Outpatient alcohol detox: Safety and duration

Alcohol detox can take anywhere from a few days to a couple of weeks, depending on severity of dependence. More here on the safety outpatient detox for alcohol, with a section at the end for your questions.

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When a chronic or heavy drinker stops drinking, they often experience withdrawal symptoms. Depending on the extent of the alcohol dependence and how long a person has been drinking over time, these symptoms can range from mild to severe in intensity.

So, when is outpatient detox a safe option? And how long does it take? More here on the dangers of alcohol withdrawal, with a section at the end for your questions.

Severity of alcohol withdrawal symptoms

Some common alcohol withdrawal symptoms include:

  • anxiety
  • depression
  • irritability
  • fatigue
  • fever
  • trouble sleeping
  • sweating
  • nausea
  • rapid heartbeat
  • tremors

More serious alcohol withdrawal symptoms can be triggered in the 72 hours after your last drink. Hallucinations and seizures occur in less than 10% of withdrawal cases, but must be addressed medically. This is why it is important to SEEK MEDICAL HELP anytime you are alcohol dependent and want to go through withdrawal. Your doctor can assess the risk of these serious symptoms (which require medications) and can refer you to a treatment protocol.

The need for alcohol detox services is usually assessed on a case-by-case basis. Individuals with mild addictions may not need alcohol detox at all, for instance, while some with mild to moderate addictions and withdrawal symptoms usually benefit from outpatient alcohol detox.

Outpatient alcohol detox: What is it?

Outpatient alcohol detox requires that you visit a detox facility for a short period of time each day for a few days to a couple weeks. You will be supervised medically, but will usually not need to stay overnight in the facility.

Anyone who would like to start treatment for alcoholism should speak to an addiction specialist or other mental health professional to assess their need for inpatient or outpatient alcohol detox.

Outpatient alcohol detox duration

There are two main types of alcohol detox, including outpatient alcohol detox. Duration for outpatient detox programs vary. Typically, though, these types of programs last anywhere from three days to two weeks, depending on an alcoholic’s individual needs.

The first visit to an outpatient alcohol detox program is usually the longest. This visit is usually comprised of the initial intake assessment, which can last a few hours. Each subsequent outpatient detox visit should only last no more than a half hour. If the detox program is combined with an outpatient treatment program, however, it could last several hours.

Outpatient alcohol detox: Short term vs. long term

The length of time a person spends in an outpatient alcohol detox program is usually determined by their individual needs. For instance, someone with moderate alcohol withdrawal symptoms may only require short-term detox, usually lasting a few days to a week.

Recovering alcoholics with more severe withdrawal symptoms, on the other hand, will usually benefit more from long-term detox. An addiction specialist or a medical professional will be able to determine better if you need short-term vs. long-term detox.

Outpatient alcohol detox average time

One study determined that outpatient alcohol detox average time was roughly six and a half days. On a broader scale, outpatient alcohol detox can range from three (3) to fourteen (14) days, depending on a number of factors.

An addiction specialist can better determine whether you need outpatient alcohol detox or not. Before entering a detox program, you will undergo a thorough evaluation and assessment to determine your individual needs. ALWAYS SEEK MEDICAL HELP when you are alcohol dependent and want to quit drinking.

Once you are admitted to the program, you will check in with medical professionals at a detox facility or hospital each day. These doctors and nurses will monitor your progress and help you manage your withdrawal symptoms. As long as your symptoms are still prevalent, you will continue to travel to the facility. Alcohol withdrawal symptoms can take up to two weeks to dissipate, at which time you will no longer need to travel to the detox facility.

Outpatient alcohol detox timeline

An outpatient alcohol detox timeline will differ from person to person. However, there is a basic timeline that outlines the basic stages of withdrawal that you are likely to experience while in withdrawal. Alcohol withdrawal can begin anywhere from a few hours to a day or more after the last drink.

3 – 12 hours after last drink

For most people, alcohol withdrawal symptoms will begin within half of a day after last drinking. These symptoms can include anxiety, alcohol cravings, shakiness, sweating, headache, nausea, and trouble sleeping.

12-24 hours after last drink

Hallucinations can start for some alcoholics at this time. They may see, feel, or hear things that aren’t real. These hallucinations are different from the ones that may be experienced during delirium tremens and will usually dissipate within 48 hours.

However, delerium tremens is a serious medical condition that requires intervention. If you are at risk of hallucinations or seizures, you will be referred to an inpatient detox rather than an outpatient clinic.

24 – 48 hours after last drink

Seizures can begin at this point in alcohol withdrawal. Alcoholics in an alcohol detox program will usually be given anti-seizure medications to help treat and prevent these.

48 – 72 hours after last drink

Although delirium tremens (DTs) can occur earlier or later in alcohol withdrawal, they are more likely to start between this time period. This dangerous alcohol withdrawal symptom is more common in heavy drinkers who have drank for a longer periods of time.

Medical professionals in detox must work quickly to treat the symptoms of DTs, which can include sweating, irregular heartbeat, irregular eye muscle movement, increased startle reflex, confusion, anxiety, fever, and severe muscle tremors. If you are at risk of DTs, outpatient detox may not be recommended for you.

Not everyone will experience all of these alcohol withdrawal symptoms during detox. The length of time these symptoms last  and their severity is usually influenced by the length of time you’ve been drinking, the amount you drank each day, and the severity of your dependence on alcohol. If you suspect that you may be exhibiting symptoms of DTs at any point in time during alcohol detox, contact your detox facility or emergency medical attention as soon as possible, as this is often considered to be a medical emergency and can be fatal.

Is outpatient alcohol detox for you?

Alcohol detox is an important first step in successful outpatient rehabilitation, as well as any other rehab process. It allows your body time to rid itself from all remaining traces of alcohol and recover from the short-term effects of alcohol use.

For anyone considering outpatient alcohol detox, you will need to seek medical advice first. If you or a loved one still has any questions about what alcohol withdrawal is OR outpatient alcohol detox time, don’t hesitate to leave them in the comments section below. We’ll do our best to address any concerns you may have, and try to help alleviate fears and misconceptions you may have about detox and treatment.

Reference Sources: Medline Plus: Delerium tremens
WebMD: Alcohol withdrawal symptoms and treatments
Medline Plus: Alcohol withdrawal
NIAAA: An Overview of Outpatient and Inpatient Detoxification
NCBI: Treatment Improvement Protocol (TIP) Series, No. 47., Substance Abuse: Clinical Issues in Intensive Outpatient Treatment
About the author
Lee Weber is a published author, medical writer, and woman in long-term recovery from addiction. Her latest book, The Definitive Guide to Addiction Interventions is set to reach university bookstores in early 2019.
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