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Alcohol Detox: Symptoms and Treatment

Alcohol detox is the primary step towards successful recovery from alcohol addiction. Find out about the symptoms of alcohol detox and how we can help you.

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Why Do I Need Alcohol Detox?

The very first step to recovering from alcohol addiction is through the alcohol detoxification process. Once all traces of alcohol have been removed from the patient’s system, and they have completed the withdrawal process, they will be able to focus on other important aspects of the recovery process, such as counseling. 

Signs I Need to Detox from Alcohol

Because the consumption of alcohol is so common and socially accepted, it can be difficult to tell whether a person has an alcohol addiction. However, there are some common signs of alcohol addiction that will indicate a detox from alcohol and alcohol addiction treatment is needed.

Common signs of Alcohol Abuse:
  • Repeatedly neglecting responsibilities and obligations at home, work, or school because of drinking
  • Reckless, dangerous, and irresponsible behavior as a result of drinking, such as driving while under the influence of alcohol
  • Experiencing short-term memory loss and/or temporary blackouts
  • Extreme mood swings and irritability
  • Inability to function without the regular consumption of alcohol
  • Drinking alone and/or keeping alcohol consumption a secret
  • Drinking in the morning
  • Needing to drink in order to relax and feel happy or functional
  • Changes in appearance and foregoing good personal hygiene habits
  • Consuming illicit drugs or abusing prescription medication while under the influence of alcohol

What is Alcohol Detox?

Alcohol detox is the process where a person who is addicted to alcohol ceases to drink all alcohol products and removes all toxins built up in their system due to long-term, excessive consumption. In a professional treatment setting, the alcohol detox is closely monitored and is accompanied by medication for managing withdrawal symptoms and after-detox counseling and guidance.

Used as the preliminary step in recovery from alcohol addiction, the detox will help the person overcome their physical and psychological dependence on alcohol.

What Happens During Detox?

When the consumption of alcohol by a long-term, heavy drinker stops abruptly, they may experience acute alcohol withdrawal that can result in serious symptoms. Depending on the quantity and frequency of consumption, alcohol withdrawal symptoms can be mild to severe.

Symptoms of Alcohol Withdrawal

Alcohol is a Central Nervous System (CNS) depressant and causes feelings of euphoria and relaxation. Because the brain usually works to maintain balance, abuse of alcohol will trigger the neurotransmitter receptors, trying to stimulate the CNS and make up for the imbalance. Once alcohol use ceases, the original and additional receptors will be negatively affected, resulting in an overactive CNS and causing withdrawal symptoms.

Some symptoms of alcohol withdrawal include:
  • Dehydration
  • Tremors or shaky hands
  • Headaches
  • Dizziness
  • Gastrointestinal upset
  • Sweating
  • Insomnia
  • Hallucinations
  • High blood pressure
  • Delirium tremens
  • Seizures
  • Heart complications

Symptoms of alcohol withdrawal can be moderate to severe, and can sometimes even be life-threatening. Therefore, it is recommended that an alcohol detox be done only under the guidance of a qualified medical professional as part of an overall treatment plan.

How Long Does Alcohol Detox Last?

Alcohol withdrawal symptoms can occur as soon as a couple of hours after the patient’s last drink. While the most severe symptoms usually subside within a week or two, some milder symptoms can last for months or even up to a year. Although detox and withdrawal are different for everyone, there is a general timeline of what to expect.

General Timeline of Alcohol Detox & Withdrawal:
  • First 24 hours: Headaches, anxiety, nausea, irritability and mood swings, hand tremors.


  • Day 2: Alongside symptoms from the first day, some additional effects may include panic attacks, extreme fatigue, and hallucinations.


  • Days 3 to 7: During the remainder of the first week of detox, some symptoms may come and go. This is also the period where the patient is most at risk of life-threatening symptoms such as seizures and delirium tremens.


  • After one week and beyond: Although many of the withdrawal symptoms could taper off or lessen in severity after the first week of detox, some symptoms could persist for weeks or months. Most of them will be minor and can be treated with medication and therapy.

It is important to remember that even once the alcohol detox process has been completed, the mental effects of the addiction are usually still there. These include using alcohol for coping with social anxiety, depression, or as an escape from reality. This is why alcohol addiction must be treated by a qualified medical professional or treatment center so that the patient receives the help they need to manage the psychological effects of the addiction.

Medications Used in Alcohol Detox

An important part of the detoxification process is keeping the patient’s system in balance in order to avoid severe physical and physiological upsets. One of the most common causes of fatality in patients detoxing from alcohol is seizures.

In many cases, prescription medications such as benzodiazepines or barbiturates are used to reduce the withdrawal symptoms, while anticonvulsant drugs such as Keppra are often used to prevent seizures.

Although benzodiazepines are highly effective in treating certain alcohol withdrawal symptoms, they should only be used under the guidance of a medical professional as part of an alcohol addiction treatment plan, as they are highly addictive in their own right.

Alcohol Detoxification at Home

Some people believe that they will be able to detox from alcohol at home. In some cases, family members may stage an intervention and try to force the afflicted person to detox. However, alcoholism fosters a serious physical dependence in the body, and withdrawal can have painful and even life-threatening consequences. Alcohol detox should always be done under the supervision of qualified medical professionals as part of an alcohol addiction treatment plan.

What Happens After Alcohol Detox

Once all alcohol is out of the patient’s system, and all withdrawal symptoms are reduced or gone, it is time to manage the psychological aspects of the addiction. Successfully completing the alcohol detox only represents overcoming the physical side of the addiction. Patients need to be aware of the psychiatric treatment needed to truly overcome the addiction.

Effective treatment options for alcohol abuse and addiction include:
  • Counseling: One-on-one sessions with a qualified counselor specializing in addiction will allow the patient to open up about the issues that may have led them into addiction. Dependent on the patient’s personal history and circumstances, specialized therapies such as Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) and Dialectical Behavioral Therapy (DBT) may be explored.


  • Support Groups: Group therapy helps connect people suffering from the same addiction so that they can support and motivate each other to stay committed to long-term sobriety. The most popular and widely known support group for people suffering from alcohol addiction is Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) and also includes a 12-step program to be commenced once alcohol detox and inpatient treatment are complete.


  • Sober-Living Homes: In some cases, a return to the patient’s former life and environment can trigger a relapse. This is when sober-living homes are an excellent option. Sober-living homes will allow the recovering addict to reinforce their treatment plan and get assistance in returning to everyday life.

Finding the Right Detox Program

Although painful and very difficult, alcohol detox is the necessary first step to overcoming alcohol addiction. Suppose the patient is consumed by withdrawal symptoms and physical ailments related to stopping drinking. In that case, they will not be able to focus on working through the psychological trauma that either resulted in or was caused by the addiction.

Finding the right center for alcohol detox and alcohol addiction treatment should not be about proximity or location but rather the best treatment plan for the individual. The patient’s medical and psychological needs must be taken into consideration, as well as their history and what potentially led them into addiction.

Get in touch with us today to speak to one of our qualified and caring treatment navigators. We will help you find the right, specialized treatment program to help you recover from alcohol addiction.

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