Alcohol Detox: What To Expect

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If you have an alcohol use disorder, you may wonder what to expect from an alcohol detox program. Alcohol withdrawal symptoms can be severe and even life-threatening at times, making medical detox the best option for many people with alcohol addictions.

Alcohol Detox: What To Expect

Alcohol addiction comes with a heavy toll on your health, including symptoms like high blood pressure and organ damage.

Heavy drinking for a long period of time can also cause you to experience uncomfortable withdrawal symptoms when you stop drinking, including some that may be life-threatening.

Medical detox programs help people make it through withdrawal safely and successfully and often serve as an entry point to addiction treatment.

Alcohol Detox: What To Expect

Symptoms of alcohol withdrawal typically begin around eight hours after your last drink. People with severe alcohol addictions sometimes experience life-threatening symptoms such as seizures during detox.

There are also risks for people with certain health conditions or co-occurring mental disorders. It is always advisable to seek medical attention if you experience withdrawal symptoms.

Being in the care of medical professionals during detox means that you will receive the care and support you need should symptoms such as delirium tremens (DTs) or other serious health problems arise.

Alcohol detox can occur at the inpatient or outpatient level of care, and clients are best served when they transition from detox to an alcohol rehab program following withdrawal.

How Long Does It Take To Detox From Alcohol?

Alcohol withdrawal begins between six and 24 hours after your last drink. It can take two to 10 days to detox from alcohol.

The length of time it takes you to detox from alcohol depends greatly on your alcohol intake. This means how heavily you were drinking alcohol and for how long.

People who have had a high level of alcohol consumption for years without a decrease or break will typically have a more difficult time withdrawing, which means they can expect to be in a detox program for a longer period.

Additionally, repeated prior episodes of withdrawal can lead to difficult and protracted episodes of withdrawal in the future, including alcohol withdrawal syndrome.

Learn more about how long it takes to detox from alcohol withdrawal.

Alcohol Detox Symptoms: What Does Withdrawal Feel Like?

Alcohol dependence, or when the body comes to rely on alcohol in order to function, leads to a range of uncomfortable symptoms and strong alcohol cravings during detoxification.

Mild symptoms of withdrawal from alcohol abuse include:

  • fatigue
  • depression
  • irritability
  • anxiety
  • disorientation
  • jumpiness
  • nightmares
  • mood swings
  • shakiness

Moderate alcohol withdrawal symptoms include:

  • sweating
  • headache
  • dilated pupils
  • loss of appetite
  • insomnia
  • nausea
  • rapid heart rate
  • vomiting
  • hand tremors

Severe withdrawal symptoms during the alcohol detox process sometimes include DTs.

Symptoms of DTs include:

  • fever
  • fluctuating body temperature
  • severe confusion that comes on suddenly
  • irritability
  • agitation
  • hallucinations (both visual and auditory)
  • seizures

In rare cases and if left untreated, DTs can be fatal. Also in rare cases, clients may develop long-term memory problems or poor coordination associated with Wernicke-Korsakoff syndrome.

Find out more about alcohol withdrawal symptoms.

Is It Safe To Detox From Alcohol At Home?

In general, it is not safe to detox from alcohol at home on your own. Alcohol withdrawal has many implications for your physical and mental health because your central nervous system is trying to adjust to the sudden lack of alcohol in your system.

Consult with a healthcare professional, who can recommend an appropriate detox program. Being proactive about your healthcare can help prevent serious side effects and complications.

People with more severe alcohol addictions typically benefit most from inpatient programs, where clinicians provide medical care and support 24/7 to prevent and treat withdrawal symptoms.

However, people with milder addictions may be able to detox through an outpatient program. In this case, you would be able to remain at home but would still receive some monitoring.

Discover more about whether it is safe to detox from alcohol at home.

What Is Medical Detox For Alcohol?

Medical detox for alcohol involves the use of medication and medical supervision to help people through common symptoms of withdrawal and alcohol cravings.

It also helps people avoid health complications that can come about from severe withdrawal symptoms.

Medications commonly used in alcohol detox include benzodiazepines such as:

  • lorazepam
  • chlordiazepoxide
  • diazepam

These medications can help with withdrawal symptoms such as anxiety, agitation, and sleeping problems.

Other medications for alcohol withdrawal include:

  • anticonvulsants such as gabapentin, which interacts with gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA), an inhibitory neurotransmitter
  • baclofen to control muscle spasms
  • naltrexone and acamprosate, which are more geared toward relapse prevention but can be helpful in the detox process

Learn more about the medical detox process for alcohol.

Signs Your Liver Is Going Through Alcohol Detox

Sings that your liver is going through alcohol detox include a mix of both physical and physiological symptoms.

Signs of liver detox from alcohol include:

  • abdominal pain
  • nausea
  • vomiting
  • headache
  • anxiety
  • fatigue
  • restlessness
  • increased heart rate

The liver works as the body’s filtration system. Signs of liver detox from alcohol mirror the general symptoms of alcohol withdrawal because the liver is the detoxifying organ.

The liver metabolizes alcohol, which it does at the rate of about one standard drink an hour. When you feel drunk, it is because your liver is overwhelmed trying to metabolize what you have consumed, resulting in a build-up of alcohol in your system.

Over time, the liver can become overtaxed, inflamed, and damaged. This may manifest as uncomfortable symptoms as it attempts to detox or even liver disease.

Learn more about liver detox from alcohol.

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