Alcohol Detox: How To Detox Safely From Alcohol?

Millions of Americans suffer from addictions, including addiction to alcohol. Known as alcoholism, it is a disease recognized in modern medicine, and there is no certain medical cure. However, there are treatments that can guide a person into a life where they are no longer dependent on alcohol. The first step is an alcohol detox.

Alcohol Detox - Man with his head down on top of his folded arms on a table with a shot glass and a bottle of alcohol in from of him.

If you or someone you know has a problem with alcohol, you may recognize these symptoms:

  • Drinking two or more alcoholic drinks every day
  • Hiding your drinking from others
  • Needing to start your day with a drink just to get through activities of daily living
  • Spending an excessive amount of money on alcohol and possibly letting bills and other financial responsibilities slip
  • Legal trouble as the result of a DWI or DUI charge or conviction
  • Continuing to use alcohol even though it has had negative consequences
  • Physical symptoms of withdrawal if you try to stop drinking

If one or more of these symptoms are present, it is likely an indication of alcohol addiction, and the effects might be more widespread than an initial glance may reveal. It is important to remember that alcohol abuse is not always just affecting the consumer – it is estimated that more than 10% of U.S. children live with a parent with alcohol problems, which can have deleterious effects on other members of the family. 

The first step after recognizing symptoms is to seek treatment. Many times the first part of treatment is detox. Detox is the process of ridding the body of alcohol or other substances so that a person can get sober and hopefully stay sober through rehab and beyond. Detoxing from alcohol can be dangerous if attempted alone or in the unsupervised home setting.

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Withdrawal Symptoms

After a long period of continual drinking, a person may become physically dependent on alcohol. This physical dependence leads to withdrawal symptoms if the use of alcohol is stopped abruptly. Alcohol withdrawal can affect people differently based on the length of time drinking prior to stopping, medical history, the use of other substances, and individual body chemistry. Alcohol detox can therefore be best managed in a medically supervised detox facility by staff who are trained to plan the appropriate treatment for each person. General symptoms of alcohol withdrawal include:

  • Sweating
  • Shaking
  • Nausea
  • Anxiety and insomnia
  • General sense of being unwell

In some individuals, alcohol detox can induce delirium tremens, often known as the DTs. This is a much more serious form of alcohol withdrawal that can be fatal. Symptoms such as tremors, seizures, altered mental status, intense hallucinations, and rapid heart rate may point to DT if they occur after stopping alcohol after a long period of use. Typically it effects patients who have been using alcohol for multiple years and more often affects those of Caucasian descent. It is critical to seek treatment immediately if you think someone may be suffering from delirium tremens. Even the possibility of these symptoms is reason enough to get professional help to detox from alcohol.

What Happens during Alcohol Detox?

Patients arriving at the facility will go through an intake assessment and interview and then will be directed to the appropriate treatment area. Those receiving treatment for alcohol addiction will be evaluated based on the symptoms present at intake and time since their last use of alcohol. 

Patients who have used within 72 hours of their arrival may be more likely to detox in a medically supervised bed after initial intake. Those who are showing symptoms of moderate to severe alcohol withdrawal would also be ideal candidates for supervised alcohol detox. 

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Each person will detox at their own rate, but a common timeline for alcohol detox is five to ten days. During a medically supervised detox, patients are treated for their symptoms with fluids and possibly medications to help ease withdrawal symptoms, as well as proper nutrition and levels of activity. Patients suffering from DTs will be more intensely monitored and given appropriate medications to prevent cardiac and respiratory arrest – conditions that could otherwise lead to death.

Why Alcohol Detox at Home Isn’t a Good Idea

To some, the less severe symptoms of alcohol withdrawal may seem easy to manage at home. Many people focus on the physical symptoms and fail to realize that the mental and emotional withdrawals can be even harder to deal with. Even when a person is a few days sober after going through alcohol detox and starting to feel better physically; the intense cravings for alcohol, feelings of anxiety, and depression can be overwhelming. 

Detoxing at a licensed facility will provide 24-hour access to counselors who can help with the unseen symptoms of alcohol withdrawal. Those attempting to detox at home may try to do so for the very purpose of avoiding others, when in reality, help from others is essential for successful detox and continued recovery. 

Detoxing at home is not only dangerous because of the possibility of something going wrong medically. It is dangerous because the individual is typically still close to triggers and temptations to drink. If the person hasn’t rid their home of alcohol they may not make it past the first few hours of detox and drink to ease the symptoms of withdrawal. Detoxing in a facility removes the patient from easy access to alcohol or those who would provide it to them and instead ensures that they are safe and as comfortable as possible. 

After Detox: The Next Steps

When a patient has safely detoxified their body from alcohol, it is strongly recommended that they move onto the next phase of recovery which is rehab. After detox, patients have a clear body and a mind free of dangerous substances. Once this clarity of the mind is achieved, patients can start the real work of healing themselves mentally in a safe place. 

Inpatient rehabs give the best chance at recovery. This is due to the separation from the home life and associated triggers, being surrounded by trained medical staff and counselors, and proximity to peers who are going through the same types of experiences. The guidance of the professionals and the camaraderie of the patients give the greatest chance of returning home and maintaining the lifestyle of recovery.

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