages contain the most infamous part of alcohol withdrawal. For some people, side effects disappear between five and seven days after they stop drinking.

For others, it may take two weeks for all alcohol to leave the body. Sometimes, milder versions of withdrawal symptoms last for years. It all depends on the degree of alcoholism prior to withdrawal.

Regardless, your body begins to recover from alcohol addiction almost right away. Within one month, there are noticeable health benefits. These are in addition to improvements in your personal life and relationships.

For these reasons, the side effects of withdrawal are absolutely worth it.

Conclusion: Alcohol Withdrawal Timeline

Now you have the information about the alcohol withdrawal timeline. Knowing the symptoms of the process makes it less scary. As long as you are being supervised by a medical professional, your road to recovery can be an optimistic and powerful one.

If you have made the decision to stop drinking, that is a wonderful first step in your recovery. We would love to help along with the process. Feel free to reach out to us anytime.