Substance Abuse Treatment – Alcohol Detoxification
Alcohol detoxification is a crucial and potentially lifesaving first step in overcoming substance use disorder. Learn more about substance abuse treatment for alcoholism
Table of Contents
What is Alcohol Detox?
Recent statistics from the National Survey on Drug Use and Health show that almost fifteen million people in the United States have an alcohol use disorder. Of those, fewer than 10% will ever seek help with detox and addiction treatment. 1
Alcohol detoxification is the process your body undergoes as it works to eliminate all traces of alcohol from your system. The detox process helps ensure that you are physically stable and that your body is free from alcohol before starting therapy to overcome addiction. Typically, alcohol detox is the first step in many alcohol addiction treatment programs, as it is impossible to fully immerse yourself in the treatment process while still under the influence of substances.
The time it takes for your body to detox from alcohol will vary based on several factors, including how long you have been drinking and how often you drink. Other factors contributing to the alcohol detox timeline include whether you experience symptoms of a physical or mental health condition and whether you have completed an alcohol detox treatment program in the past and experienced relapse. Although detox can be challenging, it is a vital step on your journey to recovery.
Alcohol Detox Symptoms And Side Effects
Each person who enters treatment for addiction will have a different experience. Similarly, everyone who undergoes alcohol withdrawal to detox from alcohol will experience various symptoms; however, some symptoms are shared among all individuals. These include minor withdrawal symptoms such as fatigue, headaches, anxiety, irritability, and sweating. Other, more severe alcohol withdrawal symptoms people may experience to varying severity include heart palpitations, elevated blood pressure, nausea and vomiting, and tremors.
A Note About Delirium Tremens
The shaking and tremors that sometimes accompany detox are known as delirium tremens. Delirium tremens often occur in individuals suffering from extreme alcohol withdrawal. Unfortunately, they can also result in seizures, which makes them one of the more life-threatening symptoms of withdrawal. Statistics show between 3-5% of people who experience alcohol withdrawal will also experience delirium tremens. Again, they are most common among those who are severely addicted to alcohol and have experienced alcohol withdrawal in the past. 2Symptoms of delirium tremens usually begin within two to three days after an individual stops drinking and can also include fever, confusion, fatigue, hallucinations, and, in some cases, seizures.
Alcohol Detox Stages
The intensity and severity of alcohol detox symptoms will vary based on several factors. A critical factor contributing to detox symptoms’ type and severity is how much and how often you drink. Up to 50% of people dependent on alcohol will experience alcohol withdrawal symptoms. However, If you are a heavy drinker, you are more likely to experience severe alcohol withdrawal symptoms when you stop drinking.3Alcohol detoxification generally occurs in stages; these will be detailed below.
1st Stage (Mild)
Stage one of alcohol detoxification generally begins within six to eight hours after your last drink. Mild withdrawal symptoms typically accompany the first stage of detox.
2nd Stage (Moderate)
The second stage of alcohol detox is the stage at which most people experience moderate alcohol withdrawal symptoms. In most cases, the severity of stage two alcohol detox symptoms could lead to medical concerns and should be monitored under supervision at an alcohol detox program.
3rd Stage (Severe)
Stage three of alcohol detoxification is when the most severe and dangerous withdrawal symptoms are present. Severe alcohol withdrawal symptoms are more common in those who engage in heavy drinking. This is best managed in an inpatient alcohol detox program where medical professionals can monitor your health and help you manage your symptoms.
Alcohol Detox Timeline
Most signs of alcohol withdrawal occur within six hours after your last drink. Symptoms will often start mild and intensify after two or three days. The alcohol withdrawal cycle typically lasts for about one week.
One or Two Days After Your Last Drink
During the first day or so of alcohol detox, you may start sweating. You may also become increasingly irritable and experience nausea and vomiting. As your body continues to work to flush alcohol from your system, you may also experience elevated blood pressure and accelerated heart rate. These symptoms can be especially dangerous for individuals with pre-existing blood pressure and heart conditions. Other symptoms commonly arising during this time include withdrawal-induced insomnia and tremors.
After a day or two, withdrawal-related symptoms will begin to worsen and intensify. These symptoms will be characterized by seizures, shaking, and hallucinations.
Three to Four Days After Last Drink
During the third, fourth, and fifth days of detox, emotional distress and delirium tremens may continue. After the fifth day, many physical symptoms of withdrawal begin to subside; however, the psychological and emotional symptoms often persist for some time. Some individuals will continue to experience difficulties sleeping, anxiety, and irritability for weeks or months after an alcohol withdrawal treatment program.
Alcohol Detox At Home
In many cases, detoxing from alcohol at home is not recommended. The medical and mental health challenges that can arise during alcohol detox can be dangerous and, without medical supervision, fatal. Unfortunately, there is no way to predict who will experience severe withdrawal.
Also, if you use other substances, such as prescription medications, meth, or cocaine while drinking, your withdrawal symptoms may be worsened. For these reasons, detoxing at an alcohol detox center with the support and guidance of medical and mental health professionals is generally recommended for all alcohol addictions of any severity. 4
Precautions and Considerations
If you do decide to detox at home, it is essential to do so safely. First, remove all alcohol and other substances from your home. This will help you avoid temptation. Also, clear your work schedule and other obligations to focus on your recovery and healing. Find a family member or friend who can keep you safe and get medical help if your symptoms become too severe.
Alcohol Detox Treatment
Detoxing is not without severe risk, and self-detox is often ineffective. It is usually much safer to enter an inpatient or outpatient alcohol detox program. 5
Inpatient or Residential Treatment
In a residential program, you live at the treatment center throughout the process. At an inpatient program, care is available around the clock to help you manage your detox process and begin your subsequent treatment process. Residential alcohol treatment programs are best for someone with a chronic, severe alcohol use disorder or those who have tried outpatient treatment options in the past and have since relapsed.
Outpatient programs involve participating in treatment during the day while still living at home in the evenings. Most outpatient treatment programs involve individual and group therapy sessions between one and five times per week. Outpatient treatment may be beneficial for those with a mild addiction or for whom this is their first time in rehab.
Get Help at Alta Centers
If you or a loved one are ready to quit drinking, medically supervised alcohol detoxification at Alta Centers can help. Contact a member of our admissions team today to learn more about detox and alcohol addiction treatment.