Symptoms of Alcohol Detox

Alcohol detox symptoms can be both physical and psychological in nature. Some of the most common alcohol detox symptoms include nausea, vomiting, headache, fatigue, anxiety, and depression.

Detoxifying from alcohol is not easy, but with the right help, it’s possible to stop drinking for good without experiencing any alcohol withdrawal symptoms. Many alcohol detox centers offer safe treatments, which you should consider before deciding on your next steps.

Depending on the severity and length of your alcohol abuse disorder, you’ll have a choice of an appropriate level of care and the most appropriate therapy options for recovery. It’s also critical that you look into dual-diagnosis treatment.

This form of therapy happens after alcohol detox and includes treatment for underlying mental health challenges. Depression and other mood disorders are common in individuals suffering from alcohol abuse disorder, so it’s important to have these forms of treatment available during post-detox.

Before treatment, you must complete the detox portion of the recovery. The section below highlights alcohol detox and what to expect during this challenging process.

What Is Alcohol Detox?

What is alcohol detox? Alcohol detox is the process of removing alcohol from the body. When a person drinks alcohol, it is absorbed into the bloodstream and goes to the brain. pk

The alcohol then blocks certain brain receptors responsible for important processes like impulse control and how we make decisions. This is why alcohol can be so addictive and gives users such sharp cravings for more.

As a person continues to drink, they get accustomed to larger quantities. Eventually, the same amounts that used to give them those exciting feelings of intoxication no longer work, and physical dependence quickly forms.

This physical dependence leads to detox, triggering withdrawal side effects when alcohol concentration levels within the body reach zero.

Common Alcohol Detox Symptoms

When a person stops drinking, they go through an alcohol detox. During alcohol detox, the body goes into withdrawal and starts to rid itself of all the alcohol that has built up in a toxic form. Withdrawal is the body’s response to the sudden absence of alcohol and is more intense in more severe cases of alcohol abuse disorder.

During alcohol detox, withdrawal symptoms can be quite severe and even life-threatening in some cases. Before going through the detoxification process or deciding to move forward without help, it’s important that you’re aware of the most common alcohol detox symptoms.

  • Increased heart rate
  • Irritability
  • Shaking/tremors
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Muscle aches
  • Hot and cold
  • Delusions
  • Restlessness
  • Insomnia
  • Intense cravings


It’s worth noting that alcohol withdrawal also can induce seizures. This is why cold-turkey detox isn’t recommended and could potentially be deadly

The technical term for the symptoms listed above is alcohol withdrawal syndrome (AWS). Because of the distinct characteristics surrounding alcohol withdrawal, the process received its own medical classification.

This actually made it easier for physicians and clinical experts to study alcohol withdrawal, leading to more developed knowledge, various treatment options, and medication-assisted treatment options.

Alcohol Detox Symptoms

What Is Alcohol Withdrawal Syndrome?

What is alcohol withdrawal syndrome? Alcohol withdrawal syndrome (AWS) is a condition that can occur in people who are physically dependent on alcohol and suddenly stop drinking.

AWS is characterized by a range of symptoms, which can vary in severity from person to person. Some of the most common alcohol withdrawal symptoms include nausea, vomiting, headache, fatigue, anxiety, and depression.

AWS can be a life-threatening condition, and it’s important that you seek medical help if you experience withdrawal symptoms. Many alcohol detox centers offer safe and effective treatments for alcohol withdrawal syndrome, including medically-assisted detox.

Despite how minor or severe you believe your alcohol abuse disorder to be, medically-assisted detox and treatment are effective at every level.

People often interchangeably use the terms alcohol misuse, alcohol abuse, and alcohol addiction (or alcoholism), assuming they’re all exactly the same. While they have common similarities, there are a few subtle differences. Regardless of what category you consider yourself to fall under, alcohol detox and subsequent treatment can provide the help you need.

Alcohol Misuse vs. Alcohol Abuse. Vs. Alcoholism

Alcohol misuse is using alcohol in a way that health professionals do not recommend. This could include drinking alcohol when you’re pregnant, drinking too much alcohol at one time, or mixing alcohol with medication.

Alcohol abuse is using alcohol in a harmful way to yourself or others. This could include drinking to the point of blacking out, driving drunk, or fighting and injuring someone while under the influence of alcohol.

Alcoholism (or alcohol addiction) is a chronic disease that causes a person to compulsively drink alcohol, even when it’s causing problems in their lives and the lives of those around them. Alcoholism is a disease because alcohol disrupts normal body functions, such as metabolism and organ function, which can cause serious health complications over time.

Currently, there isn’t one specific treatment for alcoholism. However, medically-assisted detox provides various medications to help with the severity of withdrawal symptoms.

Causes of Alcohol Withdrawal

Alcohol withdrawal is the body’s reaction to the sudden abstinence from all alcohol. As the alcohol continuously vacates the body systems, the feelings of withdrawal may become more severe.

Initially, alcohol withdrawal is caused by developing physical dependence. Over time, the body gets used to only functioning with large quantities of alcohol. When this happens, the user’s brain is rewired, and receptors and other critical components no longer function the same way.

There are several tests available to determine an individual’s level of dependency on alcohol.

MAST Assessment

The MAST screening tool is a 25-question test that is used to help identify an alcohol dependency. MAST stands for The Michigan Alcohol Screening Test. Shortened and modified versions are published over time, including the Brief MAST, SMAST, and Mm-MAST.

CASE Assessment

The CAGE questionnaire is a 4-question screening tool that clinicians may use to help in the diagnosis of alcoholism. CAGE is an acronym for the focus of the questions. C – Cutting Down; A – Annoyance by Criticism; G – Guilty Feeling; E – Eye-opener.

Individuals who understand the alcohol withdrawal timeline enter detox more prepared for the most intense period. The following section contains a potential alcohol detox timeline.

Potential Alcohol Detox Timeline

The alcohol detox process can take anywhere from a few days to a few weeks, depending on the person’s alcohol dependence and how long they’ve been drinking. The first step in alcohol detox is to rid your body of all the alcohol you’ve been drinking.

  • 12-72 Hours. The body first begins to experience feelings of withdrawal between 12 and 16 hours after the last use. In fact, detox occurs in real-time as a user’s blood alcohol levels drop. This stage includes shaking, difficulty concentrating, headache, and irritability.
  • 2-5 Days. This is often the most intense period, and clients should be monitored heavily. Common symptoms include agitation, confusion, disorientation, delirium tremens, hallucinations, and paranoia.
  • 5-14 Days. Most of the physical symptoms are gone by this point, but mental side effects still continue to plague most users. Challenges with this stage include brain fog, depression, mood swings, nightmares, and nervousness.

Medically-assisted detox is critical in severe cases of alcohol abuse disorder. In fact, besides benzos, alcohol produces the only potentially fatal withdrawal symptoms.

Alcohol Detox Symptoms

Can I Die from Alcohol Withdrawal?

Alcohol withdrawal can potentially be fatal and causes a specific condition that’s normally the culprit of deaths during the detoxification period.

Alcohol withdrawal can cause delirium tremens (DTs), a life-threatening condition that can cause seizures, hallucinations, and even death. Another serious condition that can occur during alcohol detox is a wet brain, also known as Wernicke-Korsakoff syndrome. Wet brain is a neurological disorder that can cause vision problems, confusion, memory loss, and difficulty concentrating.

The dangers of alcohol withdrawal make medically-assisted detox even more practical. Several benefits exist when it comes to participating in this form of treatment.

Benefits of Medically-Assisted Detox

Choosing medically-assisted detox provides potentially life-saving advantages. Consider the following list of benefits before making your final decision.

  • Medically-assisted detox provides a 24-hour environment that includes care from medical professionals. Constant monitoring lowers the risk of clients developing potentially life-threatening challenges associated with the detox process.
  • Clients are provided with nutritional plans specifically catered to alcohol detox. During the process, some people are unable to keep food down. Medical staff can provide a healthy alternative that provides nourishment, including IV options for nutrition hydration.
  • Mental health professionals are also available to guide clients through the process. It’s important to have a strong support system during the most uncomfortable periods of detox to prevent relapse.
  • Additionally, clients will have access to medications that will make the detox process more manageable.

Medications to Assist In Detox

There are a number of medications that can be used to assist in alcohol detox. The most common medications used for alcohol detox are benzodiazepines, which are sedatives that help to calm the body and reduce the risk of alcohol withdrawal symptoms.

Other medications that may be used for alcohol detox include antidepressants, anti-anxiety medications, and beta-blockers. Additionally, promethazine may provide relief from nausea and stomach pains.

It’s important to note that not everyone who undergoes alcohol detox will need medication. Some people can detoxify safely and effectively without any medication. However, medication can be a lifesaver for those who experience severe alcohol withdrawal symptoms.

If you’re considering alcohol detox, it’s important to speak with a doctor or addiction specialist to find out if the medication is right for you. You should always consider medications like this as a short-term option and never a long-term solution.

Alcohol Detox Symptoms

Long-term Recovery from Alcohol Misuse

Choosing the right options for medically-assisted detox and treatment can lead to long-term recovery from alcohol misuse. However, it’s critical that individuals choose the right facilities and help craft a specific treatment plan that caters to their needs.

We’ve covered all of the aspects of the detox portion of recovery, but what about the treatment that comes after? What makes an effective treatment stay for individuals with alcohol abuse disorder?

The Mental Recovery

Perhaps the most difficult part of recovery is the return to a normalized way of thinking and processing emotions. During inpatient or outpatient rehab, mental health professionals are available for one-on-one talk therapy sessions, along with a number of more specific therapy options.

Behavioral Therapy

Behavioral therapy includes a long list of more specific methods of helping clients prepare for a return to a normal life. Through these various types of therapies, clients learn how to cope with their emotions better, without the need for alcohol.

Communication skills will also be an area of focus, and learn about behavioral skills and how they relate to potential relapse. Clients will learn what behaviors can potentially lead to relapse and how to avoid them.

Being prepared for a return to everyday life is essential for experiencing long-term recovery. Another form of therapy may provide substantial recovery as well.

Dual-Diagnosis Treatment

Dual diagnosis has become the go-to form of most treatment facilities. Instead of treating the addiction itself, mental health professionals began treating the underlying causes that may trigger the addiction.

By attacking the root disorders that trigger addict behavior, clients have greater odds of understanding why they abuse alcohol and how to avoid it in the future. All of these therapy models and educational resources must be continued after treatment, as well as a few additional dynamics added to the aftercare plan.

Aftercare Services at Pathfinders Recovery Centers

Aftercare services include the continuation of treatment for alcohol abuse disorder. This issue doesn’t just disappear, but with the right remedies, it can go dormant. However, clients must remain proactive in their mental health, participate in peer recovery groups, and take advantage of a strong support system.

All of these aftercare services are prepared for the client before they leave treatment. This makes it much easier to transition, leaving little to no room for error and possible relapse.

At Pathfinders Recovery Centers, we believe that all of these elements come together to form a successful environment for recovery. Our compassionate staff takes recovery seriously, and all of our clients receive a full-time effort. Contact one of our admissions specialists to find out how we can help you find recovery.


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