Alcohol detoxification involves the process of ridding the body of all residual toxins associated with ethanol, the chemical byproduct associated with alcoholic beverages. Alcohol detox can take anywhere from a few days to a few weeks, depending on the severity and longevity of the alcohol addiction. A medically supervised detox is always recommended for someone with an alcohol dependence interested in beginning the recovery process, as alcohol detox poses some serious health risks. A medical detox can help alleviate many of the discomforts of detox and withdrawal, safely assisting the client through the detox process and guiding them into treatment.
When contemplating treatment one of the first questions someone wants answered at the outset is “How long does it take to detox from alcohol.” This is a common query as the knowledge that alcohol detox is rough is widely known. It is not surprising that someone entering treatment would want to know what to expect to help prepare themselves mentally for the recovery process. Unfortunately, there is not a cut and dry answer to the question, as alcohol detox experiences can vary widely.
ABOUT ALCOHOL DETOX
Think of an air filter on a car. Picture the tiny crevices in the filter that, over time, become clogged with dirt and debris associated with driving the car, eventually causing negative impacts to the engine’s efficiency. That is how the tissues of the body become as a product of long-term heavy consumption of alcohol. The chemicals and toxins from the alcohol build up in the body and begin to disrupt healthy bodily functions. Undergoing an alcohol detox simply refers to the body expelling those toxins and chemicals from the tissues over a period of days in most cases, allowing the individual to become sober. Once detox is completed, the individual stabilizes both physically and psychologically.
As the body progresses through the detox and withdrawals and attempts to adjust to the cessation of alcohol, it may develop a serious reaction such as seizures. For this reason, individuals engaging in alcohol detox programs should be closely monitored during the detox process. This amounts to careful attention paid to vital signs throughout the process, allowing detox professionals to intervene with medication to help reduce the intensity of the withdrawal symptoms.
Because there is no way to predict detox complications, anyone entering an alcohol detox should have access to emergency medical services.
Alcohol Withdrawal Symptoms
Withdrawal symptoms during alcohol detox are highly unpleasant, which explains why someone would ask how long does it take to detox from alcohol. No picnic. The withdrawal symptoms are not uniform, but instead will differ from person to person depending on many factors. These factors might include how intensive the alcohol dependency is, how long the individual has been alcohol dependent, the age and general health status of the person, and whether there are any mental health issues coexisting with the alcoholism.
Alcohol withdrawal symptoms might include:
- Racing heart rate
- Hand tremors
- Mental confusion
- Increased blood pressure
- Mood swings
How Long Does It Take To Detox From Alcohol?
In the majority of cases, alcohol detox and withdrawal lasts about one week, although some may complete detox in as few as 3 or 4 days, while others still struggle with symptoms at two weeks. The main objective is to get through the process safely so one can then enter into active addiction treatment, via a 30, 60, or 90 day program. Detox itself does not lead to recovery! Only through treatment, learning new ways to manage stress, anxiety, emotional distress, and frustration without resorting to using alcohol, can the individual be safely on the recovery journey. Detox simply provides the launch pad.
Alcohol withdrawal symptoms begin to emerge after about 6-12 hours following the last alcoholic beverage. The first day or two of detox is fairly uncomfortable, but manageable through the interventions provided by the detox professionals. These early stage symptoms might include tremors, vomiting, irritability, insomnia, and increased heart and blood pressure rates.
As detox progresses, especially in more serious addictions, these symptoms can become more enhanced on days 3 and 4. In fact, the risk of developing the delirium tremens (DTs) can happen during this second phase of withdrawals. These more serious withdrawal symptoms include body tremors, intense alcohol craving, profuse sweating, anxiety, depression, hallucinations, extreme confusion, and seizures. The symptoms begin to gradually subside during days 5-7.
RISK FACTORS FOR THE DELIRIUM TREMENS
Upon admission into a detox program, the clinical team will assess the individual’s risk for potentially developing the sometimes fatal complication called the delirium tremens. While not always easy to predict, certain factors can indicate whether the detox team should be prepared for this serious development. The risk factors for the DTs include:
- Stop drinking alcohol abruptly after a long period of heavy alcohol consumption
- Presenting with a head injury, infection, or medical illness and a history of heavy alcohol consumption
- Former experience with acute alcohol withdrawal syndrome
- History of heavy consumption for more than ten years
The DTs are considered a medical emergency because of the risk of stroke or seizure. Symptoms of the DTs include extreme mental confusion, delirium, hallucinations, restlessness, and mood swings.
CO-OCCURRING MENTAL HEALTH ISSUES
Alcoholism is often seen co-occurring with mental health disorders, such as depression, anxiety disorder, and bipolar disorder. Individuals suffering from a mental health disorder often come to rely on alcohol to help ease the emotional or psychological discomforts associated with the mood disorder. Unfortunately, an alcohol dependence can form as a result, resulting in what is referred to as a dual diagnosis.
For individuals with a dual diagnosis, the detox and withdrawal process can be more complicated. Unpredictable psychiatric symptoms may enter the process, requiring more specialized interventions. Individuals with a dual diagnosis should seek treatment for alcohol dependence at a rehab that specializes in the treatment of co-occurring disorders.
Alcoholism often coexists with depression. This is a particularly dangerous dual diagnosis, as each disorder worsens the effects of the other. The more depressed someone feels, the more alcohol they consume. The deeper the individual goes into the disease of alcoholism, negative consequences begin to pile up which may lead to deeper depression. The risk of suicide among alcoholics is five times that a social drinker, according to an article published in the International Journal of Environment Research and Public Health.
For individuals struggling with both an alcohol use disorder and a mental health disorder, once the medical detox is completed a dual diagnosis treatment program will offer the best recovery outcome. These programs have psychiatric professionals on staff to provide comprehensive treatment for both disorders at the same time.
OUTPATIENT TREATMENT AFTER ALCOHOL DETOX
Once someone has successfully completed a medical alcohol detox, they may feel so much better that they mistakenly think they are free of the addiction. The problem is that the brain pathways that were structurally altered as a result of the addiction will stubbornly insist on demanding the substance resulting in alcohol cravings. Any stressor or trigger can quickly undo the efforts to detox and lead the individual back to drinking.
Going off to a residential rehab program to receive comprehensive treatment for the addiction is not always a viable option. This is especially true for individuals who have high-level executive positions with a team who depends on their guidance and ongoing engagement. For those who simply cannot take an extended leave of absence, an outpatient rehab will provide treatment while allowing the executive to continue to be involved at work.
Outpatient programs vary in intensity based upon the recovery needs and goals of each client. This provides a degree of flexibility for someone who can attend therapy and classes for a few hours per day while continuing to function on the job. Most outpatient programs last for about 8 weeks and require about 9 hours of participation per week.
Outpatient programming includes:
- Individual counseling sessions. Using evidence-based therapies such as cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) and contingency management (CM), a therapist will work with the individual one-on-one to help them gain clarity on self-defeating thought patterns that kept them locked into alcohol abuse (CBT). Incentives to remain sober are a core element in CM. Any underlying emotional issues that may be contributing to the alcohol abuse will also be explored and processed in therapy.
- Group sessions. Small groups meet with a clinician who leads topics of discussion that inspire discussion and sharing. Group therapy is an intrinsic part of most outpatient programs as it builds a sense of peer support among participants.
- Medication management. Some individuals may benefit from medication assisted treatment (MAT). The medication, naltrexone, has been shown to help reduce alcohol cravings over time, which results in lower relapse rates.
- Addiction education. Gaining an understanding of the impact of alcohol on the brain and how that results in alcohol dependency is beneficial for individuals in recovery. This can be enlightening to many, and as a result can act as a deterrent to returning to alcohol use. Classes help individuals create a relapse prevention strategy by identifying potential triggers and making plans to proactively manage them.
- Recovery meetings. Alcoholics Anonymous 12-step recovery meetings or SMART Recovery meetings and forums are often integrated into the outpatient programming. These communities provide social support and opportunities to establish new sober friendships.
EXECUTIVE 7-DAY DETOX PROVIDES MEDICAL DETOX SERVICES FOR ALCOHOLISM
Executive 7-Day Detox is an upscale medical detox program located in Southern California that offers a comprehensive 7-day detox for professionals. Knowing that time is a cherished commodity, Executive 7-Day Detox aims to guide clients safely through the stages of alcohol detox in a period of seven days. Our detox program offers luxury amenities and private rooms, as well as a stunning coastal location. For more information about how long does it take to detox from alcohol, please contact Executive 7-Day Detox today at (800) 381-0827.