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Alcohol Withdrawal and Detox

Posted in Alcoholism Treatment on November 1, 2016
Last modified on June 13th, 2019

Alcohol withdrawal can be dangerous if you quit “cold turkey.” Without the help of medical professionals, you may have painful, life-threatening withdrawal symptoms. Many alcoholics put off getting help because they fear alcohol withdrawal. The truth is that under the care of physicians, alcohol detox is safe and as comfortable as possible. The Right Step offers medical detox for alcohol abuse. Your detox team includes physicians, nurses and other detox specialists. We can help you take the first step to a rewarding life in recovery.

Here’s what you should know about alcohol withdrawal and detox, and why it’s so important to detox in a treatment facility.

What Is Alcohol Withdrawal Like?

About half of the people with alcohol dependence have withdrawal symptoms when they quit drinking. These can range from mild symptoms to severe symptoms. The intensity of severe alcohol withdrawal symptoms depends on factors like:

  • How long you’ve been abusing alcohol
  • How much alcohol you drink regularly
  • Your overall health
  • Medical or psychological issues

Alcohol withdrawal syndrome is a set of symptoms that happens when regular, heavy drinkers quit alcohol.

Symptoms of alcohol withdrawal may include:

  • Shakiness
  • Seizures
  • Abnormal heart rate
  • Vomiting
  • Hallucinations
  • Headaches
  • Dehydration
  • Anxiety
  • Restlessness
  • Confusion
  • Sleep problems
  • Nightmares

Detoxing from alcohol on your own is not safe and often leads to relapse. Alcohol withdrawal and detox should take place in a treatment facility. Medical professionals can ease alcohol withdrawal symptoms.

How Long Does Alcohol Withdrawal Last?

The alcohol withdrawal timeline is different for everyone. It usually occurs in three phases.

First Phase of Alcohol Withdrawal

The first phase of alcohol withdrawal can begin around six hours after your last drink. These symptoms may feel like a very intense hangover. The first phase of alcohol withdrawal symptoms may include:

  • Tremors
  • Sweating
  • Agitation
  • Headache
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Sleeplessness

Second Phase of Alcohol Withdrawal

The second phase of alcohol detox is the most dangerous one. It usually begins within a day after you quit drinking. It may last around 48 hours or longer. During the second phase of alcohol detox, you’re most at risk of severe withdrawal symptoms. Acute alcohol withdrawal symptoms may include:

  • Anxiety
  • Seeing and hearing things that aren’t there (hallucinations)
  • Convulsions
  • Delirium tremens
  • High blood pressure
  • High body temperature
  • Whole body tremors
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Insomnia
  • Sweating

Third Phase of Alcohol Withdrawal

During the final phase of alcohol withdrawal, you may experience psychological issues. These can last several months. The brain slowly begins to regulate and resume normal functioning. There may be lingering physical and psychological symptoms. These usually aren’t life-threatening. Common symptoms during the third phase may include:

  • Anxiety
  • A sense of unease or dissatisfaction
  • Depression
  • Mood swings
  • Alcohol cravings when faced with triggers

Why Is Alcohol Withdrawal Dangerous?

When you abuse alcohol regularly, your body and brain start thinking you need it to function. You develop a tolerance to alcohol and a dependency on it. Alcohol abuse causes the body to compensate for the depressive effects of alcohol by increasing certain hormones and brain chemicals. When you stop drinking, your system becomes flooded with abnormally high levels of these chemicals. Your body is trying to adapt to not having alcohol in its system, which it thinks it needs to survive. This imbalance in your central nervous system can cause dangerous alcohol withdrawal symptoms.

Dangerous alcohol withdrawal symptoms include:

  • Delirium tremens (DTs)
  • Dehydration
  • High body temperature
  • Abnormal heart rate

These severe symptoms can put your life in danger. Some research shows 20% of people with the DTs die without the help of medical detox. With medical treatment, that percentage drops to 1%.

Some people are at higher risk for deadly complications from alcohol withdrawal. These risk factors include:

  • Liver diseases or cancer
  • Advanced age
  • Heart conditions
  • Central nervous system injuries or infections

What’s an Alcohol Detox Program Like?

Without the help of medical professionals, alcohol withdrawal can be painful, and even fatal. An alcohol detox program keeps you safe and as comfortable as possible. The Right Step’s alcohol detox program includes:


The first step in medical detox is an assessment. We’ll check your vital signs and ask you about any alcohol withdrawal symptoms you’re having. We’ll take a medical history. You’ll tell us about your substance abuse and any drugs you’re taking. This helps us determine the best medications and approaches to use during alcohol detox.

Medical Detox

The Right Step detox center is comfortable and discreet. Our medical team will monitor you throughout the detox process. We treat alcohol withdrawal symptoms with medications and alternative approaches. Research-backed treatment medications can make you as comfortable as possible. A medical team ensures you’re safe and attends to any medical needs.

Alcoholism Treatment

Medical detox is the first step in alcohol addiction treatment. An alcohol use disorder is a disease. Without alcohol interventions that address the causes of addiction, you’re very likely to relapse. The Right Step alcohol rehab includes:

  • Individual therapy to help you explore emotional issues in a safe space
  • Group therapy to provide peer support and accountability in recovery
  • Alternative treatments for alcohol addiction like mindfulness, fitness, and art and music activities
  • Family therapy to begin healing the effects of alcoholism on loved ones
  • Relapse prevention practices to help you stay sober
  • Medication management for dual diagnosis
  • Exposure to 12-step programs like Alcoholics Anonymous
  • Aftercare planning that supports long-term addiction recovery

We offer inpatient rehab and outpatient rehab treatment options.

We Accept Insurance

Many insurance plans cover all or a large portion of the cost of medical detox. They may also cover a significant amount of addiction treatment and rehab. We work with many insurance providers. Call our treatment centers today for a free insurance benefits check. We’ll work directly with your insurance to determine what drug rehab benefits are covered. 844-877-1781

A Better Life Is Possible

Alcohol detox is the first step in turning your life around. Call The Right Step rehab centers today. Let’s do this together. 844-877-1781

Krisi Herron

Medically Reviewed by

Krisi Herron, LCDC

The Right Step