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  • Alcohol use disorder, also called AUD or alcohol addiction, is a serious illness that makes you feel unable to control your alcohol consumption despite negative consequences, such as damaged relationships or careers. 

    Fortunately, AUD is treatable. In most cases, treatment begins with detoxification to manage the symptoms of alcohol withdrawal.

    What Is An Alcohol Detox Program?

    In an alcohol detox program, a team of medical professionals helps you slowly and safely stop drinking alcohol. 

    Most detox programs are inpatient, meaning you live at a treatment facility and receive 24/7 medical supervision. However, some people choose outpatient detox. 

    That means they live at home while regularly attending a treatment facility. Many people like this option because it’s cheaper and less disruptive to your daily life.

    Outpatient Vs. Inpatient Detox

    Outpatient detox isn’t safe for everyone, as it doesn’t provide constant medical attention. You should choose inpatient detox if you:

    For more help deciding between inpatient or outpatient detox, talk to your doctor. 

    Find An Alcohol Rehab Program Near You

    The Purpose Of Alcohol Detox

    To recover from alcohol use disorder, you must stop using alcohol. When quitting alcohol, most people with AUD experience withdrawal symptoms due to alcohol dependence. Alcohol dependence means your body relies on alcohol to function normally. 

    You’re more likely to experience alcohol withdrawal syndrome if you quit drinking on your own or suddenly (“cold turkey”). Because detox provides personalized medical advice, it can help you avoid or reduce withdrawal symptoms. 

    Acute Withdrawal Symptoms

    Alcohol withdrawal symptoms often appear within eight hours after your last drink. In general, symptoms peak (reach their most severe point) within two or three days before starting to gradually fade. They may last for weeks or even months. 

    Most people only experience mild-to-moderate withdrawal symptoms, such as:

    Severe Withdrawal Symptoms & Delirium Tremens

    Some people also experience a severe form of alcohol withdrawal called delirium tremens (DTs). Typically starting two to five days after the last drink, DTs causes symptoms like:

    • fever
    • confusion
    • high blood pressure
    • hallucinations (seeing, hearing, or feeling things that aren’t there)
    • seizures

    When left untreated, DTs can be life-threatening. 

    You’re more likely to experience DTs if you:

    • drink 4 to 5 pints of wine, 7 to 8 pints of beer, or 1 pint of “hard” alcohol (like vodka, whiskey, or tequila) daily for several months
    • have a history of alcohol withdrawal and heavy drinking
    • have used alcohol for more than 10 years
    • have a co-occurring mental health disorder

    What To Expect During Alcohol Detox

    When you enter a detox program, a team of health care providers will collect important information about your health, such as:

    • your age
    • your weight
    • the length and severity of your alcohol abuse
    • any preexisting physical or mental health conditions
    • any family history of substance abuse

    Next, they’ll design a personalized detox plan. In most cases, detox lasts between three and seven days. However, some people must stay in the program longer. 

    Medical Monitoring & Supervision

    During the detox process, your doctors will closely monitor your blood pressure, heart rate, body temperature, and breathing rate. They’ll also watch for mild-to-severe withdrawal symptoms and provide medical care if necessary. 

    Medication, If Necessary 

    Your doctors may prescribe medications to ease more severe withdrawal symptoms. 

    Benzodiazepines, such as diazepam (Valium) or lorazepam (Ativan), can treat panic, anxiety, and seizures. Unfortunately, they pose a high risk of drug abuse, so it’s important to take them exactly as prescribed. 

    Other medications that can ease alcohol withdrawal symptoms include:

    • clonidine, which can treat high blood pressure
    • anticonvulsants like carbamazepine (Tegretol), gabapentin (Neurontin), and oxcarbazepine (Trileptal), which can treat seizures and anxiety
    • antipsychotics like haloperidol, which can treat hallucinations

    Wellness Activities

    In some cases, your doctors may also promote wellness activities to make detox more comfortable. Depending on the treatment facility, these activities may include:

    • nutritional guidance
    • massage therapy
    • meditation
    • yoga

    What To Expect After Alcohol Detox

    While medical detox is essential, it only addresses the physical element of addiction. Once you finish detoxing, you can transition to a drug addiction treatment program that addresses the disease’s psychological elements. 

    Most treatment programs offer services such as:

    • individual therapy, where you can learn healthy coping skills to help you manage alcohol cravings and achieve your recovery goals
    • family therapy, where you and your loved ones can learn to repair relationships damaged by alcohol abuse and help you maintain recovery 
    • support groups, where you can share experiences and coping skills with other people recovering from alcohol use disorder

    Your doctors may also prescribe medications to help you avoid relapse. These drugs include:

    • acamprosate, which decreases alcohol cravings
    • disulfiram, which causes unpleasant side effects, such as headache and nausea, when you drink alcohol
    • naltrexone, which blocks the pleasant effects of alcohol

    If you or a loved one struggles with alcohol abuse, please contact an Ark Behavioral Health specialist to learn about our comprehensive addiction treatment options, including medical detox.

    Written by Ark Behavioral Health Editorial Team
    ©2023 Ark National Holdings, LLC. | All Rights Reserved.
    This page does not provide medical advice.

    National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism - An Overview of Outpatient and Inpatient Detoxification
    U.S. National Library of Medicine: MedlinePlus - Alcohol Use Disorder (AUD) Treatment
    U.S. National Library of Medicine: MedlinePlus - Alcohol withdrawal
    U.S. National Library of Medicine: MedlinePlus - Delirium tremens

    Medically Reviewed by
    Manish Mishra, MBBS
    on June 28, 2021
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