Detoxing from alcohol after a period of chronic, heavy drinking can cause a mild to severe reaction in the body known as alcohol withdrawal syndrome.
What this feels like can vary depending on the severity of withdrawal. But it’s common for people to feel physically sick, anxious, nervous, and generally off-kilter.
Find out more about how to safely detox from alcohol
What Alcohol Detox Feels Like Physically
Early alcohol withdrawal can begin to set in within hours of a person’s last drink. This can cause some initial physical discomfort that may grow in intensity over the first few days of detox.
Physical side effects of alcohol detox may include:
- clammy skin
- hand tremors
- stomach cramping
- loss of appetite
Pounding heart and high blood pressure can also develop during acute withdrawal. These can be signs of moderate to severe withdrawal, which may require medical attention.
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What Alcohol Detox Feels Like Mentally
The process of getting off alcohol after a period of alcohol misuse or very heavy drinking can have effects not only physically, but emotionally and psychologically as well.
During the alcohol detox process, you may experience:
- mood swings
- difficulty concentrating
- foggy thinking
- alcohol cravings
Alcohol detox can also cause a very severe form of alcohol withdrawal called delirium tremens (DTS). This can cause temporary but serious physical and psychological symptoms.
Identifying Signs Of Delirium Tremens
Delirium tremens is a serious form of alcohol withdrawal that can be deadly without proper medical support. However, this condition doesn’t occur in everyone.
This is most likely to affect people who are elderly, have been drinking heavily for years, and those with other mental health or medical conditions.
Common symptoms of delirium tremens include:
- high body temperature
- agitation or aggression
- delirium (false beliefs or altered sense of reality)
- hallucinations (seeing, hearing, or feeling things that aren’t there)
- very fast heart rate
- heart palpitations
Severe alcohol withdrawal delirium usually develops within the first 48 to 96 hours after a person stops drinking. This may require medical treatment.
Factors That Can Affect What Alcohol Detox Feels Like
The experience of alcohol detox and what it feels like can vary based on a number of biological, environmental, and other personal factors.
Factors that can affect this include:
- the severity of alcohol dependence
- duration of heavy alcohol consumption
- use of multiple substances (i.e. polysubstance abuse)
- past complications during alcohol detox
- co-occurring medical or mental health conditions
- overall health status
Detoxing in a clinical setting may help prevent very serious side effects of alcohol detox. For people at risk of severe alcohol withdrawal, this can offer a high level of safety and support.
Alcohol Detoxification Options
If you’re concerned about alcohol detox, help may be available. There are a number of detox options that exist to help people with alcohol dependence safely stop drinking alcohol.
Alcohol detox options include:
- inpatient alcohol detox (also known as medical detox)
- outpatient alcohol detox
- social detox programs
It’s not recommended that anyone physically dependent on alcohol try to stop drinking on their own. Seeking medical advice from a doctor or medical professional is strongly encouraged.
What Alcohol Detox Feels Like FAQs
Find answers to commonly asked questions regarding what it feels like to quit drinking for those with a drinking problem or substance use disorder.
What Treatment Is Offered During Alcohol Detox?
Alcohol detox programs can offer medical supervision, as well as medications known to help alleviate or treat alcohol withdrawal symptoms, such as benzodiazepines and anticonvulsants.
Medical detox can also offer fluid support, nutritional support, and medical monitoring to help prevent serious effects of alcohol withdrawal, in addition to other addiction treatment options.
Does Your Body Hurt When You Stop Drinking?
Quitting alcohol may cause a number of physical side effects that can cause discomfort and some pain for people with a drinking problem.
During alcohol detox, a person may experience stomach pain, headache, and feel generally irritable, agitated, and fatigued. However, these symptoms generally resolve within a few days.
What Causes Alcohol Withdrawal During Detox?
Quitting alcohol isn’t going to feel the same for everyone. People who drink in moderation, for instance, are unlikely to experience alcohol withdrawal.
Side effects of quitting alcohol are more likely to develop in people who abuse alcohol or have developed physical dependence as a result of frequent, excessive alcohol use.
Chronic, heavy drinking can cause severe alcohol dependence as well as alcohol addiction, otherwise known as alcohol use disorder. This may require addiction treatment to overcome.
Read more about the signs and symptoms of alcohol withdrawal
Find Help Detoxing From Alcohol Today
Alcohol detox can be very physically uncomfortable and have mild to severe effects on mood and general state of mind. If you need help detoxing, we may be able to offer assistance.
Call our confidential helpline today to learn more about alcohol detox and how to find an alcohol detox program at a treatment center near you for 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 Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA) — Treatment of Alcohol Withdrawal
- U.S. National Library of Medicine: MedlinePlus — Alcohol withdrawal
- U.S. National Library of Medicine: MedlinePlus — Delirium tremens