Q&A — How long does alcohol detox last, and what can I do to relieve the symptoms?

Alcohol withdrawal without medical help can, and frequently does, result in some or all of the following complications:

  • extreme anxiety
  • disorientation
  • hallucinations
  • sleep disorders
  • hand tremors
  • nausea
  • sweating
  • seizures
  • blood pressure spikes
  • and racing pulse.

Delirium tremens (DTs) — physical and visual hallucinations accompanied by terror reactions may also occur. In the worst cases, untreated alcohol withdrawal syndrome can result in death related to high blood pressure (stroke) and seizures.

Because of the possibility of severe medical consequences, along with the fact that they can turn up unexpectedly at any time during detox (even in people who have self-detoxed without incident before), self-detox for alcohol and similar-acting drugs such as benzodiazepines is not recommended.

To answer your question more directly, acute withdrawal onset is usually between 8 and 20 hours after you stop drinking, and can last for up to five days. There is really nothing you can do unless you have access to certain drugs. Even then, it is dangerous if not medically monitored.

I suggest you investigate the resources in your area to learn what facilities are available to you for a medically-conducted detox.  Your local mental health association or society would be a useful place to start.

5 thoughts on “Q&A — How long does alcohol detox last, and what can I do to relieve the symptoms?

  1. Will Caillouet

    Getting rid of addiction to alcohol isn’t an overnight magic. Rehabilitation in itself is a long term battle, especially when the person has been affected by alcohol addiction previously. The backslide is greater if the post-rehabilitative scenario consists of a neighborhood that can affect the newly rehabilitated individual. This is the assessment of how efficient the treatment has been in the alcohol facilities. The real thing with alcohol happens soon after one has been discharged from the center and the real test of how powerful remedy would occur upon offers of the substance once again..

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  2. Bill Post author

    Dear Diana,

    I don’t understand your aversion to getting “the law” involved. Would you rather see him die? Because that is what will happen, and you have to be prepared to deal with it either way. It is nearly impossible to do anything for an alcoholic who does not want to be helped. Even forcing him into detox and treatment is unlikely to effect much change unless he goes willingly, but getting him there is his only chance.

    It is possible that an intervention guided by a professional might help. That is when all the alcoholic’s family and friends get together and confront him with the way in which his disease isaffecting them — in a non-blaming way. In order for this to work, there have to be arrangements ahead of time to whisk him off to detox and treatment if he agrees to go. It is also necessary that it not be turned into a blaming game, The participants talk about the effects on them, not in a “you did” way but in a “it hurts me that” way. That is difficult to achieve, which is why the professional presence is absolutely required — to keep things civil. Otherwise the intervention is likely to fail, and they rarely work the second time.

    Regardless of what may or may not happen with your son, you need to get to some Al-Anon meetings. Living with a drunk, or just worrying about them constantly, makes us crazy too. We need help in letting go, and in understanding that we are not responsible for our kids after they reach their majority, no matter what their behavior. Please avail yourself of the support and understanding available in Al-Anon. You can find meetings here: http://www.al-anon.alateen.org/meetings/meeting.html

    You can’t help your son directly, but you can be emotionally stable and ready to support him if and when he does get sober. In the meantime, please read this article I wrote in a different venue. It will help you understand the situation. http://sunrisedetox.com/blog/2011/09/25/what-is-a-bottom/

    Regards, and good luck,



  3. diana

    i have a son who was injured in 1989 blood clot on the brain coma for two weeks lost all functions now he is 43 years old and a full blown alcoholic has massive temper fits threatens to kill himself blames everybody else for his promblems never has anything good to say about anybody or anything.miserable all the time . does anybody know how to help him without the law involved


  4. waynebisset

    I believe than in my country, South Africa, it is the law to have twenty four hour medical staff in Rehabs that treat these two drugs: alcohol and heroin. Sort of makes one think, does it not?

    It’s the law here, too, if they detox people. Millions of people have gotten clean “cold turkey,” but anyone who has worked in a detox facility (as I have) knows how dangerous that can be.

    Liked by 1 person

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