woman begins alcohol detoxAlcohol detox is the first step in getting sober. Many people may feel nervous about trying to quit using alcohol because they fear withdrawal symptoms. It is true that withdrawal symptoms commonly accompany alcohol detox. But that doesn’t mean people should avoid trying to get sober. Instead, it means the best option for getting sober is with an alcohol detox center that provides safety and comfort while undergoing detox.

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Alcohol Detox Overview

Alcohol detox centers specialize in helping people with alcohol detox. Recent data shows most people attempt to detox from alcohol at home without professional support. But seeking medical supervision and care to conduct detox is critical. That’s because withdrawal symptoms can be dangerous, bordering on life-threatening in cases of severe addiction. Alcohol withdrawal symptoms include:

  • Headache
  • Fever
  • Vomiting
  • Nausea
  • Hallucinations
  • Delirium tremens
  • Seizures

As a result, most alcohol detox programs are inpatient and focused on evaluation, stabilization, and aftercare. Evaluation happens upon entering a detox program—patients complete blood tests, mental health screenings, and a medical history. Detox centers need a holistic diagnosis of where someone is at the beginning of treatment to ensure they provide the right support and interventions.

Next comes stabilization. This phase prioritizes patient safety and comfort as they undergo detox and its attendant withdrawal symptoms. Most alcohol detox programs use medications to assist people in detoxing from alcohol. The most common medications in an alcohol detox program are benzodiazepines. This class of drugs works to suppress common withdrawal symptoms like tremors and anxiety.

Alcohol detox can be completed as quickly as one week. But care and support do not stop there. It could look like attending an inpatient or outpatient program, connecting with a support group, or attending a 12-step program.

Alcohol Detox Timeline

While withdrawal timelines may look different for everyone, it is possible to break the process down into several periods of time.

The First Hours

Alcohol withdrawal can begin as soon as a matter of hours after someone stops drinking. Early symptoms generally fall into the milder category, such as headaches and nausea.

The First Day

As the 24-hour point nears, symptoms may intensify. Things like tremors, seizures, and hallucinations become possible.

The First Week

Two days through the end of the first week are the most critical as people become most at-risk for some of the most dangerous side effects. Medical supervision is constant during this period to ensure withdrawal symptoms are handled, and people effectively navigate one of the most challenging pieces of recovery.

Beyond the First Week

Symptoms tend to taper off after the first week. Mild symptoms can persist beyond the first week but generally dissipate. The exception is for cases where people develop post-acute withdrawal syndrome (PAWS). PAWS typically impacts only those who have struggled with addiction for many years or who suffered from severe alcohol addiction. People with PAWS may experience lingering withdrawal symptoms for months beyond an initial detox.

After Detox, What Next?

As alluded to previously, completing an alcohol detox is just the first step. What follows detox largely determines long-term outlook and whether or not someone remains sober. Many alcohol detox programs support this transition by offering inpatient or outpatient recovery services that prioritize ongoing therapy, medication, and peer support to chart a healthy path forward. Recovery is predicated on equipping people with the tools, knowledge, and mental stability to maintain sobriety.

Learn more about what alcohol detox centers do to help people beat addiction.