Stopping cold turkey could kill an alcoholic. That’s right – sometimes getting clean from alcohol is fatal and we’re going to tell you why. It is especially important to know, now what we suspect its ‘alcohol detox time’ for you or someone you care for.

It has to do with the alcohol withdrawal or detox process. Basically, alcoholics have taught their body a new normal (alcoholism) and the shock of taking that away can cause everything from a stroke to a week-long headache.

In some cases, alcoholics will suffer from delirium tremens or DT’s, which are often fatal without treatment.

With that information in mind, it’s essential to do alcohol detox time in a professional facility. They can treat symptoms as they arise and intervene if the more severe effects come up.

You’ve already lost years of your life/your loved ones life to alcohol. Don’t lose them to the process. Want to learn more about why a detox program is important? Read below.

Alcohol Detox Time: How Long Does it Take?

Detoxing from the chemical itself in your body can take up to a week, but rebuilding your life from alcohol addiction can take years. The more supported the alcoholic is in the initial detox and rehab process, the higher the chances are of them succeeding in their journey to sobriety.

However, you can’t force an addict to recover when they’re unwilling to recover. You can put them through a detox and rehab program, but you can’t make them stay away from alcohol once they come out.

One major reason people relapse is that their rehab didn’t address their dual diagnosis. A dual diagnosis is when someone has a mental health issue that they use the substance to treat.

If someone with anxiety drinks to slow down their thoughts, stopping drinking isn’t going to treat their anxiety. They may come out and not drink again, but turn to another drug that treats their symptoms.

When you’re finding a detox program, look for a facility that can treat dual diagnoses as well. That’s the ultimate recipe for success.

The Alcohol Withdrawal Timeline

Each alcoholic is different so the timeline can change from person to person. One alcoholic may experience the withdrawal symptoms for three days at one stage, while the other person only has them for one.

The different times have to do with genetics, the amount of alcohol in the system, the length of the addiction, and general health.

That said, here’s what the process looks like.

Stage 1: The Initial Comedown

About six to twelve hours after the last drink, the alcoholic will begin to sober up and may have the symptoms of a hangover. Many alcoholics drink upon waking to keep a hangover away, so it’s hard to tell what is detox and what are classic hangover symptoms.

They may feel nausea, headaches, and sensitivity to light or loud noises. Emotionally they may feel anxious, irritated, and they may even shake. These are the signs of the body asking for more alcohol, to maintain it’s “new” normal.

Strategic people sometimes aim to sleep through this stage, though they’re not often successful. The body is so used to alcohol-induced sleep that insomnia during the entire detox journey is common.

Lack of sleep exacerbates all the withdrawal symptoms and can make everything from headaches to moods worse. Your body can also develop seizures from lack of sleep – which we’ll explore more in the next stage.

Many alcoholics, on their own, never pass these first hours. Though it’s an unpleasant experience, this is not necessarily the worst stage of detox.

Stage 2: Day One Post-Alcohol

The first twenty-four hours after your last drink are some of the hardest, at least on the surface. You may feel the same as you did right after the drinks wore off, but for two to three days.

Loss of appetite and a general feeling of exhaustion are common, and the inability to sleep doesn’t play well into that. You may find you can’t keep anything down or that you’re vomiting up nothing – it’s all part of this stage’s course.

Mood swings are almost unavoidable during this stage. Depression may set in and can last for weeks or months after getting sober.

You may have tremors in this stage, meaning your hand or body will shake without reason. These are not the same thing as tremens, which you could encounter in stage three.

For most people, this stage lasts one to two days. It could last up to three if you’re particularly unlucky.

Stage 3: Days 2-4

For most people, the second stage ends on the second-day post-sobriety. For others, it ends at three – so this stage’s start time may be at day two or three, or four or five.

This stage is a little more intense, physically speaking. Your body is not happy and your systems are on high alert.

Your heart palpitations from stage two may turn into a racing heart and higher blood pressure. Your breathing may quicken and you may sweat more – as your body temperature will likely go up. You don’t have a fever from an illness, but from your body working hard to establish a new normal.

During this stage, you may feel irritable and confused, along with generally anxious. Many people have panic attacks in this stage, some over and over again. Panic attacks have their own physical symptoms, which look a lot like what your body is experiencing in this stage.

Hence, a panic attack may make your pre-existing symptoms worse. This is when medical professionals would step in and medicate the addict to slow the body processes down and treat the symptoms – but only if they’re in a medical detox facility.

Stage 3: The Most Dangerous Stage

It’s thought that Amy Winehouse died in this stage – not as a direct result from alcohol poisoning. And deaths happen more in this stage than any other stage – given the intensity of the psychological symptoms.

While you may feel physically better than you did in the past stages, it’s now your brain’s turn to deal with the effects. Many people in stage three, which starts four to five days after your last drink, experience hallucinations.

Hallucinations can drive people to do unsafe things, as they’re unaware that what they’re seeing isn’t real.

It’s also the stage where delirium tremens and seizures come into play – which are the most deadly symptoms.

A seizure is essentially a heart attack but in the brain. Some scientists and doctors choose to call them brain attacks. In this brain attack, something blocks blood (with oxygen in it) from reaching a specific part of the brain.

That part of the brain starves for oxygen and can lose capabilities or stop working entirely. That’s why you see some people lose the ability to speak or walk after a bad stroke.

Delirium Tremens

Delirium tremens are unlikely. They happen in three to five percent of people, many who have been alcoholics for years. We don’t necessarily know what causes them, but it’s like a central nervous system rebound.

Some people think it has to do with alcohol-depleted stores of GABA in the brain.

For some people, the tremens are just like a mild shake, but for others, they’re accompanied by hallucinations or delirium (the inability to separate fact from fiction in reality).

The worst DT’s can cause seizures, as we talked about in our last point. The combination of all these symptoms can lead to death, which happens anywhere between 5-15% of the time.

In those instances, the extreme change from alcoholic to sobriety was just too much for the body to handle on its own.

If you’re worried about you or your loved one experiencing DT’s, then getting into a supervised medical detox is a must. They can pick up on the early signs of DT’s and treat them before they become worse or fatal.

Medical Detox Programs

Though the detox process is grueling and rebuilding your life is a hard and long process, both are worth it. Your life or your loved one’s life will be so much better a year from now, it’ll be almost unrecognizable.

To make the process a little less miserable, find a medical detox center. Not only will they help you or a loved one start rehab, but they’ll treat the worst of the alcohol withdrawal symptoms as they come along.

It costs more, but in the case that you or a loved one develops seizures or DT’s, it could save lives.

Starting the Detox Journey

If you’re ready to start or help someone start their alcohol detox time? It’s the best way to invest in sobriety and in the future.To talk to one of our intake counselors, click here.


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