Alcohol detox is the body’s process of eliminating alcohol from your system. In serious cases, this can be dangerous, due to potential side effects such as seizures and severe dehydration.
Severe side effects of alcohol detox can develop within the first 48 hours of a person’s last drink. This develops exclusively in people who are physically dependent on or addicted to alcohol.
Understanding the dangers of alcohol detox can be crucial for preventing life-threatening complications and knowing when it’s time to seek alcohol addiction treatment.
What Makes Alcohol Detox Dangerous?
Detoxing from alcohol is a process that people with an alcohol use disorder, or alcohol addiction, go through in order to begin healing.
Alcohol detox can produce dangerous symptoms of alcohol withdrawal, however, particularly in those with severe alcohol dependence or a very long history of alcoholism.
Signs of severe alcohol dependence include:
- very high tolerance for alcohol
- drinking excessively on a daily basis
- constantly thinking about alcohol
- feeling physically sick within hours of your last drink
- poor overall health due to alcohol use
- psychological addiction to alcohol
- unsuccessful attempts to stop drinking or cut down on drinking
Dangers Of Alcohol Detox
Alcohol detox can pose serious risks for people with alcohol use disorder, which is why seeking medical advice and support through a detox program is strongly recommended.
Here is an overview of some of the biggest risks and dangers of alcohol detox:
Withdrawal Seizures During Alcohol Detox
Alcohol withdrawal seizures are a life-threatening symptom of alcohol withdrawal that can develop within the first 40 to 72 hours of a person’s last drink.
This is one of the most serious signs of delirium tremens (DTs), or alcohol withdrawal delirium.
Within a medical detox program, withdrawal seizures can be effectively prevented with the use of supportive medicine, or be treated with supportive care, anticonvulsants, and/or a sedative.
Withdrawal Delirium During Alcohol Detox
Delirium, or a general state of disorientation and altered perception, can occur during the first few days of alcohol withdrawal. This is another sign of delirium tremens.
Delirium during withdrawal may cause severe paranoia, confusion, and can put a person at risk for accidental injury, impulsive behavior, and other physical dangers to oneself and others.
Severe Dehydration During Alcohol Detox
Several common symptoms of alcohol detox are known to be dehydrating. Without a sufficient intake of water or other hydrating fluids, this can lead to severe dehydration.
Side effects of alcohol detox that can be dehydrating include:
- loss of appetite
A combination of severe dehydration and electrolyte imbalances during alcohol detox could have potentially severe effects on bodily functions, including normal heart function.
Risk Of Relapse During Alcohol Detox
Another risk of alcohol detox is a risk of relapsing to alcohol without supportive care and medical supervision. This can occur as a way to relieve severe symptoms of alcohol withdrawal.
Relapsing to alcohol use can perpetuate a cycle of harmful drinking and its consequences, which—without treatment—can have long-term effects on health and happiness.
Who’s At Risk For Severe Effects During Alcohol Detox?
Alcohol withdrawal is a condition that develops in people who are physically dependent on alcohol. Further, the severity of withdrawal can vary according to a number of factors.
Risk factors for dangerous side effects during alcohol detox include:
- older age
- drinking heavily for 10 or more years
- binge-drinking regularly
- recent head injury or illness
- co-occurring mental health disorders
- other medical conditions
- liver disease
- lack of medical support during detox
What Can Reduce Dangers Of Alcohol Detox?
The best way to prevent serious dangers during alcohol detox is to seek professional support through an alcohol detox center or an inpatient treatment center for substance abuse.
Medical Alcohol Detox Programs
Medical detoxification is the most common type of inpatient detox program. This involves staying in a detox or treatment facility for, on average, three to five days overnight.
What this can offer:
- a safe and secure setting
- a quiet place to detox from alcohol
- 24-hour medical supervision
- medicine for alcohol withdrawal symptoms
- behavioral support
Medical detox programs reduce the dangers of detox by offering evidence-based treatments for alcohol withdrawal. They can also connect individuals with further addiction treatment.
Outpatient Alcohol Detox
Outpatient alcohol detox programs are less intensive than medical detox and do not involve staying overnight in a clinical setting.
Outpatient programs can’t offer the same level of supportive care. But they can still offer assistance for those with mild alcohol dependence who are trying to stop drinking alcohol.
Alcohol Detox Dangers FAQs
Find answers here to some frequently asked questions about the potential dangers of alcohol detox and alcohol withdrawal syndrome.
❓ When Is Alcohol Detox Most Dangerous?
✔️ Signs of alcohol detox can become most severe in the first 48 to 72 hours, or the first three days of alcohol detoxification. This is when alcohol withdrawal symptoms generally reach their peak.
❓ Can You Die If You Stop Drinking?
✔️ Some serious effects of alcohol detox, such as seizures, dehydration, and heart problems can be life-threatening without medical treatment.
With medical support, however, severe symptoms of alcohol detox and withdrawal can be safely and effectively managed without resulting in fatal outcomes.
❓ Will I Have A Seizure If I Stop Drinking?
✔️ Seizures can occur during the first 72 hours of alcohol withdrawal, during the acute detox period.
This is most common in people with certain risk factors, such as older age, more than a decade of heavy drinking, and those with a history of complications during previous detox attempts.
❓ Can Your Body Go Into Shock When You Stop Drinking?
✔️ People with severe alcohol dependence may have their body go through a sort of shock if they try to stop drinking alcohol cold-turkey, or all at once.
Chronic alcoholism, or problematic drinking, can cause physical dependence in the body, which can result in a strong physical reaction if one’s alcohol use is ceased very suddenly.
❓ Is It Safe To Detox From Alcohol At Home?
✔️ Detoxing from alcohol at home may not be safe for people with an alcohol use disorder, or those with moderate to severe alcohol dependence. This can be potentially dangerous.
Find An Alcohol Detox Program For Addiction Recovery Today
Detoxing from alcohol can be dangerous without a robust support system. If you’re looking for detox for yourself or a loved one, we may be able to help.
Call our free helpline today to learn more about treatment options for alcohol detox and how to find a treatment center for alcohol detox that’s right for you.
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.
- American Family Physician — Outpatient Management of Alcohol Withdrawal Syndrome
- U.S. National Library of Medicine: MedlinePlus — Alcohol withdrawal
- U.S. National Library of Medicine: MedlinePlus — Delirium Tremens
- U.S. National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA) — Treatment for Alcohol Problems: Finding and Getting Help