How to Detox From Alcohol: Everything You Need to Know

A Doctor in a white lab coat writing the word DETOX on a board

According to the NIH, nearly 15 million people in the United States suffer from alcohol use disorder. However, less than 10% of this group seeks treatment for it. 

Dealing with a substance use disorder is never easy. Heavy alcohol consumption changes the way your mind and body function, leading to dependency and the potential for withdrawal symptoms.

Oftentimes, one of the first steps toward recovery is a detox from alcohol. However, not everyone can approach a detox at home or without support.

Read on to learn how to detox from alcohol, the signs that you shouldn’t attempt a detox at home, and what your treatment options are.

What Is an Alcohol Detox?

An alcohol detox is the sudden cessation of alcohol use. By cutting off alcohol consumption entirely, the body can begin to flush out alcohol. 

Alcohol detox is often an important first step because it gives the body and mind an opportunity to heal. With time, it can also lead to the mental clarity needed to begin to unpack the mental and emotional function of alcohol use and open the door to long-term sobriety. 

Why Do Some People Need an Alcohol Detox?

Substances like alcohol often produce feelings of relaxation or euphoria because they produce a surge of dopamine in the brain. Substance abuse leads to two major changes in the brain’s ability to “react” to dopamine:

  1. Tolerance: the brain begins to adapt to the frequent or constant presence of the substance, scaling back the reaction to dopamine and requiring the individual to consume more of a substance to feel that same level of pleasure
  2. Dependence: the brain stops releasing dopamine in response to other activities, like exercise or favored hobbies, and begins to respond only (or primarily) to the substance

If your brain has been “rewired” by alcohol use, it can be extremely challenging to simply “cut back” on alcohol consumption. Detoxing removes all of the alcohol from your system and gives your body and mind a chance to reset—although this process does come with challenges and potential health concerns.

What Is Alcohol Withdrawal?

When an individual develops an alcohol dependence, cessation from alcohol consumption will cause symptoms of withdrawal. This is because of the rewiring we mentioned above, as the brain and body will need to adjust when alcohol is flushed from the system. 

Individuals with alcohol use disorders may experience the early stages of withdrawal when they haven’t consumed alcohol for several hours. It is often by consuming alcohol that these withdrawal symptoms retreat, although the retreat is only temporary and the symptoms will return once again when alcohol begins to leave the system again. 

Withdrawal symptoms are uncomfortable and, in more serious cases, dangerous if left untreated. During a detox, you are likely to experience many withdrawal symptoms, and the detox process is often hard to complete independently as a result. Let’s take a look at some of the alcohol withdrawal symptoms you may experience.

Common Alcohol Withdrawal Symptoms

There are several alcohol withdrawal symptoms that most people will experience when detoxing from alcohol. These include:

  • anxiety
  • irritability and mood swings
  • nausea
  • difficulty sleeping
  • headaches and body aches
  • increased heart rate
  • sweating and chills
  • tremors or mild shakiness

These symptoms result from an overactive nervous system. For some, these symptoms will subside within four to five days of detoxing. For others, it can take several weeks for the nervous system to begin to regulate properly and for symptoms to dissipate.

Severe Alcohol Withdrawal Symptoms

The extent of alcohol withdrawal symptoms you experience will depend on a variety of factors, the most signficant of which is the amount of alcohol you consumed before detoxing. In severe cases, individuals may experience delirum tremens (aka alcohol withdrawal delirium). Symptoms include:

  • visual and auditory hallucinations (seeing and hearing things that aren’t real)
  • increased body temperature
  • paranoia
  • seizures
  • difficulty breathing
  • insomnia

If you attempt to detox at home and begin experiencing any of these symptoms, please seek medical attention. Not only can these symptoms create fear and distress but they are, in some cases, life-threatening. Medical treatment can keep you safe while your body flushes out the final traces of alcohol. 

What Is the Alcohol Detox Timeline?

Many are reluctant to approach alcohol detox and addiction treatment because they are afraid of experiencing withdrawal. This is understandable, and it may help you to learn more about the alcohol detox timeline and how long symptoms may last.

Once again, the true timeline will depend on a variety of factors. Working with rehabilitation specialists is the best way to ensure that your detox goes smoothly and that you have the medical and emotional support you need to get through your detox.

That said, many people experience symptoms along the following timeline:

  • 6 hours after cessation: withdrawal symptoms begin and can include anxiety, shakiness, headache, nausea, vomiting, and difficulty sleeping
  • 12-48 hours after cessation: in severe cases, early signs of delirium tremens may set in, including seizures and hallucinations
  • 48-72 hours after cessation: in severe cases, delirum tremens occurs; in less severe cases, common withdrawal symptoms peak

For many, the third day after the detox begins is one of the hardest. By this time, your body has likely flushed out all remaining alcohol and your nervous system is on high alert. Though withdrawal symptoms can last for several weeks, you may start to notice the symptoms decreasing after the third to fifth day of your detox.

Can You Detox from Alcohol at Home?

You may want to know more about the ways to detox from alcohol at home. While someone with a mild alcohol use disorder may find that this is a safe and effective choice, many will require medical supervision.

Keep in mind that while a gradual reduction of alcohol consumption may seem safer and more approachable, it is often ineffective. Even a few drinks are going to activate that reward system of dopamine release, and you may find it hard to resist the urge to drink more to enhance those effects.

Even if you don’t feel the need to detox in a rehabilitation center, consider an intensive outpatient program to support your journey.

How to Detox from Alcohol the Safe Way

If you have a moderate to severe alcohol use disorder, we urge you to seek help detoxing from alcohol. This can include the moral and emotional support of your loved ones, but it should also include professional intervention. Let’s take a look at some safe approaches to an alcohol detox that you can consider.

Consult Rehabilitation Professionals

First, consult rehabilitation professionals that specialize in substance use disorder treatment. Learn more about the services they offer and their current availabilty, as well as insurance coverage and financial aid.

Finding the right rehab center is the first step toward detoxing from alcohol and walking the path to recovery. New Life Recovery Center is proud to help those who suffer from substance abuse in Pompton Lakes, NJ. 

Sign Up for Services That Fit Your Needs

Many rehab centers will offer a variety of services ranging from intensive inpatient programs to outpatient programs. Detoxing is considered a higher level of care that involves staying on the premises and receiving medical supervision and treatment. 

Detoxing from alcohol in a rehab center often includes the use of medications to manage withdrawal symptoms and protect your health. It is often followed by further in-patient treatment that can help you to stay sober in those early weeks.

Think About the Long-Term

Both before and after a detox, it’s helpful to think about the long-term. If you feel reluctant to begin your detox, consider what you want from life that alcohol use is prohibiting. Consider the way that sobriety might enrich your relationships, opportunities, and experiences.

After detox, you can begin to seriously consider your long-term plan to stay sober. Relapse prevention can make a big difference for someone who is newly sober.

While you’re receiving in-patient treatment, you can learn more about your triggers and how to avoid them. You can also learn more about sober living options and find new, healthy coping mechanisms to replace substance abuse. 

New Life Recovery Center Is Here for You

If you want to learn more about how to detox from alcohol in Pompton Lakes, New Life Recovery is here for you. Detoxing is the first step toward alcohol rehabilitation, and talking to professionals is the best way to get started.

Are you ready to talk about your path to recovery and need help finding where to begin? Contact us today and we’ll be in touch right away to discuss your options.