Alcohol withdrawal can be challenging to overcome and sometimes life-threatening. Your decision to stop drinking is a great start to a healthier life, but alcohol detox is the safest way to start.
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What is Alcohol Detoxification?
When someone decides to suddenly stop drinking, they’re likely to experience symptoms of alcohol withdrawal.
Alcohol detox encompasses the natural process in the body as it tries to rid the system of waste products and toxins accumulated from long-term alcohol consumption. Detoxification is a period of medical treatment that involves medication, medical observation, and counseling to help someone overcome physical and psychological dependence on alcohol.
Those who’ve been drinking heavily for a long time are likely to experience adverse side effects during detox, which can be dangerous.
Prolonged alcohol use can lead to tolerance and the development of alcohol use disorders (AUD). This can cause biological changes that disrupt the brain’s balance and makes it impossible for a person to maintain a healthy state.
Our Alcohol Detox Process
Alcohol detoxification is different at every treatment facility. Detoxification can happen in inpatient and outpatient settings, but close medical monitoring is recommended for most users.
Phase 1: Intake
Our medical team completes a comprehensive review of drug and alcohol use, a medical evaluation, and an overview of the psychiatric histories of new patients to understand your unique situation.
Phase 2: Medication
Depending on your withdrawal symptoms and history, you might need medication-assisted treatment to mitigate the side effects of alcohol detox. Medications can also target any co-occurring disorders and general discomfort.
Phase 3: Stabilization
Finally, you’ll receive medical and psychological therapies to help stabilize you and reach a balance of mind and body. Most patients are encouraged to continue their alcohol addiction treatment journey in an inpatient or intensive outpatient setting.
Learn More About Alcohol Withdrawal
Alcohol withdrawal is common in everyone that has developed an alcohol dependence – when the body and brain need alcohol to feel and function properly. As the alcohol starts to leave their system, they experience withdrawal symptoms that can be very uncomfortable.
Common Withdrawal Symptoms
You don’t have to be an alcoholic to experience common alcohol withdrawal symptoms. Many of these symptoms mimic the side effects of a hangover, such as:
- Higher heart rate
- Trouble sleeping
- Nausea and vomiting
- Poor appetite
- Poor memory
- Higher sensitivity to light and sounds
Severe Withdrawal Symptoms
Those who struggle with an alcohol use disorder or tend to be heavy drinkers are more likely to experience severe withdrawal symptoms. These symptoms can put someone in substantial danger, especially if they don’t have the right support system and professional help by their side. Common severe alcohol withdrawal symptoms include:
- Delusional thinking
- Delirium tremens
Withdrawal Severity Factors
The severity of withdrawal symptoms depends on many variables, and it can vary from person to person. It’s impossible to predict precisely how someone will withdraw from alcohol addiction, which is why seeking medical attention is so important.
Common factors that affect the severity of withdrawal include:
- How long has someone been abusing alcohol
- The quantity of alcohol they consume
- How frequently they drink
- History with addiction to other substances
- Family addiction history
- Pre-existing physical conditions
- Co-occurring mental health conditions
Alcohol Withdrawal Timeline
On average, alcohol detox takes between 7-10 days. However, alcohol withdrawal is different for everyone who goes through it. For most people, the process lasts a couple of days. For others, it can take months for their protracted withdrawal symptoms to go away.
8 hours: The first withdrawal symptoms someone will experience are shakes or restlessness. This, alongside common withdrawal signs like sweating and agitation, will remain for the first day.
24-72 hours: Around this time, symptoms will reach their peak for most patients. Some might experience irritability, hallucinations, and mental confusion. Almost 30% of patients will experience hallucinations at this stage. In this time window, delirium tremens and cardiac arrest can become a concern to some patients, so medical supervision is necessary.
5-7 days: by the end of the first week, most symptoms will begin to get better and decrease in intensity. Physical withdrawal symptoms will likely be under control and sometimes nonexistent. However, psychological side effects are likely to continue for weeks without treatment.
Alcohol Withdrawal Stages
The stages of alcohol withdrawal will depend on the factors discussed above for the severity. However, three clear steps occur during the alcohol withdrawal process.
Stage 1: Severity is low or mild and occurs during the first two days of detoxification. Symptoms at this stage include:
- Hand tremors
- Poor sleep
- Stress or anxiety
- Stomach problems
- Loss of appetite
- Nausea and vomiting
- Foggy thoughts
- Mood swings
- Heart palpitations
Stage 2: This stage occurs after the initial withdrawal symptoms have peaked and can vary in intensity. However, most people, especially those without counseling, experience severe symptoms, including:
- Mental confusion
- Increased blood pressure
Stage 3: At last, these symptoms are sporadic and happen without warning. Sometimes, these symptoms don’t start after a week someone’s completed their detox process. Since alcohol affects the central nervous system (CNS), it is common for people to experience signs directly tied to this system. Symptoms at this stage include:
- Delirium tremens
- Suicidal thoughts
- Intense alcohol cravings
How Is Alcohol Withdrawal Treated?
Medical detox focuses on offering a comfortable, stable, and safe environment for someone to undergo the withdrawal process. Depending on someone’s symptoms and potential risks, detox may include observation and monitoring, while others need medical interventions to prevent life-threatening consequences.
Medications Used During Alcohol Detox
To maintain patients’ systems in balance and avoid significant side effects, sometimes medications are used in alcohol detox. Benzodiazepines, including Librium, Valium, and Ativan, are commonly used to treat alcohol withdrawal and prevent alcohol withdrawal seizures. Additional anticonvulsant drugs are often used as well.
Medications are usually prescribed to treat alcohol withdrawal syndrome or those with symptoms that don’t cease after a week or two.
Depending on the types of symptoms and other co-occurring conditions, antipsychotics, other sedatives, and blood pressure medications can also be prescribed to ease the withdrawal process and keep patients safe.
Keep in mind. The medical team conducts a complete evaluation and assessment to determine whether or not someone can complete a medication-assisted treatment program at home in an outpatient setting or if they need to be entered into an inpatient level of care for close monitoring.
Especially in the cases of long-term alcohol abusers, detoxing cold turkey can be dangerous and even fatal. Because there is no way of knowing whether or not someone will experience adverse side effects to withdrawal from alcohol, professionals always recommend medical detox at a hospital, rehab facility, or a detox center to better manage the symptoms.
Additionally, people with polysubstance abuse, meaning they use more than one substance simultaneously, can carry greater risk.
We are here to support you during your time of need and help you make the best decision for yourself or your loved one. Click below to speak to a member of our staff directly.
Life After Alcohol Detox
In most cases, detox is merely the first step into addiction recovery. Getting rid of the alcohol in the body will not cure alcoholism. While it might help clear someone’s mindset for a minute or so, it won’t address their addictive behavior or struggles with substance abuse. To fully understand life after detox, it’s important to pursue treatment, whether through an inpatient or an outpatient level of care to address the underlying causes of your addiction.
Beyond medical care, seeking substance abuse treatment is paramount for long-term sobriety and recovery. Attending support group meetings and receiving professional psychotherapy is part of evidence-based treatment for addiction that’s proven to be effective.
Frequently Asked Questions About Alcoholism Treatment
How long does alcohol withdrawal last?
Alcohol withdrawal symptoms start within 8 hours after the last drink, but it can sometimes happen days later. Most symptoms will peak by 24-72 hours, but psychological symptoms last for weeks. On average, most people struggle with alcohol withdrawal for about 8 days. Factors such as how long a person has been drinking, age, weight, and metabolism can also impact the length and severity of withdrawal symptoms they experience.
How long does alcohol stay in your system?
Even non-alcoholics wonder how long alcohol stays in the system. Technically, a healthy liver can process one drink per hour. However, alcohol can stay in urine for up to 80 hours, in hair for up to three months, and in blood for up to 24 hours.
Can alcohol withdrawal cause muscle spasms?
Yes. In fact, muscle spasms are one of the most common side effects of alcohol withdrawal and can start to happen within a few hours of your last drink. Some people might have mild hand tremors and muscle twitching, while others will have muscle spasms that feel like a full-body seizure.
Can alcohol withdrawal cause chest pain?
Yes. Alcohol addiction can cause heart damage, and it’s common for people going through withdrawal to experience chest tightness.
Does Insurance Cover Alcohol Detox?
Insurance plans will cover some or all the cost of alcohol rehab programs. Individual insurance companies each have their criteria and medical necessity guidelines.
If you or a loved one are considering entering alcohol addiction treatment and looking to obtain detailed information about your insurance plan, call our trained and compassionate staff today to learn about your insurance plan’s behavioral health care coverage.
Alcohol Detox at Lighthouse Recovery Village
Medical detox is by far the safest option you can choose to stop drinking. At Lighthouse Recovery Institute, we monitor patients 24/7 to ensure no discomfort or struggles during their withdrawal.
Following detox, you will be ready to begin treatment for alcohol addiction. Lighthouse Recovery Institute offers many different treatment options, including inpatient and outpatient rehab programs. Rehab is a proven and effective treatment method that addresses alcohol use disorder’s physical and psychological hurdles.
National Institute on Drug Abuse. Principles of Drug Addiction Treatment: A Research-Based Guide (Third Edition).
Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. Detoxification and Substance Abuse Treatment.
National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. Understanding Alcohol Use Disorder.
Bruns, Michael J. Delirium Tremens (DTs).
National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. Alcohol Facts and Statistics.
National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. Alcohol’s Effects on the Body.