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Is Alcohol Detox Necessary to Get Through Withdrawal?

Alcohol detox, or detoxification, is the first stage of treating and managing an alcohol addiction. This is a medically supervised period of alcohol withdrawal in which an individual is monitored by health professionals in a controlled environment. 

4 Minute Read | Published Aug 07 2023 | Updated Oct 11 2023

Alcohol Detox and Alcohol Withdrawal

Alcohol detox allows medical professionals to help clients manage the withdrawal symptoms and administer any medications necessary to keep them comfortable during alcohol detox. It is important to seek medical supervision and management during a detox from alcohol because the symptoms of withdrawal can be dangerous and even fatal. 

When you’re ready to get sober, BetterAddictionCare is here to help you find alcohol detox centers that will provide the customized care you need.

What Is Alcohol Withdrawal

When the body has become dependent on alcohol, it will no longer function as it is accustomed to doing when alcohol is no longer present. Because alcohol has a depressive effect on the brain, the body compensates by producing chemicals such as serotonin, dopamine, and epinephrine. In the absence of alcohol, the body is thrown out of balance after the brain produces a surplus of these chemicals.

As the body attempts to cope with the loss of the alcohol it has come to depend on, the individual will experience  a range of symptoms that are collectively known as withdrawal. Acute alcohol withdrawal typically lasts up to ten days, although post-acute withdrawal symptoms may last up to two years.

Some of these symptoms are merely extremely uncomfortable. These include:

  • Anxiety
  • Shaking hands
  • Headache
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Insomnia
  • Sweating
  • Confusion
  • Fever

Other symptoms can be dangerous, and even fatal. These include:

  • Hallucinations
  • Seizures
  • Racing heart
  • High blood pressure
  • Dehydration
  • Delirium tremens
  • Death

Most Americans have experienced alcohol withdrawal at some point in their lives. A hangover is actually a mild form of alcohol withdrawal.

Why Is Alcohol Detox Necessary?

There are two main reasons why alcohol detox is necessary, to keep patients comfortable and safe during alcohol withdrawal.

The goals of detox from alcohol are to provide a safe, humane withdrawal situation that prepares a patient for ongoing treatment of their alcohol addiction. After the physical effects of withdrawal are controlled, the patient can move on to the process of getting effective treatment and overcoming their addiction. A safe detox is a key first step in the process of alcohol addiction recovery.

Although alcohol withdrawal is always uncomfortable and dangerous, these risks are greatly magnified the more severe the addition of the patient. Longer-term alcoholics and those that consume more are more likely to experience more severe and more dangerous side effects. This means that medically-supervised detox is increasingly necessary the more severe and long-term the addiction.

Alcohol Detox and Comfort

During a medically-supervised alcohol detox, patients can be prescribed a variety of medications that will help alleviate the symptoms of withdrawal. For example, benzodiazepines are often prescribed to help with anxiety or insomnia. This helps the patient stay comfortable during withdrawal, which can otherwise be very unpleasant.

A patient who is comfortable during withdrawal is much more likely to make it through withdrawal. This is critical because alcohol withdrawal can be so unpleasant that it causes many to abandon their quest for sobriety before it has even really begun.

Patients who are comfortable during withdrawal also tend to be in a much better mental state when they subsequently begin treatment. They are also less likely to be sleep deprived, have low energy, and other consequences of an unpleasant withdrawal. This better mental state makes it easier for them to focus and cope with challenges when they enter treatment and therefore improves their treatment options.

Alcohol Detox and Safety

A number of alcohol withdrawal symptoms can be dangerous, and some can even be deadly. The seizures associated with delirium tremens are the most dangerous and deadly alcohol withdrawal symptoms because of the likelihood of severe head and other injuries. However, in rarer cases, dehydration from sweating, stroke, or heart issues may prove fatal.

Patients who are medically-supervised are protected from these dangers. For example, IV drips and anti-diuretics can be used to prevent dehydration, and patients experiencing seizures can be physically restrained to prevent injury. It is not an exaggeration to say that alcohol detox can be the difference between life and death for some patients.

Medically-supervised alcohol detox is highly recommended by the vast majority of addiction professionals, especially in the case of severe addictions. It is widely considered to be the only safe way to get through alcohol withdrawal. In fact, many treatment programs require that prospective patients have completed it before attending their programs if they do not offer detox themselves.

Begin Your Recovery Journey Today

Beginning detoxification can feel overwhelming, but BetterAddictionCare is here to help you or your loved one find the right alcohol detox center. Our personal approach will guide you to a program that is safe, cost-effective, and comfortable so you can start healing. Call today to speak with a counselor and get help now.



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bullet Center for Substance Abuse Treatment. (2006).
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