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Alcohol Detox Stages

Living with a substance use disorder, aka addiction, is painful in the short term and life-wrecking in the long term. Unfortunately, finding freedom is also painful—and, especially during initial physical detox, has its dangers. Detoxing from alcohol, for example, carries the risk of delirium tremens , with such symptoms as hallucinations, violent muscle spasms, and potentially life-threatening acceleration of heart rate and other vital functions.

Medical Detox

Fortunately, detoxing in a medical setting, under professional supervision, removes most of the physical danger from the experience. This approach also removes immediate temptations to go back to the bottle for relief. And, with a hospital setting and medication-assisted treatment , the experience is much more comfortable than home detox .

It can help to know, not only that the discomfort won’t last forever, but how long it likely will last. Exact timelines are of course different for every individual, but for most people the alcohol detox experience is similar to the following.

The Stages of Alcohol Detox

(Note: “Stage” numbers are assigned by the writer and do not have official medical status.)

Stage 1, 5–24 hours after last drink: Patient becomes shaky and nauseated, perspires noticeably. Heart rate increases; breathing grows rapid and shallow. Rest and sleep become difficult. Patient may experience panic or hallucinations after the first 12 hours.

Stage 2, 24–48 hours after last drink: Stage 1 symptoms continue or accelerate. Muscle tremors intensify; potential risk of convulsions or seizures.

Stage 3, 3–5 days after last drink: Symptoms reach their peak. Risk of delirium tremens, which affects about 5 percent of alcohol withdrawal patients, is at its highest.

Stage 4, 5–7 days after last drink: Symptoms begin to abate. Immediate physical cravings for alcohol disappear.

Post-detox stage: Psychological cravings for alcohol may return periodically for several months, usually in circumstances or environments previously associated with drinking. Many people experience post-acute withdrawal syndrome and struggle with various symptoms off and on for up to two years:

  • Poor physical coordination
  • Insomnia
  • Brain fog
  • Mood swings
  • Panic attacks.

Recovery Is a Lifelong Journey

Difficult as the alcohol detox procedure is, the post-detox stage is loaded with relapse temptations that can be even more challenging. Relapse is common and hardly means irredeemable failure: however, it’s always best avoided, if for no other reason than because the potential for delirium tremens and other serious symptoms increases with subsequent detoxes. Plus, being sober for a while means losing some tolerance for alcohol, and resuming consumption at former levels could be deadly.

If you can, find an alcohol detox center that offers several weeks or months of inpatient care after initial withdrawal: it’s the best environment for getting your head together and planning a long-term sober future. In any case, find a regular therapist and a peer support group to help keep relapse temptations at bay.

Other tips for the post-detox stage (which, technically, comprises the rest of your life):

  • Get a complete physical checkup: alcoholism may have done undetected damage.
  • Take care of your overall health. Eat healthy , get adequate sleep , and exercise regularly.
  • Keep your stress levels as low as possible. Beware especially of schedule overload, unrealistic expectations, and toxic relationships.
  • Pinpoint circumstances that will likely tempt you to relapse, and have an advance plan for avoiding or coping with such situations.
  • Find purposeful, and personally meaningful, goals to stay busy with.
  • Keep faith that you can find permanent freedom from alcoholism, and can live a meaningful life!

Alcohol Detox in a Safe Environment

It’s never safe to undertake detox from alcohol (or any other drug addiction) without qualified medical supervision. Hope by the Sea provides qualified detox care, post-detox rehab, and also treatment for co-occurring mental health disorders. Contact us to learn more about our treatment options. Hope Starts Here!