Interested in learning more about alcohol detox? The first step on the road to recovery from alcoholism/alcohol addiction is admitting that you have a problem. Once you are at this stage, you are open to the idea of rehabilitation, but before that it may be necessary for you to complete a programme of detoxification.
Most people suffering from alcoholism/alcohol misuse will need to detox. To suddenly stop drinking however, can be quite dangerous and it is not uncommon to experience alcohol withdrawal syndrome particularly if an individual has been drinking heavily for some time.
The process of alcohol detox involves getting rid of alcohol from the body; during this process, it is common for individuals to suffer from alcohol withdrawal symptoms, all varying in severity. These symptoms can include mild sweating, shaking, mood swings, nausea, vomiting, diarrhoea, and hallucinations.
How Does Alcohol Affect the Body?
Alcohol is a depressant and ‘slows down’ or numbs the mind and body. The first time a person drinks alcohol, the body will try to resist the effects by accelerating certain functions. As the effects of alcohol wear off, the body again tries to counteract this in order to get back to normal. This can result in the individual feeling uncomfortable and may result in him or her drinking again to take the edge off. This new dose will provide temporary relief (alcohol dependency), but the body will again try to resist the effects.
Those who continue to abuse/misuse alcohol will experience a cycle of highs and lows and, as their body begins to get used to the increasing dependence on effects of alcohol, it will become necessary to drink larger quantities, or more often, to experience the desired effects. This is known as alcohol tolerance. In general, once the body becomes tolerant to the effects of alcohol, it will not be long before it begins to crave it and the affected individual will feel compelled to drink, even if doing so causes negative consequences.
Overtime prolonged and excessive alcohol abuse can lead to a variety of medical complications including liver damage, respiratory failure, memory loss and various classifications of alcoholic dementia. Common symptoms observed during the last stages of severe chronic alcoholism; involves loss of memory for recent events and such as alcohol amnestic disorder, Korsakoff’s psychosis, Korsakoff’s syndrome, Korsakov’s psychosis, Korsakov’s syndrome and polyneuritic psychosis.
What Is Alcohol Withdrawal?
When a person with alcoholism/alcohol dependency decides to get help, he or she will usually be advised to complete an alcohol detox programme, which will eliminate alcohol from the body. Nevertheless, once the supply of alcohol is suddenly cut off, the body will react by trying to get back to its normal baseline. Initially, it will be expecting the usual dosage and will continue to overcompensate in the meantime because of this effect, some rehab centres use a phased alcohol detox timeline.
The effect of this is a variety of alcohol withdrawal symptoms and side effects, which can range from mild to severe. The aim of alcohol detox is to get rid of ethanol from the body completely so that the mind and body can begin to heal. Nonetheless, those who are going through the process will usually feel miserable as they try to manage the unpleasant alcohol withdrawal symptoms.
Detoxing from Alcohol
In general, those who are detoxing from alcohol will begin to notice withdrawal symptoms / side effects between six and twelve hours after their last drink. At this stage, there may still be alcohol in their system, but as the body begins to realise that a new dose is not forthcoming, it will react, which can lead to symptoms such as anxiety, mood swings, sweating, restlessness, shaking, and insomnia.
During alcohol detox, the mind and body overcompensate as they come to terms with the fact that no more alcohol is being consumed, and one of the earliest signs tends to be tremors or shaking. Some individuals will experience very mild shaking, which some describe as a fluttering while others will experience severe shaking that affects their ability to function.
Alcohol Detox – Withdrawal Symptoms
Unfortunately, there is no method of detox that would be considered completely pleasant. Because detox involves separation from alcohol, your body will experience some very definite withdrawal symptoms as it breaks its dependence. Withdrawal symptoms normally start to develop within 3 to 8 hours from the time you take your last drink. It is important that these withdrawal symptoms not deter you from completing detox.
- Obviously, each alcoholic reacts differently to detox. The severity and length of your withdrawal symptoms will likely be different from any others going through the same detox with you. As a rule however, most addicts are free of withdrawal symptoms within 5 to 7 days. Alcohol cravings can last a bit longer for some people.
Roughly one in every 20 alcoholics undergoing alcohol detox experiences something known as delirium tremens (DT). This condition is a more severe withdrawal that can include involuntary tremors, excessive agitation, and hallucinations. When a patient experiences DT, it could also lead to additional problems, including dehydration. If not managed by medical professionals, it could even result in death.
For this reason, it is recommended that alcoholics never attempt to detox on their own. Undergo the procedure only under the care of trained medical professionals.
Other common Early Alcohol Detox Withdrawal Symptoms Include:
- loss of appetite
- alcohol cravings
- trouble sleeping
- rapid heart rate
- mood swings
- trouble concentrating
- Most of the early symptoms of alcohol widthdrawal will subside within a few days, although some, such as trouble sleeping, can last for a number of weeks.
Hallucinations affect around a quarter of those detoxing from alcohol abuse, and these usually occur around one to two days after the last drink. Many individuals who get hallucinations will first experience what appears to be fleeting shadows. This can progress to seeing things that are not there. Some people will hear or smell things that others cannot. Hallucinations can be quite vivid and intense and can cause those affected to become fearful and paranoid. Although they are not life-threatening, they can be terrifying and can cause some individuals to harm themselves or others.
Many alcoholics never get the help they need because they are terrified of the DTs (delirium tremens). These are severe alcohol withdrawal symptoms that occur in a minority of cases, and they can be fatal if not treated correctly. DTs can occur around two to three days after the last drink, but some people experience them well into their second week of detox. DTs cause severe hallucinations that can result in intense sweating, shaking, and paranoia.
Patients often lose all sense of reality and may become violent. Severe DTs can lead to shock, dehydration, high blood pressure, and heart irregularities. In extreme cases, they can cause convulsions and death. The DTs are considered a medical emergency and those affected require immediate hospitalisation.
The Purpose of Detox
The detoxification process is one of allowing your body to naturally cleanse itself of alcohol and its related compounds. It’s nearly impossible to break an alcohol addiction without undergoing a formal detox procedure. That said, there are medications that can be used to control withdrawal symptoms and make detox easier.
Once alcohol detox has been successfully completed, the recovering alcoholic can then set about changing his or her life. Sometimes that means attending an Alcoholics Anonymous support group or engaging in some one-on-one counselling with a professional. Other times it means a 4 to 12 week rehab programme through an outpatient or residential clinic.
Time Needed for Detox
Alcohol detoxification normally takes anywhere from 3-14 days. How quickly an individual completes detox relies on a number of different factors that can include the severity of the alcohol problem, the individual’s overall health, the presence of any additional issues (like mental illness), and the person’s commitment to overcoming alcohol addiction. Seven days is about average for most people.
Will Withdrawal Symptoms Subside?
As stated earlier, alcohol withdrawal symptoms usually begin to occur within 6-12 hours of the last drink. If alcohol intake is reduced gradually, the onset of withdrawal symptoms will be gradual as well. Symptoms tend to peak on the second or third day, before beginning to subside. The average alcoholic is symptom-free in about 10-14 days, though cravings and sleeping problems can persist for some time after.
Alcohol abuse and dependence are serious issues requiring professional help. If you or someone you care about is in need of alcohol detox, please seek help right away by locating a residential clinic specialising in detox and rehab and securing immediate admission.
Where to Find Alcohol Detox?
Alcohol detox can be conducted on an outpatient or inpatient basis. Most of the time it is handled as an inpatient procedure at a residential treatment centre staffed by doctors, nurses and therapists who have the skills and resources to ensure a safe and effective treatment. Outpatient detox is offered through the NHS and some private clinics.
The best choice of treatment facilities is dictated by the patient’s age, history of substance abuse, coexisting medical conditions, and underlying mental or psychosocial issues. It is important that you find the right detox program and facility for your needs.
Supervised Alcohol Detox
It is advised that anyone suffering from alcohol addiction undergo a programme of supervised detox. Detoxing in a medically-supervised facility means being safe and comfortable at all times.
While not everyone detoxing from alcohol addiction will experience severe withdrawal symptoms, it is impossible to predict who will and who will not. For that reason, it is far safer to do so under the supervision of medical professionals.
If you or a loved one requires information on detox programmes, please contact They can provide you with help and support as well as information on where you can access alcohol detox programmes suited to your needs and your budget.
It is becoming more common these days for GPs to recommend outpatient detox using a benzodiazepine medication. The medication is used to help manage withdrawal symptoms among alcoholics who are motivated to stop drinking. Outpatient detox usually follows a path similar to the following:
- Your GP prescribes medication and provides a schedule by which you take it. You will take the highest dose on your first day and gradually reduce it over the next week or so. This will help manage withdrawal symptoms.
- During your week of detox, you will regularly see your GP or a nurse. These visits are designed to track your progress, monitor your general health, and ensure you are not drinking alcohol.
- If your GP or nurse suspects you are still drinking, you may be required to take a breathalyser test. Be warned: if you continue drinking while taking your medication, you’ll render the medication useless. Any future attempts to detox may result in withdrawal symptoms at their worst.
- Often a GP will enlist the help of a family member or friend to provide support during your detox. That person may be asked to make sure you take your medication throughout its entire course.
You should know that some alcoholics manage detox quite easily while others find it incredibly difficult. That’s normal. Don’t be surprised if you feel very nervous or anxious for the first few days. Also, do not be surprised if you have some trouble sleeping. While medication does ease withdrawal symptoms, it will not eliminate them altogether.
Other Things to Note
You must be made aware that any medication used will not make you stop drinking; only you can do that. Your determination to get well, despite any cravings for alcohol you may still have, is the most important factor in the entire equation.
Your doctor will likely prescribe a vitamin regimen to be taken during detox and for a little while after. This is to replace many of the nutrients that were lost during your time of alcohol dependence. If necessary, your GP might prescribe additional medications you can take to help reduce your alcohol cravings after detox. These medications are similar to benzodiazepines in that they are rendered useless if you continue to drink.
If your case is severe enough that outpatient detox with a GP is inappropriate, you might be recommended to seek alcohol detox at a residential clinic. A residential detox programme is administered by trained medical professionals with the experience and knowledge in handling even the most severe cases. If this is recommended for you, do not refuse it. It’s what you need to get well.
Ultimately, the goal is to complete detoxification and get you to a place where you are willing to abstain from alcohol for the rest of your life. Permanent abstinence is the only real cure for alcohol dependence. If you are not 100% committed to an alcohol-free life, the likelihood of relapse is rather high.
For the sake of yourself and your loved ones, we urge you to make the commitment to get well today.