When can I begin an alcohol detox?

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The time to begin alcohol detox depends on you. When you reach a point of saying enough is enough, and you are tired of alcohol cravings, blacking out, being hungover all the time, and persistent alcohol abuse, then you are ready for alcohol detox.

At this point, you are also ready for alcohol addiction treatment. 

This realisation that you want things to change is the first step towards recovery from substance abuse.  

Alcohol abuse and drug abuse can affect an individual as well as their loved ones, and detox may seem to be the only way to address this problem.  

It is however important to note that alcohol detox can be extremely dangerous when done without supervision, because it tends to have some severe withdrawal symptoms. 

As such, detoxing from alcohol at a treatment clinic like Abbeycare, where you are medically reviewed, and you get to receive professional treatment advice is recommended for addressing the problem of excessive alcohol use and other substance use disorder. 

It can be defined as the natural process that occurs when the body is attempting to get rid of toxins and waste products after a prolonged alcohol dependence.  

During the treatment, the alcohol detox program is normally accompanied by alcohol withdrawal treatment, mental health services administrations, substance abuse treatment, certified addiction professional treatment, a sober life, medication, counselling and medical observation. 

People who tend to have a heavy alcohol intake are also likely to experience some negative effects of detox such as alcohol withdrawal symptoms, alcohol withdrawal syndrome, Delirium Tremens DTs, (auditory hallucinations), alcohol withdrawal seizures, severe alcohol withdrawal symptoms, alcohol detox symptoms, withdrawal delirium, and some mild withdrawal symptoms as well. 

Additionally, prolonged substance abuse will eventually lead to tolerance as well as biological changes that will create a false homeostasis which will end up disrupting the balance and restoring an individual to a healthy state. 

Alcohol detox can start a few hours after you stop drinking. It's not everyone that will experience all of the severe withdrawal symptoms we have mentioned above, and some may experience them less severely than others.  

When you go to the treatment centres, the first thing they will recommend however is alcohol detox. 

What is the process like? 

Since this is the preparatory step before the actual treatment starts, it can be performed safely while you are either outpatient or in patient, but it does require round-the-clock medical attention, in case the withdrawal symptoms experienced get out of hand. 

Here are some of the steps involved:  


When you visit the medical facility, the specific treatment centre team will start by doing a comprehensive review of your mental heal and psychiatric history, in order to fully understand the situation. 


There are many drugs that are used during detox for alcohol withdrawal. These medications will help to mimic the alcohol effects in order to mitigate against severe symptoms of alcohol withdrawal. They also help in targeting co-occurring disorders or discomfort in general. 


You will be medically reviewed including a mental health services administration in a bid to help you reach the required balance for your body and mind. 

When to safely detox from alcohol at home 

Most people will actually consider doing their alcohol withdrawal detox at home. They prefer this because it makes the situation less challenging and much easier to address.  

Of course, there isn't a more comfortable, controllable and safe place than one's home, but detox at home while comfortable could be a little risky, and people need to understand the risks involved such as dealing with the alcohol withdrawal symptoms. 

However, you can safely detox at home under the supervision of a specific treatment provider, who will provide mental health assessment, blood pressure assessment, and also provide medical advice, during each step of the process. 

If you are extremely busy and cannot get away from your life in order to go to a residential rehab clinic, then, under supervision, you can safely detox from alcohol at home. 

You must however note that the commitment level of such a task needs to be extremely high. For any detox to work, the addict must be committed to the process, and they must be genuinely willing to change. 

Regardless of how experienced the specific treatment provider is, as long as you are not committed to this 100%, it will not work. 

Here's why: 

  • Detox from alcohol is dangerous and features a series of life-threatening risks we have mentioned above. 
  • When you suddenly stop drinking, your nervous system reacts at once, and causes a series of symptoms of alcohol withdrawal that can be fatal. 
  • The sudden cessation from alcohol can cause alcohol withdrawal syndrome, that is characterized by severe symptoms such as seizures, hallucinations, high blood pressure, and sometimes heart failure. Though rare, you never know who is at risk of such symptoms. 

If, however, you do decide to detox from alcohol at home, here are some precautions you should take: 

Get rid of all alcohol in the home  

This does sound obvious, but it is an extremely critical step when you are self-detoxing, and used to drink heavily.

When you start experiencing symptoms of alcohol withdrawal during the acute withdrawal phase, you may not be in a position to control the alcohol cravings. Avoiding temptation is the only way.  

Clear your schedule 

Even though you will still be at home, doing all of the normal things, remember that getting rid of alcohol addiction and a prolonged alcohol abuse is never easy. You must show your commitment by taking some time off work. 

Ensure that you have support 

Just because you are doing the detox at home, doesn't mean that you should do it alone. Find some family members or friends who are willing to help you during the process of alcohol withdrawal. It may seem easy, but it is not.  

Also, ensure that you are in contact with a mental health treatment centre that will ensure you are medically reviewed and provide medical advice throughout the process. 


When to attend a medical alcohol detox 

For most people who are struggling with alcohol abuse, or Alcohol Use Disorder - AUD, getting rid of the habit, and trying to reduce alcohol cravings especially after a long period of chronic heavy drinking can be challenging.

Additionally, the alcohol withdrawal timeline is too long for them to do it on their own.  

As such, they will need help, and the best place to receive such help is at a treatment centre or a rehab facility. 

The detox process, as we have already said is a complicated one, that causes severe symptoms as a result of instant shock to the central nervous system.  

For anyone with high levels of risk, then an inpatient stay at the treatment centres is advisable, as they will help you through all the withdrawal related symptoms, mental symptoms and help you reduce alcohol cravings. 

If you are experiencing withdrawal symptoms, the 24 hours medical team is at hand to help with this, and other drugs you may be detoxing from. 

What is Alcohol Use Disorder? 

AUD is a compulsive alcohol use disorder that is characterized by lack of control when it comes alcohol use. It is a chronic brain disease that needs treatment at a designated treatment facility.  

Signs of AUD include: 

  • A strong craving or longing to use alcohol. 
  • The inability to reduce your alcohol intake even after continued attempts to quit. 
  • Inability to perform well at work or school due to the aftereffects of drinking alcohol. 
  • A destruction of your personal relationships. 
  • Growing tolerance to alcohol. 
  • Experiencing symptoms of withdrawal when you try to abstain.  

So, whether you choose to detox form an outpatient treatment centre or detox from home, you should understand the seriousness of the problem including any mental disorders and the amount of alcohol consumed over the years.  

Benefits of attending a medical detox facility 

Attending rehab for excessive alcohol consumption is always recommended when you are trying to detox from alcohol. It is also highly beneficial for you if you end up with severe withdrawal symptoms.

This is because the detox facility follows a designed diagnostic and statistical manual when dealing with all issues. 

Basically, there are two types of rehab - Inpatient, as well as outpatient. Each of these programs will offer their own pros and cons, and the decision is usually yours.  

Medical detox however, is best done at an inpatient care facility, because of the round-the-clock care they provide.  

The withdrawal management we have discussed above, and the kind of care needed is extremely vital for a successful detox.

Although it is not easy to predict the course of anyone's rehab journey, here are some benefits of in-patient care:

On hand medical staff 

There is a level of risk involved with ceasing alcohol consumption, especially for someone with severe psychological dependence. This is because the symptoms can be quite severe.

Having on-hand and on-call staff is essential towards making the process less life-threatening. 

They also provide the required medical care for symptoms such as withdrawal seizures that require expert management. 

A closed environment 

When you want to completely beat the habit, getting away from the environment that contains the triggers is a great step towards recovery.

Now, because relapse occurs in most adults who have already gone through recovery treatment, having an atmosphere that is geared towards success even after rehab is always a great idea. 

A focused recovery 

This closed environment in an inpatient facility will also give you time to focus on nothing but your recovery.  

The program is committed towards your success and will factor in all the required addiction treatment options that will work for you. 

When you are away from distractions such as family, work and friends, you are able to fully focus on the journey ahead, which means that the success level will be higher. 


There is a variety of medications used during rehab to manage any acute alcohol withdrawal, and this medication must only be given under the supervision of a medical professional at the rehab clinic or treatment facility.  

The most common medications used include:  


This medication contains medications such as diazepam or valium and lorazepam or Ativan, which are used to stabilize the person during detox by muting the temporary neural signalling that is associated with acute alcohol withdrawal.  


This drug acts the same as benzodiazepines but it is potentially more problematic because it is easy to overdose even at low doses.  

How long does it take to detox from alcohol? 

If you have stopped drinking, then you are likely to experience withdrawal symptoms from alcohol. 

If you have decided to stop drinking, then you are likely to experience some serious withdrawal symptoms from alcohol.

The length of time detox will take depends on factors such as how long you have been drinking, whether you have had detox treatment before, and how much you have been drinking. 

Most people will stop having the detox symptoms about 4-5 days after they've had their last drink. 


According to a review in the Industrial Psychiatry Journal (1)of 2013, the general guidelines when it comes to alcohol withdrawal are:

The first 6 hours 

Immediately after your last drink, there are some mild symptoms that will start in about six hours. Some people who have had a long history of alcohol abuse may have a seizure in this time after they stop drinking. 

12 to 24 hours 

Some people will go through alcohol withdrawal with some hallucinations at this point. They tend to see things that are not there, and while this is a very scary symptom, the doctors do not really consider it to be that serious. 

24 to 48 hours 

The minor withdrawal symptoms will continue in this time, and the kind of symptoms you should expect include stomach upset, tremors and headaches.

In case the person goes through the minor symptoms, they will usually peak during the 18th and 24th hour, but it will then decrease in about five days. 

48 hours to 72 hours 

Again, some people in this timeline will experience severe alcohol withdrawal symptoms, and the doctors call this delirium tremens or DTs.

If you suffer from this condition, you may have seizures, a heightened heart rate and high body temperature. 

72 hours 

At this time, the alcohol withdrawal symptoms will be at their worst. In the most rare cares, moderate withdrawal can last for up to a month, and this includes illusions, and a rapid heart rate. 

But what causes alcohol withdrawal? 

A person who has been drinking significantly and on a regular basis will develop a chemical addiction to the substances.

If all of a sudden they stop giving the body these substances, it has already grown accustomed to, the body, blood levels and brain neurotransmitters will be sent into shock. 

During heavy alcohol use, the body is usually heavily suppressed and once the alcohol stops, or it is reduced, the glutamate surges rapidly which hits some sensitive neurotransmitters which case an adverse effect to the body and brain, causing the withdrawal symptoms. 

An overview of alcohol detox timeline 

Withdrawal symptoms usually start to surface as soon as two hours after you start rehab, and while most of them are painful, they will subside in a week or so.  

There is no exact timeline for detox and it depends on the individual. However, here's a breakdown of the process:

The first 6-12 hours 

This is the initial stage of detox, and the symptoms will be mild, but can worsen quickly as time goes on. Some of the early symptoms you are likely to experience are shaking, anxiety, headaches, irritability and nausea. 

Day One 

As you start approaching the first 24 hours of alcohol detox process, the symptoms will start to become more severe, as compared to what you felt in the first 12 hours. Additionally, these symptoms will involve hand tremors, disorientation, and seizures. 

Day two 

This day is the most painful in terms of symptoms and they will include panic attacks, and hallucinations. Your body will also start getting rid of the alcohol in its system. 

Days three to seven 

For the reminder of this first week of detox, there are different withdrawal symptoms that will come and go. This timeframe is also where you are most at risk of some life-threatening symptoms such as delirium tremens. 

After one week 

By the time one week is over, most of the symptoms will start to disappear, and you will be able to persist for a few more weeks. Most of the symptoms now will just be minor and can be treated with medication. 

However, even after the most serious of symptoms have subsided, most people tend to experience a post-acute withdrawal syndrome or PAWs.

This refers to prolonged detox symptoms, and they include trouble sleeping, low energy, anxiety, and delayed reflexes. They could last anywhere from several months to a whole year. 

Overall, the most uncomfortable withdrawal symptoms from detox normally peak around 10 or 30 hours since the last drink, and they will start to lessen after around 50 hours.  

Delirium Tremens however is unlikely, so you shouldn't worry, but it affect some people during detox, and may develop into Aspiration Pneumonia.  


If you, or one of your loved one's is attempting alcohol detox and has been experiencing some withdrawal symptoms, it is important that you reach out to them and ensure that they get medical attention. 

In case Delirium Tremens presents itself, death can be a likely outcome, and also, a kindling effect can occur if the withdrawal symptoms are not addressed instantly. This can further worsen later. 

So, the safest way of addressing alcohol abuse is through medical assistance or seeking professional treatment.  

Any medical professional will tell you how detox from alcohol is the first step to rehab and if you face any withdrawal symptoms, you may be able to address them with the help of medical personnel. 

Sobriety is a hard and long path, and it not only need commitment from the patient, but also support from family members and staff in order for it to become a success.  

Abbeycare Pricing Bot

Last Updated: February 16, 2022

About the author

Peter Szczepanski

Peter has been on the GPhC register for 29 years. He holds a Clinical Diploma in Advanced Clinical Practice and he is a Clinical Lead in Alcohol and Substance Misuse for Abbeycare Gloucester and works as the Clinical Lead in Alcohol and Substance Use in Worcestershire. Peter also co-authored the new 6th edition of Drugs In Use by Linda Dodds, writing Chapter 15 on Alcohol Related Liver Disease. Find Peter on Respiratory Academy, Aston University graduates, University of Birmingham, Q, Pharmaceutical Journal, the Dudley Pharmaceutical Committee, Dudley Council, Twitter, and LinkedIn.