Once you are dependent on or addicted to alcohol, it can be difficult to quit on your own. This is because when you abruptly quit drinking, you will experience alcohol withdrawal symptoms—these can range from unpleasant or irritating to potentially fatal. A professional alcohol detox program can help ease your withdrawal symptoms and keep you safe and comfortable while you quit alcohol. In order to demystify the process, we’ve broken down how to detox from alcohol, both at an inpatient facility and at home during outpatient detox.
What is Alcohol Detoxification?
Alcohol detoxification is a process through which your body rids itself of alcohol and other toxins. But if you have a physiological dependence on alcohol, meaning you need to drink in order to stave off withdrawal symptoms, then detoxing on your own can be overwhelming and dangerous. At a professional detox program, a treatment staff composed of doctors, nurses, and counselors oversees your treatment to ensure your safety.
Alcohol detox services include a combination of the following interventions:
- Alcohol withdrawal medications
- Medical care, oversight, and monitoring
- Detox counseling
- Referral to alcohol abuse treatment services
Alcohol detoxification has several goals, including:1
- Help the patient to achieve an alcohol-free state
- Alleviate alcohol withdrawal symptoms
- Achieve medical stabilization
- Treat any co-occurring psychiatric or medical conditions
Do You Need Alcohol Detox?
The safest and most reliable way to find out if you need alcohol detox services is to see your doctor. They can assess your alcohol use, medical and psychiatric history, and previous withdrawal experiences to determine your risk of complicated alcohol withdrawal. If you have a mild alcohol addiction, your risk will likely be low, whereas a severe alcohol addiction indicates that you are at risk of experiencing delirium tremens or seizures.1
Before going to the doctor, you can review the signs and symptoms of alcohol addiction. If you exhibit at least two of the following signs of an alcohol use disorder, then you may need professional detox:2
- Regularly drinking more or for longer than you originally intended
- Failing to cut down or quit drinking, despite efforts to
- Spending a significant amount of time drinking or recovering from hangovers
- Experiencing intense alcohol cravings
- Continuing to drink despite physical or mental health problems caused or exacerbated by drinking
- Continuing to drink despite interpersonal and occupational issues caused or worsened by drinking
- Neglecting previously enjoyed activities in favor of drinking
- Drinking in dangerous situation, such as while driving
- Requiring increasing amounts of alcohol to feel desired effects (tolerance)
- Experiencing withdrawal symptoms when you attempt to quit
Once you’ve determined that an alcohol detox program may be right for you, give us a call at 1-800-429-7690. Our caring and compassionate treatment support advisors can help you find a detox program.
Preparing for Alcohol Detox
Before going through the process of alcohol detox, it is helpful to prepare yourself and to know what to expect.
Common Alcohol Withdrawal Symptoms
If you’re dependent on alcohol and suddenly stop drinking, alcohol withdrawal symptoms can emerge. These symptoms emerge because your body has adapted to the presence of alcohol and can no longer function optimally without it. The severity and length of symptoms depend on how long you’ve been drinking, how much you’ve been drinking, whether you mix alcohol with other substances and your individual physiology.
Common alcohol withdrawal symptoms may include:3
- Shakiness or tremors
- Mood swings
- Impaired cognition
- Loss of appetite
- Nausea and vomiting
- Pale face
- Rapid heart rate
Life-Threatening Alcohol Withdrawal Symptoms
In the event of a severe alcohol addiction, you may experience life-threatening withdrawal symptoms. If you experience any of the following alcohol withdrawal symptoms, call 911 immediately:3,4
- Severe confusion
- Hallucinations (delirium tremens)
The risk factors for complicated alcohol withdrawal include:4
- Long duration of alcohol consumption
- Prior delirium tremens episodes
- Current severe alcohol cravings
- Prior detox experiences
- Prior seizures
Alcohol Withdrawal Timeline: Stages of Withdrawal
Just as withdrawal symptoms may vary from person to person, alcohol withdrawal timelines may dramatically vary as well, but a general timeline can be broken down into three stages.5,6
The first stage of alcohol withdrawal begins within about 6 to 12 hours after your last drink. Your symptoms are likely to be relatively mild at this time—you may experience nausea, headache, insomnia, and mild anxiety.5,6
The second stage of alcohol withdrawal begins within 24 hours after your last drink. If your addiction is severe, you may experience tactile, auditory, or visual hallucinations during this stage.5,6
Within 1-3 days after abstaining from alcohol, some withdrawal symptoms have peaked and begun to resolve. During stage three, your risk of seizure and withdrawal delirium is likely to be the highest, which is why it’s so important to seek medical detox services.5,6
How to Detox from Alcohol at a Facility
There are two main alcohol detox settings: inpatient and outpatient. Inpatient alcohol detox programs include medical detox services, which means you receive 24/7 care, oversight, and supervision to keep you safe. Because of the risk of potentially fatal symptoms, medical professionals recommend that those with a moderate to severe alcohol addiction receive medical detox.
The medical staff will provide you with alcohol withdrawal medications, such as benzodiazepines, as well as medications to treat individual symptoms. Combined, these medications can alleviate your distressing symptoms and prevent complicated withdrawal. They may also provide supportive care, such as IV fluids or vitamins. Additional medications may include:4
The staff will also monitor and treat any new symptoms that may arise, as well as intervene in case of a medical emergency. If you’re attempting to detox from alcohol at home, you are prone to relapse as a way to ease your unwanted withdrawal symptoms. On the contrary, supervised, medical detox reduces the risk of relapse and increases the chance that you wind up entering an alcohol addiction rehab.
It takes courage to make the decision to quit drinking and change your life. We can help you on that journey. Call our 24/7 helpline at 1-800-429-7690 to find a detox program that’s right for you.
Can You Detox from Alcohol at Home?
If you have a severe alcohol use disorder or history of seizures or withdrawal delirium, it’s highly recommended that you seek treatment at an alcohol detox center rather than attempt to detox at home.1
This is due to the risk of experiencing dangerous, potentially fatal withdrawal symptoms. Choosing to attend a medical detox facility is the best decision for your health and safety.
Additionally, if you are struggling with a co-occurring mental health disorder, such as PTSD, depression, panic disorder, or schizophrenia, this could further complicate your alcohol withdrawal. It may be beneficial to choose an alcohol detox facility that can address your psychiatric issues and then refer you to a dual diagnosis program once you’re stabilized.
However, if you have a mild alcohol use disorder, you may be able to attend an outpatient detox program safely.1 That way, you can receive professional oversight and detox services before going home in the evening. It is never recommended to detox from alcohol at home without any professional guidance or care.
Easing At-Home Detox
If you are determined to detox from alcohol at home, you won’t want to do it entirely alone. You will want to choose an outpatient alcohol detox program that gives you the freedom to continue working, attending school, or meeting other obligations. During outpatient detox, you attend detox sessions at a treatment facility during the day then return home in the evening.
Outpatient alcohol detox can be beneficial if you have a mild alcohol addiction or mild alcohol withdrawal syndrome and your risk of experiencing alcohol withdrawal complications like seizure or delirium is low. If you don’t have a stable support system at home, then detoxing from alcohol at an outpatient facility and at home in the evening is not recommended.
When you return home after your alcohol detox sessions, you will want to do everything you can to ease your discomfort and promote a healing and healthy recovery. Consider preparing a calm, quiet place with dim lighting and reduced social contact while you detox from alcohol. Here are some things you can do to try to ease your at-home detox:
- Drink plenty of water
- Drink electrolyte drinks
- Eat a nutritious, balanced diet
- Take a shower
- Try yoga or meditation
- Listen to relaxing music
- Ease chills with a arm blanket
- Ease sweats with a cold compress
To facilitate your alcohol detox and rehabilitation, remove alcohol from your home before you attempt to stop drinking. That way, you won’t have unnecessary temptations while going through withdrawal.
It can also be beneficial to alter any habits associated with drinking. For example, if you habitually drink alcohol when spending time at certain places or with particular individuals, it can be helpful to avoid these locations and friends.
Treatment After Alcohol Detox
Once you complete alcohol detox, you are ready to attend an alcohol addiction treatment program—either inpatient or outpatient. While detox helped you to rid alcohol from your body, it didn’t provide you with the interventions and therapy necessary to change your drinking behaviors. With the help of substance abuse counselors, doctors, and therapists, an alcoholism recovery program can help you understand the underlying factors that influenced your addiction in the first place.
Alcohol Detox Resources
- Hayashida, M. (1998). An Overview of Outpatient and Inpatient Detoxification. Alcohol Health & Research World 22(1), 44-47.
- National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. (2021, April). Understanding Alcohol Use Disorder.
- U.S. National Library of Medicine. (2021). Alcohol withdrawal.
- Trevisan, L.A., Boutros, N., Petrakis, I.L., Krystal, J.H. (1998). Complications of Alcohol Withdrawal. Alcohol Health & Research World 22(1), 61-66.
- Gortney, J.S., Raub, J.N., Patel, P., Kokoska, L., Hannawa, M., & Argyris, A. (2016). Alcohol withdrawal syndrome in medical patients. Cleveland Clinic Journal of Medicine, 83(1), 67-79.
- Muncie Jr., H. L., Yasinian, Y., & Oge, L. K. (2013). Outpatient management of alcohol withdrawal syndrome. American Family Physician, 88(9), 589-595.
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