Alcohol is the most commonly used and misused substance in the United States. Each year, thousands of people seek treatment for alcohol use disorder, another term for alcoholism.
Detoxification, also known as detox, is the first step to overcoming a drinking problem for those who have become physically dependent on alcohol.
Alcohol detox can offer treatment for alcohol withdrawal, as well as medical supervision and monitoring for medical complications that can arise during acute alcohol withdrawal.
Who Needs Alcohol Detox?
Alcohol detox is a necessary first step for anyone with alcohol dependence, a condition that can develop through chronic, heavy drinking.
Signs of alcohol dependence include:
- drinking throughout the day
- needing to drink more over time to feel the desired effect
- increasing how often you drink
- craving alcohol
- constantly thinking about drinking or finding alcohol
- feeling sick if you go more than a few hours without alcohol
Alcohol detox is the process of allowing the alcohol in your system to leave the body naturally. Unfortunately, this can also lead to the development of withdrawal syndrome.
Alcohol withdrawal can make a person feel physically sick. People with chronic or severe alcoholism can be at risk for severe withdrawal symptoms, including seizures.
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How Alcohol Detox Works
Alcohol detox is a term used to refer to an acute, detox treatment program. This type of treatment program is offered by many detox centers and rehab facilities across the U.S.
Beginning an alcohol detox program starts with a clinical assessment, followed by the actual detoxification and withdrawal process.
Alcohol detox programs can offer a clean, quiet, and safe place to withdraw from alcohol, and offer treatment to help make the experience as painless as possible.
Signs Of Alcohol Detox
Alcohol withdrawal can be identified by a number of early warning signs and symptoms, including anxiety, shaking of the hands, sweating, and fast heart rate.
Early and late signs of withdrawal may also include:
- nausea and vomiting
- high blood pressure
- difficulty sleeping (insomnia)
Severe alcohol withdrawal, a condition known as delirium tremens, can develop in some people within the first 72 hours of alcohol withdrawal.
Signs of delirium tremens from alcohol may include seizures, hallucinations, confusion, heart palpitations, fever, and delirium.
Timeline For Alcohol Detox
Alcohol withdrawal can begin to set in within six to 12 hours after a person’s last drink, and last for anywhere from two to 10 days.
Withdrawal symptoms generally reach their peak after about one to two days, with most beginning to decline soon after.
Types Of Alcohol Detox Programs
There are a variety of methods for detoxing from alcohol. The safest option is medically supervised detox, although some may try to detox from home.
Here are brief descriptions of different methods for alcohol detox:
Inpatient Alcohol Detox
Inpatient alcohol detox, also known as medical detox, involves entering a detox facility for three to five days on average. This is the safest option for alcohol detox.
What inpatient detox can offer:
- 24-hour medical support
- a quiet detox setting
- medicine for withdrawal symptoms
- treatment referrals
Medical detox is highly recommended for anyone with an alcohol use disorder, but especially for those with severe alcoholism and people with co-occurring mental health disorders.
Rapid Alcohol Detox
Rapid alcohol detox is a method of detox that involves the use of medication and anesthesia to heavily sedate individuals during alcohol detox.
This type of detox method is generally offered only under clinical supervision, and does not guarantee a withdrawal process that is painless or effective at preventing relapse.
Outpatient Alcohol Detox
While medical detox is the gold standard for alcohol detox, not all people addicted to alcohol can, or may necessarily need to, enter a detox facility for 24-hour care.
An outpatient alcohol detox program may be suitable for people with mild alcohol dependence, those with a strong support system, or those who lack access to inpatient care.
Alcohol Detox From Home
Detoxing from alcohol at home is possible. However, it’s not generally recommended, particularly for people who are at a high risk of severe alcohol withdrawal.
Primary concerns about this include:
- lack of medical support
- risk for relapse
- severe dehydration
- potential risk for death (if delirium tremens occurs)
If you need to detox from home, consider seeking medical advice and asking for support from family or friends, who can call for help if medical complications occur.
Home Remedies For Alcohol Detox
The discomfort of withdrawal during an at-home alcohol detox may be alleviated somewhat through a nutrient-rich diet, proper hydration, and other home remedies.
Home remedies are not a replacement for medical treatment for alcohol withdrawal but may help to relieve some mild symptoms, such as nausea, fever, and diarrhea.
Alcohol Detox Supplements
Taking vitamins and supplements, like B1, during alcohol detox may help address deficiencies that have developed either before or during alcohol detox.
Nutrient deficiencies are common in people with alcohol use disorder and may be treated with a nutrient-rich diet, drinking enough water, and regular use of vitamin supplements.
Medications Used For Alcohol Withdrawal
Alcohol detox programs may offer medication, either within a detox facility or as a prescription, for people undergoing alcohol withdrawal.
Benzodiazepines such as diazepam (Valium) and anticonvulsant medications, for instance, are some of the most common medicines offered for severe symptoms.
Not everyone who detoxes from alcohol may require medication. But this can help with serious issues if and when they occur, including seizures and hallucinations.
Side Effects Of Alcohol Detox
Detoxing from alcohol can come with a number of side effects. These can vary from person to person and may be more or less intense for some people.
Diarrhea is a common symptom of alcohol withdrawal. This may occur within the first three days after your last drink. This symptom is temporary, generally not lasting more than a few days.
Night sweats and hot flashes are common, but temporary, during alcohol withdrawal. This may contribute to difficulty sleeping but shouldn’t persist too long after the acute withdrawal period.
Effects On Skin
After you stop drinking, you may notice issues such as skin dryness, or blotchy skin. This is temporary, and will get better in time as your body adjusts to the lack of alcohol in your body.
Taking in enough nutrients and keeping yourself properly hydrated during and after detox can help improve both the look and feel of your skin.
Alcohol Detox FAQs
Find answers to frequently asked questions about alcohol detoxification.
❓ What Can You Eat During Alcohol Detox?
✔️ Alcohol withdrawal can cause physical sickness, which may result in loss of appetite or make it difficult to take in food.
Doing what you can to get in a nutrient-rich diet with vegetables, fruits, lean proteins, and complex carbs is recommended to help promote physical and mental health.
Read more about nutrition during alcohol detox and what to eat
❓ Is Alcohol Withdrawal Dangerous?
✔️ A severe form of alcohol withdrawal, known as delirium tremens, can develop within the first 48 hours after a person has stopped drinking.
This severe form of withdrawal may cause seizures, rapid heartbeat, high blood pressure, psychosis, and extreme fluctuations in body temperature. This can be life-threatening.
❓ What Does Alcohol Withdrawal Feel Like?
✔️ Alcohol withdrawal can cause a person to feel physically sick and cause a strong urge to drink.
You may feel:
- very irritable
This experience can vary from person to person and may be more or less severe depending on a variety of personal and biological factors.
How To Find An Alcohol Detox Program
Finding an alcohol detox program is for many the first step on the road to recovery from alcohol addiction. If you’re ready to take this step, we may be able to help.
By calling our helpline, we can connect you with one of our trained specialists who can help you find an alcohol detox program that’s suited to meet the needs of yourself or a loved one.
Addiction Resource aims to provide only the most current, accurate information in regards to addiction and addiction treatment, which means we only reference the most credible sources available.
These include peer-reviewed journals, government entities and academic institutions, and leaders in addiction healthcare and advocacy. Learn more about how we safeguard our content by viewing our editorial policy.
- U.S. National Library of Medicine: MedlinePlus — Alcohol Use Disorder (AUD) Treatment
- U.S. National Library of Medicine: MedlinePlus — Alcohol withdrawal
- U.S. National Library of Medicine: NCBI Bookshelf — Clinical Guidelines for Withdrawal Management and Treatment of Drug Dependence in Closed Settings