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Alcohol Withdrawal Symptoms, Timeline & Detox Treatment

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Alcohol Misuse and Binge Drinking

Alcohol dependency and substance abuse treatment often start with seemingly harmless patterns of drinking. But what starts as just “social drinking” can turn into alcohol use disorders and binge drinking.

Characterized by consuming large amounts of alcohol in short periods to achieve intoxication, binge drinking is not only a harmful pattern but also a stepping stone towards alcohol dependence, addiction, and severe alcohol withdrawal once stopped. At Southern California Recovery Centers (SCRC), we understand the importance of recognizing these early patterns so you can prevent severe stages of alcohol dependency and substance abuse.

Alcohol's Effect on the Body

Signs of Alcohol Abuse

First, it’s helpful to know that alcohol acts as a depressant on the central nervous system, which means it slows down brain function and neural activity. When a person consumes alcohol, it enhances the effects of the inhibitory neurotransmitter gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA) and reduces the effects of the excitatory neurotransmitter glutamate. This leads to the common effects of alcohol consumption, like decreased anxiety, impaired cognitive functions, and slowed reflexes.

What is Alcohol Withdrawal Syndrome (AWS)?

Alcohol Withdrawal Syndrome (AWS) is a set of symptoms that can occur when someone who has been drinking heavily for weeks, months, or years suddenly stops, or significantly reduces their alcohol intake. Alcohol Withdrawal Syndrome symptoms can range from mild anxiety and fatigue to severe complications such as seizures and delirium tremens, which is why it’s crucial to seek out a medically supervised detox if you’re experiencing acute alcohol withdrawal. Tools like Clinical Institute Withdrawal Assessment can measure the severity of your withdrawal symptoms, bu tit must be administered by a professional.

How Long Does Alcohol Withdrawal Take?

Alcohol withdrawal times can vary in duration, typically ranging from a few days to a week. The timeline of each person’s treatment of alcohol withdrawal is influenced by several factors, including the severity of the addiction, the duration of alcohol use, and the individual’s overall health.

doctor explaining Alcohol Detox Stages

Alcohol Detox Stages: The Alcohol Withdrawal Timeline

Alcohol withdrawal typically involves three main stages, designed to help individuals safely detox from alcohol and begin the process of recovery. The specifics of alcohol withdrawal can vary depending on the individual’s level of alcohol dependence, health status, and whether the detox is being done at home or in a medical facility. However, a general outline of the stages of alcohol health includes:

1. Evaluation

  • Medical Assessment: Upon entering a detox program, the individual undergoes a comprehensive medical assessment. This includes gathering detailed information about their medical history, the extent of their alcohol use, and any co-occurring mental health conditions.

  • Blood Tests: Tests may be conducted to check the person’s blood alcohol level and overall physical health, including liver function.

  • Detox Plan Development: Based on the evaluation, a personalized detox plan is created, taking into account the individual’s specific needs and circumstances.

2. Stabilization

  • Withdrawal Symptom Management: This stage involves managing the acute symptoms of alcohol withdrawal, which can range from mild symptoms of anxiety and shakiness, to more severe withdrawal symptoms like alcohol withdrawal seizures and delirium tremens (DTs). Medication may be used in the management of alcohol withdrawal to help reduce severe symptoms and prevent complications.

  • Support and Supervision: Continuous monitoring by healthcare professionals ensures the individual’s safety and provides emotional support. Nutritional support and hydration may also be part of this stage to help address any deficiencies and promote physical recovery.

  • Preparation for Ongoing Treatment: Even though detox addresses the physical dependence on alcohol, it does not treat the underlying psychological aspects or behaviors related to alcohol use. Therefore, individuals are often prepared for further treatment following detox, which may include therapy, counseling, and support group participation.

3. Transition to Further Treatment

  • Aftercare Planning: Before completing detox, a plan for ongoing treatment and support is established. This may include recommendations for residential treatment, outpatient programs, individual therapy, and support groups.

  • Integration of Support Systems: Involvement of family and support networks is encouraged to provide a supportive environment for the individual’s recovery journey.

  • Continued Health Monitoring: Follow-up appointments and check-ins may be scheduled to monitor the individual’s progress and adjust the treatment plan as needed.

It’s important to note that alcohol detox can be dangerous and even life-threatening without proper medical supervision and clinical management, especially for individuals with a long history of heavy drinking or those with co-occurring health conditions. Medical detox provides a safe environment to manage and treat alcohol withdrawal, symptoms and complications, making it a critical first step for many in the journey towards recovery.

When To Seek Help for Alcohol Addiction

It might be time to seek help if you’re experiencing an inability to control your drinking, neglecting your responsibilities, and continuing to drink despite severe symptoms. If you or a loved one is experiencing these things, reach out for help. We can help you find the perfect detox in your area to get you on the right track toward recovery.

Southern California Recovery Centers

Southern California’s Premier Outpatient Addiction Recovery Center


When you stop drinking, your body begins a process of healing and readjustment. Initially, when treating alcohol withdrawal, you may experience withdrawal symptoms, but over time, sleep patterns and energy levels improve, liver fat reduces, and the risk of heart disease decreases. Recovery timelines vary, but significant health improvements are typically observed within a few weeks to months.

The liver plays a critical role in processing alcohol, but its ability to do so is limited to about one standard drink per hour. The exact time it takes for alcohol to be completely processed out of the liver depends on various factors, including the amount consumed and individual metabolic rates. Chronic heavy drinking, alcohol use disorder, and alcohol abuse can all lead to liver damage, complicating the detoxification process.

Ceasing alcohol consumption can lead to significant improvements in brain function. Initial withdrawal syndrome may cause temporary mild withdrawal symptoms and an impact on mood and cognition, but long-term abstinence from chronic alcohol use is associated with improved memory, clearer thinking, and better problem-solving abilities. The brain’s structure and function begin to recover, reducing the risk of long-term cognitive impairments.

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