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Detox from alcohol

Seek medical supervision during alcohol detox. Dependence must be assessed and serious conditions can occur in the first 72 hours. More on detox from alcohol protocol here.

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If you’ve developed dependence on alcohol, it is very important that you seek medical supervision during detox. Signs of alcohol withdrawal can lead to serious conditions which develop in the first 72 hours of detox and require medical treatments. More here on the protocols for alcohol detox with a section for your questions at the end.

Alcohol detox treatment

Alcohol detox is also known as alcohol withdrawal; it is a time during which alcohol (ethanol) leaves the body after a period of dependence. Physical dependence occurs when alcohol is needed to balance the neuronal adaptations and maintain normal brain function. Removal of alcohol from the body induces a rebound stimulatory effect, resulting in hyperexcitability of the nervous system and resulting symptoms.

In fact, alcohol detox is characterized by symptoms of hyperactivity of the autonomic nervous system. While many of these symptoms can be mild in nature, about 10% of alcohol dependent people can develop more severe symptoms. This is why all cases of alcohol detox require medical supervision and begin with a battery of assessments. What are common alcohol detox symptoms and their related treatments?

1. Mild-to-moderate alcohol withdrawal symptoms

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During mild cases of detox, you can often be treated in an outpatient setting. However, you will need someone to commit to staying with you during this process and who can keep an eye on you. Daily visits to your health care provider are often needed until you are stable. Treatments for mild cases of alcohol detox usually include:

  • Blood tests
  • Sedative drugs to help ease withdrawal symptoms
  • Patient and family counseling to discuss the long-term issue of alcohol use
  • Testing and treatment for other medical problems linked to alcohol use

2. Moderate-to-severe alcohol withdrawal symptoms

People with moderate-to-severe symptoms of alcohol withdrawal may need inpatient treatment at a hospital or other facility that treats alcohol withdrawal. Treatments for these cases can include:

  • Monitoring of blood pressure
  • Monitoring of body temperature
  • Monitoring of heart rate
  • Monitoring of blood levels of different chemicals in the body
  • Fluids or medication administration by IV
  • Sedation using medication called benzodiazepines until withdrawal is complete

Detoxing from alcohol time

How long does it take to detox from alcohol? Withdrawal usually begins 6 to 24 hours after the last drink. Under normal conditions, it can last for up to one week. However, some cases of detox require additional support, and some people (especially heavy, chronic drinkers) can experience protracted withdrawal symptoms from alcohol for weeks to months AFTER the last drink. To be classified as alcohol withdrawal syndrome, patients must exhibit at least two of the following symptoms:

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  • anxiety
  • autonomic instability
  • increased hand tremor
  • insomnia
  • nausea or vomiting
  • psycho-motor agitation
  • transient hallucinations (auditory, visual or tactile)
  • tonic clonic seizures

Detox from alcohol symptoms

Alcohol detox symptoms usually occur within 8 hours after the last drink, but can occur days later. Symptoms usually peak by 24 – 72 hours, but may persist for weeks. Symptoms include:

  • depression
  • disorientation
  • fatigue
  • headache
  • irritability
  • jumpiness or shakiness
  • mood swings
  • nausea
  • nervousness
  • nightmares
  • not thinking clearly
  • sensitivity to light or sound
  • transient hallucinations
  • tremor
  • vomiting

A SPECIAL NOTE: Delirium tremens (DT’s) are the most intense and serious condition associated with alcohol detox. The DT’s occur in approximately 5% of people and usually appear 2 to 4 days after last use. The DT’s are characterized by severe agitation, tremor, disorientation, persistent hallucinations, and large increases in:

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  • blood pressure
  • breathing rate
  • heart rate
  • pulse

Who needs clinical alcohol detox?

There are some people who should only detox from alcohol in an inpatient or hospital alcohol detoxification setting. These include:

  1. People diagnosed with concomitant medical or psychiatric illness
  2. People who have been through multiple past episodes of detoxification
  3. People who lack a reliable support network
  4. Pregnant women
  5. Those with a history of alcohol withdrawal seizures
  6. Those with a history of delirium tremens
  7. Those with a history of severe withdrawal symptoms
  8. Those with recent high levels of alcohol consumption

Detox from alcohol at home

Detoxing from alcohol at home IS NOT RECOMMENDED.

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When a person stops drinking alcohol suddenly, just up and quits because he or she thinks it’s time to do so and it’s easy to do, the consequences can be deadly. Sudden alcohol cessation can cause hallucinations, convulsions, and even heart seizure that may result in death. This isn’t something to take lightly and is an excellent reason not to try to detox from alcohol at home.

Detox alcohol questions

Detoxification is a very serious process. You need to inform yourself well before taking action. So, if you have questions, please use the section below. We will do our best to respond to your personally and promptly.

Reference Sources: NIAAA: Exploring alcohol withdrawal syndrome
NIAAA: Treatment of Alcohol Withdrawal
PubMed: Alcohol withdrawal
About the author
Lee Weber is a published author, medical writer, and woman in long-term recovery from addiction. Her latest book, The Definitive Guide to Addiction Interventions is set to reach university bookstores in early 2019.

10 Comments

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  1. Why am i still in pain after 3 months of a detox from alchol got pain in my lower back muscle i am taking naproxen and its not touching the pain

  2. Down to 1/2 pint vodka a day. Been given Ativan today. Shld I take it while still drinking? Having anxiety, sweats, shakes, and nervousness.

  3. I have been sober 10 days and gradually cut back 3-4 days prior to quitting. A very heavy drinker – daily for 8 years. The first 9 days have been great…loads more energy and clear head, anxiety and depression disappeared by day 2. Today I woke up groggy, fuzzy headed with ringing in my ears, shaky hands and also an increased heart rate. Could it possibly be withdrawal symptoms/DT’s after 10 days?

  4. After years of consuming 1litre of port ( & sometimes much more) per day & after a significantl more volume of consumption ended up with a severe dose of alcohol poisoning. I have been through the associated withdral & all the associated affects. Despite many years of drinking, it is not a place I have been in more than 20 times & to varying degrees. It is something I never want to revisit again I. My life. I thought that without a drink for 15 days now, I would be on top of the world but not so. I am suffering depression & a complete lack of confidence. I have not locked myself away but been out tentatively however. I can see enough through the short term of sobriety that not only has my drinking been a selfish thing but I have also been selfish to myself in denying myself other full filing pursuits. I couldn’t ‘t see that 15 days ago. I may be in a good head space but I am still experiencing tremors. How long can this last?

  5. Hi Renata. You can start by paying your doctor a visit. Ask to be thoroughly examined, so the damage caused to your body can be assessed. Then, you can start working on getting your life back. After your body will be sober, you’ll have to take care of the mind. Therapy and counseling is an important key to keeping your sobriety.

  6. I think it is time to do something. All I do is go to work and drink and sleep. I don’t do anything on the weekends except drink and play on the computer. I have no outside life at all.

  7. Hi Marty. I think you should fist get doctor’s help since you’ll be very dehydrated soon. Then, you can try counselling to help you cope with all the stressors in your life.

  8. I have the yellow bowl movements, shakes, can’t sleep without vodka, shakes without a drink, can’t really function anymore. I was married for 23 years, she found someone on Second life, and left me broke, and bankrupt. I didn’t drink before that, but it’s all coming to ahead now. Losing the house now, and I don’t know what to do now. But I can’t eat without vomiting, skin is paper thin, rotator cuff surgery, and have to go to work Monday.

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