How Does Alcohol Detox Work?

By Midwest Detox Staff

MD Stacked color Logo

Checking into alcohol detox can be nerve-wracking for a number of reasons. Not only do you worry about withdrawal symptoms, but you also have to think about entering a completely new environment and temporarily disrupting your regular schedule. These fears and changes are enough to scare many people away from alcohol detox, even when they desperately need it.

Fortunately, alcohol detox is a lot less frightening when you know what to expect. In this guide, we’re going to go over everything you need to know about alcohol detox and how it works. And remember, if you or someone you love is currently struggling with alcohol addiction, don’t hesitate to reach out to the experts at Midwest Detox for help.

In This Article
    Add a header to begin generating the table of contents

    The Alcohol Detox Timeline

    The signs of alcohol detox and withdrawal can come on fast. If you’ve never detoxed or experienced alcohol withdrawal before, the rush of negative symptoms can be pretty overwhelming. This is why it is so important to detox under the care of professionals. In any case, you should know what to expect after you make the decision to stop drinking. Here is a breakdown of the alcohol detox timeline:

    First 12 Hours

    Depending on the severity of your addiction, the first 12 hours of detox may or may not be that intense. However, as soon as you take your last drink, the clock starts ticking. Typically within 6 to 12 hours of that drink, you will begin to feel the early symptoms of alcohol withdrawal. These may vary from mild nausea to severe confusion.

    12 to 24 Hours

    During the first 24 hours of abstinence, your symptoms will rapidly increase in severity. With each passing hour, you will likely experience cravings, if for no other reason than to reduce the withdrawal symptoms. At this point, there is an increased risk of seizures, but again, the presence and frequency of these symptoms will depend on the severity of your addiction.

    24 to 48 Hours

    The second full day of detox is often the hardest. For many people, symptoms peak after the first 24 hours. In addition to worsening symptoms experienced during the first day of detox, you will likely experience even more anxiety, as well as increased blood pressure, body temperature, and heart rate.

    48 to 72 Hours

    After the initial 48 hours, the risk of experiencing Delirium Tremens (DTs) increases dramatically. This condition can lead to severe symptoms like hallucinations, fever, and seizures. However, it’s important to note that only a small percentage of people experience DTs when detoxing from alcohol. Nonetheless, if your substance use disorder is severe, it is still something that you should be aware of.

    Beyond 72 Hours

    After 72 hours, you will often see many symptoms sustain for several days. However, in the vast majority of cases, many of the symptoms of withdrawal begin to subside within a week. This doesn’t mean that you will be completely recovered though. Most individuals need to continue treatment in rehab after detoxing, and will continue to experience varying degrees of cravings, anxiety, sleep disturbances, and mood swings for weeks or even months.

    Alcohol Detox Symptoms

    Everyone’s detox experience will be a little different, but symptoms are often put into three categories: mild, moderate, and severe. In the following sections, we’ll take a look at each of these categories and help you understand the kind of symptoms to expect during an alcohol detox:

    Mild Symptoms

    Mild symptoms tend to begin within the first few hours of abstinence, but they can continue for days, weeks, or even months.

    • Restlessness - During alcohol withdrawal, you will likely experience anxiety, apprehensions to continue your detox, and a general sense of restlessness.
    • Trembling - Trembling is very common among people who stop drinking; it is most common to experience shaking or trembling in the hands.
    • Headache - The severity of headaches can vary and are often brought on or made worse by light or sound.
    • Nausea and Vomiting - It is very common to feel nauseous and even vomit as your body adjusts to the absence of alcohol.
    • Insomnia - Most people experience some degree of insomnia or disturbances in sleep patterns during alcohol withdrawal.
    • Perspiration - Even if you’re in a relatively cold environment, you’re more likely to experience excessive sweating.

    Moderate Symptoms

    Moderate symptoms usually begin after the first 12 to 24 hours, but in some cases, they could come on sooner and last for several days.

    • Accelerated Heart Rate - A rapid heart rate often occurs during detox and can increase feelings of restlessness and anxiety.
    • Elevated Temperature - Your body temperature tends to increase during alcohol withdrawal, which can increase perspiration and general discomfort.
    • Confusion - One of the most common symptoms of alcohol withdrawal is confused thinking.
    • Agitation - The increasing severity of symptoms can often make individuals more susceptible to anger and agitation.


    Severe symptoms are usually seen in people who have been long-term, heavy drinkers, and often begin after the first 48 hours of abstinence.

    • Hallucinations - As withdrawal symptoms reach their peak, there is an increased chance of seeing or hearing things that aren’t there.
    • Seizures - Some individuals may experience one or more seizures during alcohol withdrawal. Naturally, if you’ve never had seizures before, these can be quite frightening.
    • Delirium Tremens (DTs) - DTs are sudden and intense changes in mental and nervous system activity. This condition is often characterized by even more severe confusion, vivid hallucinations, high fever, and increased seizures. Delirium Tremens require immediate medical attention.

    Why You Shouldn't Detox At Home

    While it may be tempting to try to cleanse your body of alcohol on your own, this is never advisable. Detox requires professional supervision, whether or not you anticipate severe withdrawal symptoms. In a controlled environment with 24/7 monitoring, trained professionals can work to keep you as comfortable as possible. Not only does this reduce the risk of fatal symptoms, but it also increases your chances of having a successful recovery, free of relapses.

    What Happens At An Alcohol Detox Center?

    Each alcohol detox center is different, but you can often count on some standard steps and practices during your stay, including but not limited to:

    • Initial Assessment - When you first arrive at a detox center, you’ll schedule a time to meet with the staff and discuss your addiction. This assessment may involve discussions of your medical history, as well as physical exams and blood tests. This step is vital, as it helps you and the staff work together to set goals for your recovery.
    • Detoxification - It’s no surprise that the bulk of your time at a detox center will be spent detoxing (i.e. cleansing your body of alcohol). This process is largely about waiting out the withdrawal symptoms under the constant care and supervision of trained staff.
    • Therapy - Many detox centers offer group therapy and one-on-one counseling to begin the long-term recovery process. These sessions can offer invaluable insight into the underlying causes of your addiction and the best ways to move forward with your treatment.
    • Aftercare Planning - Finally, as you prepare to leave detox, staff will help you plan your next steps for recovery, which often include inpatient rehab.

    If you’re currently looking for a quality drug and alcohol detox center, Midwest Detox is the perfect solution. Don’t wait until it’s too late. Reach out to Midwest Detox at 414-409-5200 or send us a message today.