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Alcohol Detoxification

Learn more about alcohol detox, the stages and side effects of detox, and how to find the appropriate treatment option for you.

Table of Contents

What is Alcohol Detox?

The journey to overcome alcohol use disorder (AUD), also known as alcoholism, is commendable. Although it is not an easy journey, it is an essential step to improving your life and health. The first step to recovery from AUD is detoxification or alcohol detox.

Alcohol detoxification is the natural process the body goes through to rid itself of the long build-up of toxins from excessive and long-term alcohol consumption. During the period of detoxification, alcohol is completely flushed from the body.
Alcohol Detox

Alcohol Detoxification

Alcohol detox is considered the most challenging step in the recovery process. Due to the withdrawal symptoms that patients may experience during the detoxification process, it is recommended that detox be completed under medical supervision.
The primary goals of alcohol detoxification are to help the patient cleanse the body of alcohol, ease the initial symptoms of withdrawal, and treat any physical or mental disorders that may accompany their addiction.

How Long Does It Take To Detox From Alcohol?

Alcohol detoxification typically takes seven to ten days depending on the level of dependence and other contributing factors. In some severe cases, the symptoms may persist beyond ten days.
The amount of time it takes to detox from alcohol depends on various factors, including:
  • How much also alcohol is used
  • The duration of alcohol abuse
  • Medical or mental health issues
  • Age
  • Body weight
  • Gender
  • Family issues
  • Alcohol and drug abuse (Patients will undergo drug and alcohol detox)

Why Is Alcohol Detoxification Important?

When alcohol is abused for an extended period of time, the mind and body may become dependent on alcohol to function normally. It is at this point that alcohol detoxification is important.
Alcohol detoxification focuses on removing alcohol from your system. It is the first phase in the typical alcoholism treatment plan.

What Does Alcohol Detox Feel Like?

During the detox process, your body craves alcohol that you are not providing, which leads to experiencing withdrawal symptoms. During this stage, your mind and body have to readjust to function without the substance.

You may experience exhaustion, shaky hands, inability to concentrate, nausea, cold sweats, anxiety, and rapid heartbeats. Some patients may have hallucinations or seizures. Your therapist may prescribe alcohol detox medications, such as benzodiazepines or carbamazepine.

Alcohol Detox Symptoms and Side Effects

When detoxing from any substance, you can expect to experience withdrawal symptoms and other side effects ranging from mild to severe.

Alcohol Detoxification Symptoms

Alcohol withdrawal symptoms occur when a person abruptly stops consuming alcohol or significantly reduces their consumption. These symptoms might be either physical or emotional.1
Depending on the level of dependence, the symptoms might be minor or severe. Both minor and severe withdrawal symptoms should be monitored by a medical professional.

Minor Withdrawal Symptoms

Minor withdrawal symptoms of alcohol detox include:
  • Anxiety
  • Headaches
  • Insomnia
  • Nausea
  • Sweating

Severe Withdrawal Symptoms

Severe alcohol detox withdrawal symptoms include:
  • Delirium tremens
  • Disorientation
  • Extreme hallucinations
  • Illusions
  • Seizures
  • Tremors

Side Effects of Alcohol Detox

Depending on the level of alcohol use, the side effects of alcohol detox can range from mild to severe and life-threatening.
Some common side effects of alcohol detoxification include:
  • Irritability
  • Feeling anxious
  • Mood swings
  • Fatigue
  • Feeling depressed
  • Headaches
  • Sweating
  • Difficulty sleeping
  • Loss of appetite
  • Tremors or shakiness

Delirium Tremens

Delirium tremens is considered one of the most severe alcohol detox symptoms and is considered a medical emergency. According to a study, around 2% of people with alcohol dependence have delirium tremens when they stop drinking.2
Symptoms of delirium tremens include:
  • Visual and auditory hallucinations
  • Mental haziness
  • Abrupt mood swings
  • Energy bursts
  • Excessive sweating
  • Fever
  • Seizures leading to unconsciousness and muscle spasms
  • Agitation
  • Sleepiness
  • Fatigue
Delirium tremens aren’t always deadly, but they can be. This is why having delirium tremens is considered a medical emergency.

Alcohol Detox Stages and Timeline

There is a timeline and various stages of the alcohol detoxification process. Simply put, the symptoms of alcohol withdrawal follow a timeline and are categorized in different stages of severity.

Stage 1: Mild

In the first stage, known as the minor withdrawal symptoms, the patient will experience mild bodily disturbances, as well as mood and behavior changes. These symptoms could look like the symptoms of a hangover and typically begin within six to eight hours of beginning the detoxification process.
The symptoms of withdrawal in the first stage include:
  • Anxiety
  • Convulsions
  • Hypertension and heart failure
  • Insomnia
  • Nausea
  • Profuse sweating
  • Shakiness
  • Visual and auditory hallucinations
  • Overall tremor

Stage 2: Moderate

The second phase in the alcohol detox process is moderate withdrawal symptoms. The signs of alcohol withdrawal in this stage will start as soon as the symptoms of the first stage begin to fade, approximately twelve to twenty-four hours after the last drink.
The symptoms of withdrawal in the second stage include:
  • Confusion
  • Fever
  • High blood pressure
  • Irregular heartbeat
  • Irritability
  • Sweating

Stage 3: Severe

This is the stage where patients experience severe alcohol detox symptoms. These severe alcohol withdrawal symptoms begin about two to three days into alcohol detoxification.3
The symptoms of withdrawal in the third stage include:
  • Agitation
  • Confusion
  • Fever
  • Hallucinations
  • Seizures
  • Delirium tremens
Seizures and delirium tremens are the most severe effects of alcohol detox. They can happen without warning and can be life-threatening.

Alcohol Detox At Home

Detoxing at home may seem secure and convenient, but serious risks are involved. Alcohol detox is difficult and can be challenging to do alone, which is why medical assistance is recommended.
Many people believe that alcohol detoxification is less risky than detoxing from other drugs. However, detoxing from alcohol carries significant and even life-threatening risks, especially if you are doing it alone. As a result, the process can be more difficult with medical supervision.

How to Detox From Alcohol At Home?

If you prefer detoxing at home, safety is essential. Some key factors to keep in mind include:
  • Remove Every Bit of Alcohol From Your Home: Removing all alcohol from your home is an essential first step in the self-detox process. At first, when you feel the effects of withdrawal, you may find it difficult to control the cravings for alcohol. Therefore, remove any alcohol you have on hand to avoid temptation completely.
  • Clear Your Schedule: For some people, making time in your schedule for days or weeks may seem unrealistic, but doing so is essential if you want your detox to be effective. Take some time off work and temporarily put your obligations on hold so you can concentrate on your recovery.
  • Get Help and Support: During your detox journey, you need the help and support of the people around you. Find a friend or family member who can help you stay safe during the detoxification process and who will seek medical attention for you if your withdrawal symptoms become unmanageable.

What to Eat When Detoxing at Home

Food may be the last thing on your mind when your body is going through the withdrawal phase, but eating and staying hydrated are important components of your recovery journey. Important diet considerations when detoxing will be detailed below.

Drink Lots of Fluids

During this period, drink enough liquids to rehydrate your body and flush out impurities. During the initial phases of withdrawal, good options for hydration include water, juice, broth, ice pops, and gelatin.

Eat a Balanced Diet

It’s crucial to concentrate on eating a balanced diet. To help you achieve your caloric needs, eat foods from various food groups in the appropriate quantities. Eat more vegetables and fruits, but don’t underestimate the value of healthy grains and lean protein sources.

Don't Forget Your Vitamins and Minerals

Take vitamin B, multivitamins, vitamin C, vitamin E, and calcium. These vitamins and minerals are often beneficial in the removal of toxins.

At-Home Alcohol Detox Risk Factors

  • Anxiety
  • Fever
  • Depression
  • Extreme nausea
  • Intense cravings
  • Headaches
  • Hallucinations
  • Insomnia
  • Seizures
As a result, to reduce the risks factors of at-home detoxing, it is recommended you go to an alcohol detox center for medically-supervised detoxification

Alcohol Detox Treatment

Alcohol Detox
Alcohol detox can be done safely and effectively in an inpatient or outpatient treatment setting.4

Inpatient or Residential Treatment

Inpatient or residential treatment facilities provide a safe, supervised environment for patients struggling with alcohol addiction. This is the most intensive alcohol detox treatment with a 24-hour care service. Throughout the course of the program, the patient resides at the treatment center. They receive medical guidance and care, participate in alcohol detox programs, and work toward a sober lifestyle.

Outpatient Treatment

Outpatient treatment is for people who have responsibilities and high motivation to get clean. This treatment option allows patients to attend to their daily duties while recovering. This treatment option is best for patients with mild cases of alcohol abuse.

Medically-Supervised Alcohol Detoxification At Boardwalk Recovery

Many medical risks are involved in alcohol withdrawal. Therefore, it is recommended to seek treatment for alcoholism from a medical professional or at a treatment facility.

If you or a loved one struggle with alcoholism and need alcohol detox treatment, help is available at Boardwalk Recovery. We are equipped with the professionals and facilities needed to help you or your loved one begin the journey to recovery. If you are interested in our detox program, contact Boardwalk Recovery today.

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