What Are The Signs Of Alcohol Detox?

Medically Reviewed by Johnelle Smith, M.D. on October 4, 2021

Alcohol detox can manifest both physically and psychologically. Signs of alcohol detox can be mild to severe in nature. Learn more about the signs of alcohol detox and how to find a detox program for alcohol use disorder.

Signs Of Alcohol Detox

Heavy drinking, or alcohol abuse, can result in signs of alcohol withdrawal within hours of your last drink. This is a process known as alcohol detoxification and withdrawal syndrome.

Signs of alcohol withdrawal can be mild to severe in nature. Severe side effects, such as seizures, during detox may require medical attention and hospitalization.

Detoxing from alcohol can be a dangerous process. Understanding common and severe signs of alcohol withdrawal may help individuals and their loved ones know what to expect.

Learn more about detoxing from alcohol

Mild, Moderate, And Severe Signs Of Alcohol Detox

Drinking alcohol very often, and in excessive quantities, can cause alcohol dependence. This, in turn, can result in symptoms of alcohol withdrawal within 12 hours of a person’s last drink.

Signs of alcohol withdrawal, or detoxification, can be mild, moderate, or severe.

Read more about alcohol withdrawal

Mild Signs Of Alcohol Withdrawal During Detox

Mild signs of alcohol withdrawal are commonly seen within the first 12 hours after a person’s last use of alcohol.

This is described by medical professionals as Stage One of alcohol withdrawal syndrome (AWS), a term used to describe a medical condition that can develop during alcohol detox.

Mild signs of alcohol withdrawal may include:

  • headache
  • hand tremors
  • nervousness
  • insomnia
  • palpitations
  • fatigue
  • nausea and vomiting
  • stomach cramps

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Moderate Signs Of Alcohol Withdrawal During Detox

Moderate to severe alcohol withdrawal symptoms may develop within the first 24 to 72 hours of beginning the alcohol detoxification process.

Common moderate signs of alcohol withdrawal include:

  • anxiety
  • fever
  • sweating
  • chills
  • disorientation
  • fast breathing
  • pounding heart
  • high blood pressure

Severe Signs Of Alcohol Withdrawal During Detox

A severe and potentially life-threatening form of alcohol withdrawal, known as delirium tremens (DTS), can develop within the first 48 hours of alcohol detox.

Signs of delirium tremens include:

  • agitation
  • high body temperature
  • severe confusion
  • hallucinations (auditory, visual, tactile)
  • fast heart rate
  • seizures

Severe withdrawal may require hospitalization. Withdrawal seizures and other symptoms of severe alcohol withdrawal can be life-threatening without medical treatment.

Who’s At Risk For Severe Signs Of Alcohol Detox?

The intensity of alcohol detox, and the likelihood of developing severe alcohol withdrawal symptoms, can depend on a range of personal, biological, and genetic risk factors.

Risk factors for severe withdrawal include:

  • older age
  • poor liver function
  • malnutrition
  • drinking heavily for more than 10 years
  • excessive alcohol intake
  • past complications during alcohol withdrawal

Delirium tremens, also known as alcohol withdrawal delirium, typically develops within the first 48 hours of withdrawal.

Symptoms of this, including seizures, may be treated with medication (e.g. benzodiazepines), fluids, and supportive care. The ideal setting for this is a medical detox program.

Treatment Options During Alcohol Detox

Alcohol withdrawal is treated according to the symptoms that develop during the detox process and their severity.

Treatment for signs of alcohol detox may involve:

  • Medicine: To treat seizures, psychosis, and other common symptoms such as nausea, fever, and stomach pain.
  • IV therapy: Fluids may be delivered intravenously to help prevent dehydration and electrolyte imbalances during the detoxification process.
  • Nutritional support: Getting in enough nutrients during alcohol detox through a balanced and nutrient-rich diet can help prevent severe withdrawal.
  • Rest: Getting a good amount of rest in a safe, quiet, and supportive care setting can help prevent complications and promote mind-and-body healing.

Alcohol withdrawal can best be treated and managed in a detox center or rehab facility. Mild alcohol withdrawal may be treated through inpatient or outpatient medical care.

When Do Signs Of Alcohol Detox Begin?

Early signs of alcohol withdrawal, which are typically mild and short-term, may begin within six to 12 hours of your last drink.

Mild to severe signs of alcohol detox develop within the first 24 to 72 hours, or up to three days, after last alcohol consumption.

How Long Do Signs Of Alcohol Detox Last?

Acute alcohol withdrawal lasts five to seven days on average, or up to one week.

This is the time when mild to severe symptoms of alcohol withdrawal can develop, intensify, and reach their peak before gradually declining.

What Can Affect The Signs Of Alcohol Detox?

Not everyone who undergoes alcohol withdrawal will develop severe symptoms.

Factors that can affect the intensity of withdrawal include:

  • duration of alcohol abuse
  • use of multiple drugs
  • history of drug abuse
  • amount of alcohol consumed
  • nutritional status
  • co-occurring medical or mental health conditions

Personal factors such as age, weight, body fat, and genetic factors can also influence signs of alcohol detox that develop during withdrawal.

Signs Of Alcohol Detox FAQs

Find answers to frequently asked questions about alcohol detox and alcohol use disorder.

❓ What Causes Alcohol Detox?

✔️ Alcohol detox is the body’s way of getting rid of the alcohol in your system. This is caused by the stopped use of alcohol. Or, when you stop drinking.

Alcohol detox is a necessary first step for treating a drinking problem. Symptoms that develop during this time, known as withdrawal, can become mild to severe in nature.

❓ Can Your Body Go Into Shock When You Stop Drinking?

✔️ If you’re physically dependent on alcohol, yes. Chronic, heavy drinking can disrupt the normal function of the central nervous system and cause an adverse reaction with stopped use.

Quitting alcohol suddenly may cause the body to go through a sort of shock. In severe cases, this can result in seizures, visual or auditory hallucinations, and tachycardia (fast heart rate).

❓ Can You Detox From Alcohol At Home?

✔️ Detoxing from alcohol at home without medical supervision or support is not recommended for people who abuse alcohol or have alcohol use disorder.

Do not attempt alcohol detox at home without first seeking medical advice from a doctor or detox professional. Healthcare providers can offer guidance on how to safely stop drinking alcohol.

❓ What Does Alcohol Detox Feel Like?

✔️ Quitting alcohol after a period of alcohol abuse can be highly uncomfortable. You may feel very anxious, have difficulty concentrating, and experience mild to severe physical discomfort.

❓ What Medications Are Used During Alcohol Detox?

✔️ Prescription sedatives such as benzodiazepines (e.g. diazepam) and anticonvulsants like gabapentin (Neurontin) may be administered by a medical professional for severe symptoms.

Mild symptoms, such as nausea, stomach cramps, and fever may be treated with pain relief medicine or over-the-counter medications.

Read more about medications used during detox

❓ What Is A Withdrawal Seizure?

✔️ Withdrawal seizures are convulsions that can develop during alcohol detox as a result of severe alcohol addiction or frequent and chronic binge-drinking.

Seizures are one of the most dangerous signs of delirium tremens, a severe form of alcohol withdrawal that can be deadly without medical attention and treatment.

Find Alcohol Detox And Addiction Treatment Today

Millions of people in the United States struggle with alcohol abuse and addiction. For many, finding a detox program is the first step on the road to recovery.

To find a treatment center near you that offers alcohol detox, call our free helpline today to connect with someone who can identify nearby alcohol treatment options.

This page does not provide medical advice. See more

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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.

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Medically Reviewed by
Johnelle Smith, M.D. on October 4, 2021


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