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Alcohol Withdrawal Timeline: A Comprehensive Guide by a Rehab Centre

Alcohol Withdrawal Timeline: A Comprehensive Guide by a Rehab Centre
Written by Seth Fletcher on August 29, 2023
Medical editor Dr. Chintan Shah
Last update: May 13, 2024

How long do alcohol withdrawals last? Take a look at CCFA’s complete guide and learn everything you need to know about how long it takes to detox from alcohol.

Alcohol is socially acceptable and widely consumed in most places in the world. A few drinks occasionally are usually harmless, but alcohol misuse will lead to physical and psychological dependence and put a person at risk of severe physical and mental health problems. When an alcohol-dependent person decides to stop or cut back on their drinking, they’ll experience withdrawal symptoms. The severity of withdrawal symptoms depends on how heavy a drinker the person is and how long they have been drinking. 

Casual drinkers may experience mild withdrawal symptoms from drinking, while heavy drinkers can face potentially life-threatening symptoms. These symptoms start a few hours to days after the last drink, and a person may require professional help to get through their effects safely. The Canadian Centre for Addictions explains all you need to know about the alcohol withdrawal timeline and how to detox from alcohol safely

Key Takeaways

  • Alcohol withdrawal symptoms start a few hours to days after the last drink and are potentially dangerous
  • An individual’s alcohol withdrawal timeline depends on the amount of alcohol consumed and how long they have been drinking
  • Other factors like family history, gender, and the presence of co-occurring disorders can affect the withdrawal timeline
  • An individual with mild withdrawal symptoms may be able to see out the alcohol withdrawal timeline at home with the support of friends or loved ones
  • Professional help is needed to get through severe withdrawal symptoms safely

What are the Alcohol Withdrawal Stages?

The progression of alcohol withdrawal stages varies among individuals and depends on the level of physical or psychological dependence. A person may experience one of these stages of alcohol withdrawal: 

Stage One (Mild)

Stage one symptoms affect excessive drinkers and those with alcohol use disorders. They are the least severe symptoms but also make for an uncomfortable detox experience. These symptoms are usually not dangerous and will resolve with time. 

  • Headache
  • Anxiety
  • Insomnia
  • Heart palpitations
  • Gastrointestinal disturbances
  • Nightmares 
  • Heart palpitations 

Stage Two (Moderate)

Stage two symptoms may include stage one symptoms and other effects. They may not require medical intervention except in individuals at risk of cardiovascular problems. These symptoms include: 

  • Confusion
  • Irritability
  • Mood swings
  • Mild hyperthermia
  • Rapid abnormal breathing
  • Elevated blood pressure
  • Increased heart rate
  • Irregular heartbeat. 

Stage Three (Severe)

Stage three symptoms are more severe and include stage two symptoms and the following: 

  • Hallucinations
  • Seizures
  • Disorientation
  • Impaired attention 
  • Fever
  • Severe tremors
  • Delirium Tremens (the shakes)

Delirium Tremens is a life-threatening medical emergency that affects heavy long-term drinkers who stop drinking abruptly. It is the most severe form of alcohol withdrawal and manifests as extreme agitation, confusion, disorientation, hallucinations, and autonomic hyperactivity.

It’s crucial to seek professional help if you or a loved one is experiencing severe symptoms of alcohol withdrawal. At CCFA, we offer multiple treatment options for alcohol withdrawal symptoms in an environment that inspires lasting change. Call 1-855-499-9446 today to understand your options and learn the best coping strategies to overcome your addiction.

Alcohol Withdrawal Timeline by Hour

How long does alcohol detox take? An individual’s unique circumstances will determine what they experience as they detox from alcohol. However, the timeline of alcohol withdrawal generally takes the following progression:

Six to 12 Hours 

Most people begin to experience the first symptoms of withdrawal six to 12 hours after their last drink. Symptoms are usually mild at this stage, including alcohol cravings, headaches, sweating, mild tremors, diarrhea, nausea, and vomiting. 

12 to 24 Hours

Withdrawal symptoms become more noticeable and severe 12 to 24 hours after the last drink. The symptoms at this time may include mood dehydration, swings, nightmares, brain fog, and depression. Some people may experience auditory, visual, and tactile hallucinations at this stage.

24 to 48 Hours

Alcohol withdrawal symptoms peak 24 to 48 hours after the last drink. It is the most crucial phase of the withdrawal timeline as the body is in full panic mode and can manifest adverse reactions due to the absence of alcohol. Symptoms are most severe within this timeframe and can include seizures, tremors, agitation, hallucinations, and Delirium Tremens. 

48 to 72 Hours

The symptoms will peak and begin to level off after 72 hours. Some people may still experience anxiety, depression, and restlessness at this stage. In some cases, symptoms may persist for weeks to months. 

Withdrawal is only the first step in the recovery journey, but this period is critical as it carries the highest relapse risk. However, with the right level of detox and support, most people will recover fully from the effects of alcohol withdrawal. 

How Long Does Alcohol Withdrawal Last?

How long alcohol withdrawal lasts depends on a person’s unique circumstances. Symptoms will start around six hours after the last drink and peak around 48 to 72 hours. Most people’s symptoms will start waning after 72 hours and go away within four to five days. However, others may experience withdrawal symptoms for weeks, months, and even years after their last drink. This condition is known as post-acute withdrawal syndrome (PAWS).

PAWS symptoms commonly manifest after a period of alcohol abstinence and are one of the primary reasons for relapse. They typically affect the individual in waves or cycles, usually without apparent triggers. These symptoms also tend to fluctuate in severity and may be intensified by stressful situations. The individual feels okay one day but experiences cravings and other symptoms the next. 

PAWS symptoms often come without warning and can make it challenging for recovering addicts to maintain sobriety. However, PAWS episodes last only a few days, and symptoms disappear as quickly as they came. 

When Does Alcohol Withdrawal Start

Alcohol withdrawal typically starts six to eight hours after the last drink, with symptoms reaching their peak around 24 to 48 hours. These symptoms start as the body of an alcohol-dependent individual begins to react to the absence of alcohol. The severity of symptoms depends on how much alcohol the individual has consumed and how long they have been drinking.

Alcohol depresses the nervous system and alters the brain’s chemistry. The body adapts to continuous alcohol use and sees it as the new normal, working frantically to counter the depressant effects of alcohol. When alcohol is withdrawn abruptly, the body does not immediately register this cessation and essentially overheats, leading to withdrawal symptoms. 

What Factors of Quitting Alcohol Affect the Timeline?

The alcohol withdrawal symptoms timeline generally follows the same progression, but some factors may affect how some individuals experience this timeline: 

  • Amount of Alcohol Consumed

A person who drinks excessively will experience more intense withdrawal symptoms and have a longer withdrawal timeline. Excessive drinking could be heavy or binge drinking. A heavy drinker is a person who consumes 15 or more drinks per week (for men) or eight or more drinks per week (for women). A binge drinker consumes five or more drinks on a single occasion (for men) and four or more drinks on a single occasion (for women).

The body adapts to large amounts of alcohol consumption, and the abrupt cessation causes a shock that leads to a prolonged withdrawal period. 

  • Length of Time and Frequency of Alcohol Consumption

Prolonged and frequent alcohol use leads to tolerance and dependence, which also affects the withdrawal timeline. The longer and more you drink, the more severe your symptom will be when you quit. 

  • Gender

Men and women consume and react to alcohol use differently. Men start drinking earlier and tend to drink more than women; they are also bigger and drink more than women in a single sitting. Studies show that men experience more severe and frequent withdrawal symptoms than women. 

  • Presence of Co-occurring Mental Health Disorders

Some people with mental health problems may try to self-medicate with alcohol till they become dependent. The presence of these mental issues may alter the duration and severity of their withdrawal timeline when they decide to stop.

  • Health Status

Abusing alcohol means you’re unlikely to be in perfect mental or physical health, but a relatively healthy person who eats well and exercises regularly will experience a less severe and shorter withdrawal timeline than an obese or generally unhealthy person. 

  • Family History of Alcohol Abuse

An individual with a family history of alcohol abuse is more likely to abuse alcohol and experience a longer and more severe alcohol detox timeline. 

Why is Medical Detoxification Important?

Medical detoxification is an essential first step in alcohol addiction recovery. It is the process of ridding the body of toxic substances under the supervision of a professional. Medical detox provides a solid foundation for complete recovery from alcohol dependence. 

The goal of medical detox is to manage withdrawal symptoms and ensure the safety of the individual during the withdrawal process. Medical detox is crucial because withdrawal symptoms can be dangerous and life-threatening, and the individual may be unable to manage them without assistance. 

With medical detox, professionals are around to monitor the individual’s vital signs and provide necessary medications for alcohol withdrawal to make the process easier. Medical detox also provides a conducive environment for long-term recovery and relapse prevention. 

Treating Alcohol Withdrawal 

Medical detox is the first and safest way to treat moderate to severe alcohol withdrawal. Detox starts with an evaluation process that allows the medical professional to understand the addiction’s severity and the individual’s health status. After the evaluation, the professional will design a detox plan suited to the individual. Depending on the severity of the withdrawal, the detox plan may include medications like benzodiazepines to help with some withdrawal symptoms. Medical personnel will observe the patient throughout the detox timeline until they’re stable. 

People with mild withdrawal alcohol may choose to get through the detox process on their own. You’ll need a supportive environment of people who know what you’re doing and can call for help if complications arise. 

Alcohol withdrawal treatment only takes care of withdrawal symptoms. It does not address the thought patterns and behaviours that caused alcohol abuse in the first place. However, withdrawal treatment can prepare a person for rehab. In alcohol rehab, the patient will learn new thinking patterns, habits, and coping methods to help them stay alcohol-free. 

When to Seek Professional Help

You need to seek professional help if alcohol use is creating unwanted consequences for you or a loved one. If you have tried to quit drinking alcohol unsuccessfully or experience unpleasant symptoms when you stop or reduce your intake, you must see a professional immediately. 

The Canadian Centre for Addictions offers alcohol withdrawal treatment programs and rehab services in our luxurious facilities in Ontario. We help our clients understand their addictions and the healthier coping strategies available by engaging them in one-on-one sessions with certified counsellors, psychiatrists, and mental health professionals. 


Deciding to quit drinking is one of the best things you can do to improve your health and overall well-being. The prospect of withdrawal symptoms should not prevent you from taking this important step. Most withdrawal symptoms last only a few days, and you’ll be through them before you know it. 

Having a support structure of loved ones and medical professionals will help make the process easier to handle. However, you mustn’t stop at withdrawal treatment. It’s important to seek alcohol rehab to help deal with the root cause of your drinking habits, so that you can live an alcohol-free, healthy life. 

Frequently Asked Questions

What happens to your body after seven days of no alcohol?

After seven days of no alcohol, all the alcohol will have cleared from your system, and you’ll find that you have more energy. The sluggishness and discomfort from alcohol use will have disappeared, and your body should have returned to normal working levels. You may also have brighter eyes, clearer skin, improved concentration and a renewed zest to go about your daily activities. 

How long does it take your brain to clear from alcohol?

In most cases, it takes at least two weeks for the brain to completely clear from alcohol and return to normal functioning. Alcohol shrinks the brain and impairs cognitive ability, making it difficult to suppress the urge to drink. After two weeks of alcohol abstinence, the brain begins to replace the volume lost due to drinking. 

What’s the hardest time when you quit drinking?

The hardest time after you quit drinking is within the first 24 hours. You may experience severe withdrawal symptoms and intense cravings at this point. The body starts to detoxify on day one, and withdrawal symptoms begin to wane gradually. 

How long does it take for the liver to heal?

How long it takes the liver to heal from drinking depends on the severity of alcohol use and the amount of damage sustained. Severe drinking requires three months to a year for the liver to recover fully and return to its original capacity and functionality. In some cases, the damage to the liver may be irreversible (cirrhosis). However, stopping drinking alcohol can prevent further damage to the liver.

Does the urge to drink ever go away?

The urge to drink will reduce over time for most people and may even go away after a few years. For some others, the cravings will always be there, and they will require the coping skills learned from rehab to resist the urges whenever they come. 

Certified Addiction Counsellor

Seth brings many years of professional experience working the front lines of addiction in both the government and privatized sectors.

Dr. Chintan is a Board Certified Family Physician with an interest in holistic and preventative care as well as healthcare systems. Credentialed Physician with both American & Canadian Board of Family Medicine. Adjunct Professor in the Department of Family Medicine at the Schulich School of Medicine & Dentistry. Telemedicine clinician.

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