What Are the Symptoms of Detox From Alcohol?

Written by Chloe Nicosia

The symptoms of detox from alcohol can be extremely dangerous

Alcohol detox can cause severe physical and mental symptoms that, without the supervision and care of a medical team, can prove deadly in some instances. Chronic, long-term abuse of alcohol creates changes in the brain and body that result in symptoms like hallucinations and tremors in some people when they stop abusing alcohol. However, this does not mean a person should refrain from detoxing. Instead, it further illustrates the importance of stopping alcohol abuse before the symptoms of detox from alcohol could become worse.

At its most severe, those who detox from alcohol will go through the delirium tremens or DTs. This is a syndrome where a person will have symptoms such as hallucinations, agitation, rapid heart rate, and possibly seizures. While less than one-tenth of all people who detox from alcohol will experience the DTs, the potential for the condition to occur is always there. The longer and more alcohol a person abuses, the more likely it is they will go through DTs.

Others who are addicted to alcohol will also experience withdrawal symptoms although they may be less severe. Examples of common withdrawal symptoms of detox from alcohol include:

  • Anxiety
  • Fatigue, but difficulty sleeping
  • Headache
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Sweating and clammy skin
  • Tremors/shaking

While these symptoms are uncomfortable, they are not life-threatening.

Alcohol Withdrawal Symptoms Timeline

As a general rule, the alcohol withdrawal symptoms timeline begins about eight hours after a person had their last drink. Some people may experience a delayed reaction where they do not have symptoms until a few days later. According to the National Institutes of Health, symptoms of alcohol withdrawals will usually reach their peak or most severe at about 24 to 72 hours. After this time, symptoms will start to lessen in their severity. However, it is not uncommon that a person will experience some underlying symptoms, such as fatigue or headache, for several weeks after stopping drinking.

Help for Alcohol Withdrawals

At a professional alcohol treatment facility, a person can receive alcohol withdrawal medication that reduces the severity of the withdrawals. For example, doctors can administer benzodiazepines, such as Xanax or Ativan, which reduce the likelihood a person will experience a seizure as well as promote sleep. A person can also take medications to reduce nausea, such as Zofran. These medicines, along with intravenous fluids that contain important vitamins and electrolytes can help a person going through alcohol detox to feel better more quickly.

While doctors and rehabilitation centers can lessen the symptoms of alcohol withdrawals, they cannot take them away altogether. However, they can be an around-the-clock source of support and respond accordingly when a person has a medical need. This is especially helpful if a person has other chronic conditions in addition to alcoholism, such as diabetes or hepatitis, where the symptoms associated with the conditions must be managed in addition to that of alcohol withdrawals.

Once a person completes a medical treatment program for withdrawals, they can then move forward with breaking the mental addiction and overcoming cravings for alcohol. Because they have already established a relationship and resource at an alcohol detox center, they are more easily able to transition into a relapse prevention program as well as access group meetings, such as Alcoholics Anonymous. All of these resources are time-tested methods for getting and staying sober.