Why You Should Go to Detox for Alcohol Withdrawal

Deciding to stop drinking takes courage. It’s hard to separate yourself from alcohol, especially if you suffer from an alcohol use disorder or your body has become dependent on alcohol. If you’ve tried to quit in the past, you may also experience feelings of fear and discomfort if you’ve been through alcohol withdrawal.

Once you’ve decided to quit, one of the first steps toward sobriety is detox. Before changing your drinking behaviors, it’s essential to consult with a doctor as alcohol withdrawal can be life-threatening. It’s also important to know what to expect while detoxing to keep yourself safe and healthy if you experience alcohol withdrawal syndrome.

Alcohol Withdrawal Symptoms

Alcohol is toxic, and when you drink too much, it negatively affects your physical, mental, and emotional well-being. If you drink heavily and suddenly reduce your alcohol intake, your body needs to readjust to functioning without alcohol.

During this process, you may experience alcohol withdrawal syndrome (AWS). Symptoms of AWS range from mild to severe depending on how much and how often you drink. The first signs of AWS can occur as soon as 5 hours after your last drink and include:

  • Sweating
  • Nausea
  • Anxiety
  • Trouble sleeping
  • Rapid heartbeat

Mild AWS symptoms typically last 1-2 days.

In more severe cases of AWS, symptoms may continue and evolve into delirium tremens (DT). While rare, DT primarily occurs in adults with a history of alcohol withdrawal. Symptoms include:

  • Body tremors
  • Hallucinations
  • Confusion
  • Seizures

DT is a medical emergency. If you or a loved one is experiencing signs of DT, seek immediate help.

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What is Alcohol Detox

The first step in treating AWS is detox, which eliminates toxins from the body and allows the nervous system to adjust to the absence of alcohol. Alcohol detox can last anywhere from a few days to a few weeks, depending on the severity of symptoms. It is either done at home as an outpatient treatment or in a rehabilitation facility as inpatient treatment.

Inpatient Detox

If you’re experiencing severe signs of AWS, your doctor may suggest a supervised medical detox at a hospital or treatment center. It is crucial to receive proper medical care if you suffer from existing health conditions such as heart disease or diabetes.

You may also want to consider inpatient detox if your home doesn’t feel like a safe space to detox or if you’ve unsuccessfully tried to stop drinking in the past. During inpatient detox, a medical professional monitors and manages your symptoms.

Outpatient Detox

If it’s your first time going through alcohol withdrawal, your doctor may advise an at-home detox. While detoxing at home, you’ll need a trusted friend or family member to monitor your symptoms and contact a medical professional in case of an emergency. Detox somewhere quiet with minimal lighting to reduce the intensity of symptoms.

Additional Treatment Options

Detox is the first step toward sobriety. If you want to continue your journey, your doctor may suggest additional treatment options to help manage withdrawal symptoms and address your drinking cause.

  • Behavioral Therapy: This type of treatment helps identify the underlying cause of your drinking. You’ll attend 1-on-1 therapy sessions with a licensed therapist who will provide you with tools to manage your drinking behaviors.
  • Group Therapy/Support Group: The start of sobriety can feel isolating, and group therapy is a great way to connect with others experiencing similar challenges. A therapist will moderate the group therapy sessions, but lessons and tools often come from those within the group.
  • Medications: The FDA has approved three medications (naltrexone, acamprosate, and disulfiram) to reduce alcohol cravings and manage alcohol withdrawal symptoms. The medications may be prescribed by a doctor and work best when in conjunction with additional treatment.

Tips for Detoxing from Alcohol at Home

If your doctor decides you’re healthy enough to detox at home, there are precautions you can take for a more positive detoxing experience.

Make a Plan

Developing a plan for detox and after detox helps keep you on track to sobriety. Talk to your doctor about the steps you need to take to stay safe and healthy. Your plan may include additional treatment, short and long-term sobriety goals, and guides for navigating situations during recovery.

Remove Alcohol From the Home

An important step to a successful detox is to remove alcohol from your detox space. Get rid of any beer, liquor, wine, and household products with a high alcohol content like rubbing alcohol or mouthwash. If you’re unable to remove alcohol from your home or you live with others who may be suffering from alcohol use disorder, stay with a trusted friend or family member.

Stay Hydrated

During detox, your body pushes out toxins through sweat, stool, and urine. With the toxins, your body will also be eliminating water, so it’s important to stay hydrated. Drink water and other fluids throughout detox. If you’re struggling to keep water in your body and begin exhibiting symptoms of dehydration, you may need to visit a doctor for an IV of fluids.

Don’t Schedule Any Outings or Work Meetings

Some people experience symptoms that resemble a mild cold, while others go through more physically draining withdrawal. To avoid having to work through the symptoms, take at least a week off work and refrain from scheduling other social engagements during that time. If you don’t feel comfortable explaining why you need time off, you can simply say you need time for medical reasons. Your employers don’t need details unless you feel comfortable sharing them.

Eat Healthy Foods

Once you begin feeling well enough to eat, you want to nourish your body. Fill your kitchen with fresh produce, whole grains, and protein-packed foods such as fish and lean meats.

Surround Yourself with Supportive Individuals

You want to surround yourself with friends and family who support your decision to stop drinking. Limit your communication with individuals who don’t respect your decision and know it’s okay to end relationships with people who don’t support your health goals.

If you or a loved one suffers from alcohol use disorder, call 800-948-8417 Who Answers? to speak with a treatment specialist and get the help you need.

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