When you abuse alcohol, you may become physically dependent on it. That means your body can’t function normally without the drug.
If you stop drinking, you’ll likely experience alcohol withdrawal syndrome. To manage this condition, you should seek help at an alcohol detoxification program.
What Is Alcohol Withdrawal Syndrome?
In general, alcohol withdrawal syndrome starts within one day after your last drink.
Symptoms usually peak during the first three days and then fade within a few weeks.
However, some symptoms last for months or even a year, particularly if you don’t get help from medical professionals.
The most common symptoms of alcohol withdrawal include:
- intense alcohol cravings
- mood swings
- trouble thinking
- enlarged pupils
- increased heart rate
- nausea and vomiting
- loss of appetite
While these symptoms are uncomfortable, they’re typically not life-threatening.
Some people develop a more severe form of alcohol withdrawal called delirium tremens (DTS). When left untreated, DTS can be deadly. Symptoms include:
- hallucinations (seeing, hearing, or feeling things that aren’t there)
- severe confusion
You face a higher risk of DTS if you have consumed alcohol for over 10 years or if you have consumed at least 7 to 8 pints of beer, at least 4 to 5 pints of wine, or at least 1 pint of liquor every day for several months.
What Are Alcohol Detox Programs?
Alcohol detoxification programs are treatment programs that help you safely stop drinking with minimal withdrawal symptoms.
When you first enter a detox program, a team of health care professionals will evaluate your situation. They’ll consider factors such as:
- how long you’ve been drinking alcohol
- how much alcohol you’ve been drinking
- when you last drank alcohol
- whether you’ve attended a detox program before
- whether you have any other health problems
They will then use this information to personalize your detox plan.
For example, they’ll determine how long you should stay in the program. Most people need between three and seven days of detox. However, some people stay in the program longer, especially if they have severe withdrawal symptoms or co-occurring health problems.
Your doctors will also help you decide whether you need inpatient detox or outpatient detox.
Inpatient detox programs are recommended for people with moderate-to-severe withdrawal symptoms. During inpatient detox, you’ll live at a treatment facility and receive 24/7 medical care and supervision.
Doctors will regularly monitor your heart rate, blood pressure, body temperature, and other vital signs. They’ll also monitor any other health conditions you have.
In addition, they may prescribe medications to ease certain withdrawal symptoms.
For instance, benzodiazepines can calm your central nervous system and treat anxiety and insomnia. Common benzodiazepines used to treat alcohol withdrawal include chlordiazepoxide (brand name Librium), diazepam (Valium), and lorazepam (Ativan).
Your doctors will also work hard to keep you as comfortable as possible. For example, they’ll ensure you’re eating nutritious meals, getting enough sleep, and staying hydrated. If you appear dehydrated, you may be given intravenous fluids.
Many people enjoy outpatient detox because it gives you more freedom. In most cases, you can still go to work, take care of your family, and maintain other daily activities. Outpatient detox also tends to cost less than inpatient detox.
However, because outpatient detox involves less medical care and supervision, it’s only recommended if you have mild symptoms of withdrawal. You should also have supportive loved ones who can supervise and care for you at home.
During outpatient detox, you’ll visit a treatment facility each day so doctors can monitor your progress and address any concerns you have.
As with inpatient detox, you may be prescribed medications to make withdrawal easier. Your doctor may also recommend that you and your loved ones attend therapy to learn how to best support your detox.
What Happens After Detox?
Many people who are physically dependent on alcohol have an alcohol addiction. Alcohol addiction (also called alcohol use disorder) is a serious medical condition that makes you feel unable to stop drinking.
Thus, after you complete detox, your doctor may suggest that you attend an alcohol addiction treatment program.
These programs promote long-term sobriety by helping you manage alcohol cravings as well as any underlying mental health conditions that contributed to your alcohol abuse. They offer services such as:
- individual, group, and family therapy
- support groups
- medication-assisted treatment
- aftercare planning
To learn more about alcohol abuse treatment options, please contact Northeast Addictions Treatment Center. We provide a variety of recovery-focused services to help you or your loved one stay alcohol-free.
- National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism — An Overview of Outpatient and Inpatient Detoxification
- National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism — Understanding Alcohol Use Disorder
- United States National Library of Medicine — Alcohol withdrawal
- United States National Library of Medicine — Delirium tremens