Alcoholism Detox

Medically Reviewed By Kayla Loibl | Last Edited : November 14, 
| 4 Sources

Everybody has various needs regarding treating alcohol use disorder (AUD), a condition that could be diagnosed when your alcohol use is problematic and brings about significant distress. It could range from mild to serious, depending on the symptoms you have. The care you would need depends on where you categorize in that range.

Some individuals with AUD become alcohol dependent and show withdrawal symptoms when they abruptly stop drinking. The withdrawal effects on your mind and body could be uncomfortable and harmful. That is where alcohol detox comes in.

Put simply, alcoholism detox (detoxification) is the process of cleansing the body after the long-term use of alcohol. Detoxification may be viewed as an important first step.

According to MedicineNet:

"Treatment requires first ending the physical dependence, then making lifestyle changes..."

The duration and intensiveness of the former (that is, ending the physical dependence) depends upon several factors such as the amount of that was being drunk, the length of a patient's drinking history and previous alcohol withdrawal attempts.

Important: If you drink on a regular basis you should consult a medical professional before you begin the Alcoholism Detox process.

Alcohol depresses a person’s central nervous system. This brings about feelings of euphoria and relaxation. Because the body generally works to retain balance, it would signal the brain to create more neurotransmitter receptors which stimulate or excite the central nervous system.

After prolonged use of alcohol, your body becomes highly dependent upon alcohol, especially your brain cells and your kidney and liver.

When you suddenly stop drinking, you remove alcohol from the receptors you originally had and also from the other receptors your body created. As a result, your central nervous system becomes overactive.

alcoholism detox

Thus, a sudden break in drinking can cause severe symptoms, formally known as alcohol withdrawal symptoms (AWS).

The period of detoxification from alcohol could be dangerous, and withdrawal symptoms could be severe - thus, a medical professional must be consulted before abruptly stopping alcohol use, particularly if one has been a chronic, excessive drinker.

Through an examination of the alcohol abuse history and physical tests (such as: complete blood count, liver function tests, and urine drug screen) a physician can diagnose what kind of withdrawal symptoms to expect.

The decision as to whether inpatient or outpatient treatment is needed will be according to the diagnosis and any alcohol detox information your physician/doctor thinks relevant to your case. (For more on alcohol detox at home, read outpatient alcohol detox)

Natural remedies 

The Minor Symptoms of Alcohol Detox

The less-severe symptoms of alcohol detox include:

  • Insomnia
  • shaking
  • mild anxiety
  • diarrhea
  • headaches
  • excessive sweating
  • heart palpitations
  • difficulty thinking clearly
  • nightmares

Severe Symptoms of Alcohol Detox

The more severe symptoms of alcohol detox can include:

  • A state of confusion and hallucinations (visual) -- known as delirium tremens(DT)
  • Agitation
  • Fever
  • Convulsions
  • "Black outs" -- when the person forgets what happened during their drinking history (not the same as alcoholic blackouts.)

There are alcoholism medications available such as diazepam, that are used to reduce the severity of alcoholism detox symptoms. A doctor/physician will prescribe these if he or she thinks they will help.

Alcoholism Detox Information
The Symptoms are Not Only Physical

If you decide to go through alcoholism detox then that is good, but it is only the first step.

However, weaning yourself off alcohol is not enough if you want to stay stopped.

The vast majority of alcohol addicts drink to escape from problems, the past or difficult issues they are not willing to deal with.

Also if you have been drinking for a long time you have acquired a lifestyle based around alcohol.

Confronting your problems without alcohol and breaking the habits you built up over years of alcohol abuse are difficult to things to do. Just stopping drinking is not going to change your lifestyle.

That is why many choose to go through treatment programs and join support groups to help them stay off alcohol and confront life without the bottle.

Inpatient Alcohol Treatment

During inpatient treatment the alcoholic will go through difficult emotional and mental symptoms from withdrawal. It's important for the alcoholic to understand why he or she became addicted to alcohol in the first place.

The psychological support through counseling is not less important than the physical treatment. Counseling is generally done one-on-one and in group sessions.

An 'ex'-alcoholic explains:

"Perhaps even more important than the medications are the peer sessions, discussion periods, informational classes and the simple fact of being able to intermingle with others in your program. Life's problems seem a little less severe when they are shared with others."

For more on choosing an alcoholism treatment center, read 'Choosing Alcohol Treatment Facilities.'


The American Society of Addiction Medicine lists three immediate goals for detoxification of alcohol and other substances:

  • “to provide a safe withdrawal from the drug(s) of dependence and enable the patient to become drug-free”
  • “to provide a withdrawal that is humane and thus protects the patient’s dignity”
  • “to prepare the patient for ongoing treatment of his or her dependence on alcohol or other drugs.

Although alcoholism detox is a good start, it can not address the underlying disease of alcohol addiction by itself. In order to achieve full rehabilitation and recovery the alcohol detox treatment must be followed by after-care.

This is where it's critical to surround yourself with a support network, let the people who close to you know what you are going through. Also, disengage yourself from the people who used to drink with you.

It is a challenging phase when you need to implement the strategies learned during treatment and practice refusal skills so you will not fall into drinking again. Make sure you have an effective relapse prevention plan.

It is best to be in touch with an addiction specialist (a counselor/therapist) who will monitor your progress and guide you through living a life free of alcohol.

If you or someone close to you wants help and advice on quitting drinking then take a look at the following pages:

Lead Writer/Reviewer : Kayla Loibl

Licensed Medical Health Professional 


I am a Mental Health Counselor who is licensed in both New York (LMHC) and North Carolina (LCMHC). I have been working in the Mental Health field since 2015. I have worked in a residential setting, an outpatient program and an inpatient addictions program. I began working in Long Island, NY and then in Guelph, Ontario after moving to Canada. Read More


WebMD. Alcohol Detox and Rehab Programs: What to Know.

Healthline. How Long Does It Take to Detox from Alcohol?. June 10, 2019.

Mental Health. Alcohol Detox Symptoms, Timeline, Medications and Treatment.

Cambridge University Press. Management of alcohol detoxification. January 2, 2018.

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