Alcohol detox & withdrawal

An addiction to alcohol has far reaching consequences that can impact your life. In the following article, we take a closer look at the process of recovery from an alcohol dependence. We explore detoxing from alcohol, which is the first step towards recovery, including the symptoms of an alcohol withdrawal. Discover the steps toward seeking help and the importance of therapy in overcoming an alcohol addiction.

What is an alcohol detox?

Alcohol detox is a process of removing alcohol from your body. It involves quitting the consumption of alcohol in individuals who have developed alcohol dependence. During this period, alcohol levels within the body are slowly diminished until a sober state is achieved. Once alcohol is no longer in the body or present in small amounts, chronic drinkers may experience withdrawal symptoms.

The process of alcohol detoxification is designed to help you safely withdraw from alcohol and avoid the severe symptoms and potentially serious health consequences of abrupt withdrawal. Alcohol detox typically involves a combination of medications and psychosocial therapy for addiction treatment. These therapies are designed to help you become sober while minimising the emotional and physical symptoms of alcohol withdrawal.

Detoxing from an alcohol addiction requires professional treatment advice by medical professionals who support the process of withdrawal and recovery. An alcohol withdrawal is characterized by symptoms of heightened anxiety, nausea, trembling, vomiting, and hallucinations (Mayo Clinic, 2018). Detoxing from an alcohol addiction requires professional assistance to support the process of withdrawal and recovery.

What is alcohol withdrawal?

Alcohol withdrawal occurs when the prolonged consumption of alcohol is abruptly stopped or decreased. The symptoms of an alcohol withdrawal can occur within a few hours to 4 days after a detox. Upon stopping alcohol consumption, you may feel agitation, excessive sweating, increased heart rate, depression, and seizures. As alcohol is a depressant, the body and the brain must adjust to the absence of alcohol over time.

The symptoms of alcohol withdrawal can occur within a few hours to 4 days after detox as the alcohol level suddenly drops. Upon stopping alcohol consumption, you may feel agitation, excessive sweating, increased heart rate, depression, and seizures. As alcohol is a depressant, the body and the brain must adjust to the absence of alcohol over time.

This process creates feelings of discomfort, pain, and physiological changes that are described as alcohol withdrawal symptoms (Alcohol Rehab Guide, 2020). While withdrawal symptoms can decrease after a week or two, symptoms tend to take much longer to go away in chronic users who drink heavily. it could take much longer. Fortunately, with a professional support group, you can focus on your health and recovery.

Alcohol Withdrawal Symptoms

The withdrawal from alcohol can be a difficult process; however, each case is different, and the experienced alcohol withdrawal symptoms will depend on several factors. These include:

  • The severity of alcohol consumption
  • The period of alcohol abuse
  • The psychological state of the individual.

Chronic consumption of alcohol is defined as prolonged use and in large amounts to conceal feelings of anxiety or depression, to act as a coping mechanism, or in response to building a tolerance. The longer and the heavier the use of alcohol, the more severe the withdrawal symptoms.

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A Timeline of Symptoms

Alcohol withdrawal symptoms can occur within 2 hours after its last consumption. Discomfort caused by a withdrawal can occur 24 hours after the alcohol has metabolized and is no longer in your body. When a person stops drinking, symptoms range from a rapid pulse and tremors to fevers, and life-threatening seizures. A symptom requiring medical attention that is associated with an alcohol withdrawal is delirium tremens (Alcohol Rehab Guide, 2020). People who experience delirium tremens cause medical conditions such as body shaking, confusion, and a drop in blood pressure.

It takes only 6 to 12 hours after the last drink to experience the symptoms of:

  • High anxiety and depression
  • Irritability
  • Nausea and Vomiting
  • Trembling.

24 hours after last consumption of alcohol may result in following withdrawal symptoms:

  • Confusion
  • Body tremors
  • Seizures.

48 hours after the last alcohol consumption, you experience the most severe symptoms:

  • Disrupted sleep or difficulty sleeping
  • Changes in blood pressure
  • Hallucinations
  • Fever
  • Delirium Tremens.

You can learn more details about the alcohol withdrawal timeline here.

The duration of alcohol dependence determines the process of withdrawal. The longer and more frequent the consumption of alcohol, the more important it becomes to seek professional support from expert treatment providers. Pre-existing health conditions, the presence of a psychological condition (such as depression or anxiety), and multi-drug use, all affect intensity and length of time withdrawal symptoms are experienced, for which you should seek medical attention.

Post-Acute Withdrawal Syndrome (PAWS)

Post-acute withdrawal syndrome is known as PAWS. It is a set of chronic withdrawal symptoms that may develop weeks to months after detoxing from alcohol (Addiction Center, 2020). PAWS is considered the second stage of an alcohol detox. This is owed to the readjustment of the absence of alcohol in the body and the brain when a person stops drinking. PAWS is unlike regular withdrawal symptoms and involves both psychological and emotional symptoms. The syndrome may cause poor concentration, depression, anxiety, fatigue, a lack of impulse control, brain fog, and sensitivity to stress.

The extent and the severity of PAWS depends on the frequency of alcohol intake and the length of alcohol dependence. PAWS can appear over a 48-month period; however, with the right support and and treatment from certified treatment providers at rehab facilities, these symptoms can be alleviated and help you cope through difficult times.

The Benefits of an Alcohol Detox

Making the decision to stop drinking is a difficult one, especially for those who have become reliant on alcohol to deal with difficult and stressful situations or who have developed a habit of heavy drinking. When you quit drinking, it will improve your life in many ways, you can read more about the benefits of quitting alcohol here.

a woman going through an alcohol detox assessment

How to undergo an alcohol detox

An alcohol detox is the first step to achieving sobriety and starts with the cessation of alcohol consumption. Many are apprehensive to pursue a detox from alcohol owing to painful withdrawal symptoms. While there are different ways to perform an alcohol detox, it is important to first seek the support and advice of a medical medical treatment provider.

Home Alcohol Detox

Seek the assistance of your local GP before you attempt to severely reduce or quit your drinking habits. If you are interested in an alcohol detox from home, always follow safety advice and have a family member or a friend you can trust supervise your detox. A gradual reduction in alcohol intake is a safer alternative to stopping abruptly. It is also easier to cope with. At home detox should start with a 5% to 10% reduction in alcohol consumption to prevent shock. Should you quit alcohol at home, seek medical assistance if you experience severe withdrawal symptoms such as hallucinations, dizziness, confusion, and seizures. A medical approach can support your efforts and a successful outcome.

The Pros and Cons of Detoxing from Alcohol at Home

  • Comfort and familiarity
  • Feeling safe
  • Affordable compared to private inpatient services.
  • The risk of painful withdrawal and relapse
  • The risk of complications where other substances were used while drinking
  • Worsening of pre-existing psychological conditions (absence of coping with alcohol)

Medically Assisted Alcohol Detox

A medically assisted alcohol detox is performed within a private rehabilitation setting. Experienced doctors and nurses are available to help you through the process. Alternatively, the NHS provides options for a medically assisted detox program from alcohol based on an individual assessment.

The Benefits of a Medically Assisted Alcohol Detox

A medically assisted detox offers the following benefits according to The Recovery Village (2020):

  • A medical detox provides symptom management for severe withdrawal
  • Individuals have 24/7 access to medical doctors and staff
  • Vital signs are consistently monitored, and discomfort is managed with approved medications by the treatment provider
  • Reduced risk of relapse.

A medically assisted alcohol detox in a private rehab facility can reduce symptoms, improve the recovery process, and prevent potential relapse with quick access to treatment, followed by therapy.


two women supporting each other

Preventing a Relapse

Alcohol is easily accessible and used as a coping mechanism to alleviate stress, anxiety, and depression. While psychological factors are largely involved in an alcohol use disorder, environmental and hereditary factors cannot be ruled out. Frequent drinking to numb emotions or to achieve a state of intoxication can lead to tolerance. People who suffer from alcohol abuse consumed to achieve the same effect.

The longer alcohol is consumed and the greater the intake, the more severe the withdrawal symptoms and the risk of a relapse. To achieve sobriety, it is imperative that the source of alcohol addiction is determined and the appropriate addiction treatment is sought to quit drinking.

Treating the underlying causes of alcohol dependency

Chronic drinking habits can be caused by a past trauma, an inability to cope with life’s challenges, and concealing underlying mental health issues. The central nervous system (NCBI) is adversely affected by excessive alcohol intake and can cause various neurological problems like stroke, multiple sclerosis (MS), brain tumour, and amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), etc.

An alcohol addiction persists as individuals rely on the substance to suppress negative emotions. When alcohol is reduced or stopped, you experience alcohol withdrawal symptoms which range from mild to severe depending on the duration and amount of your alcohol use. Your mood may be affected along with uncomfortable physical and psychological conditions of dependence such as anxiety, insomnia, high blood pressure, loss of appetite, mood swings, difficulty in clear thinking, shakiness, depression, etc.

By seeking supportive therapy for substance abuse from professional alcohol rehab and the underlying mental health problems responsible for maintaining dependence, you can reduce alcohol cravings, learn adaptive coping strategies and get individualised treatments to prevent relapse and overcome alcohol addiction for a successful recovery journey.

man getting help for alcoholism

Residential rehab

A residential rehabilitation programme for alcohol addiction offers 24-hour support and supervision by an experienced medical team. Treatment involves symptom management with prescribed medication (where deemed necessary) during the alcohol detox process and support services from knowledgeable staff and certified addiction professionals at the specific treatment centre.

A residential rehab offers the benefits of a structured programme for people dependent on alcohol at treatment centres. Treatment is designed to explore individual triggers for alcohol use, past traumas, and the presence of psychological conditions.

The focus of therapy is to teach positive coping strategies and skills that you can easily implement in everyday life. The benefit of an inpatient or residential alcohol rehab is the adoption of a holistic approach. This means that it addresses every aspect of your mental and physical well-being including the reason for alcohol dependence. Long term benefits of therapy encourage psychological health, reduced risk of relapse, and the ability to rely on a support service should adverse effects such as post acute withdrawal syndrome occur.

Outpatient services & support groups

If you believe that you are struggling with alcohol and you are interested in free addiction support services, the NHS and similar charities offer therapy programmes for those who are struggling with alcoholism and mental health problems.

Consulting with your medical doctor and discussing the possibility of an alcohol dependence is an important step towards seeking the therapy you need to live a healthy lifestyle. Stopping drinking can be a risky process and should always involve a medical doctor. Your physician can provide referrals in your area to relevant support programmes including the NHS.

If you do not wish to speak to your GP about a possible alcohol addiction, self referral services are widely available. By contacting the NHS, you can determine which services and facilities are available within your region and how to access them. According to the NHS, individuals with an alcohol dependence are entitled to medical treatment.

A support group is a valuable therapeutic option, offering the opportunity to share your thoughts and relate to others who are experiencing similar difficulties. Services including Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) consist of a peer support group in which weekly meetings are held for those struggling with overcoming alcohol.

To know more about the alcohol rehab treatment centres, contact us, or a local medical treatment provider today or NHS and request a specific treatment centre listing to get support.

Frequently Asked Questions
You may have a lot of questions about alcohol detoxification. If you are unable to find the answer below please give us a call and speak to one of our addiction specialists today.
Is an alcohol detox dangerous?
A medical expert, a certified addiction professional, best oversees the process of an alcohol detox. Prescribed medication along with supportive therapy, help ease withdrawal symptoms and the risk of relapse. A detox from alcohol is best achieved by speaking to a healthcare professional. Your practitioner can advise on medical supervision and support to overcome withdrawal and prevent life threatening circumstances.
Can I be prescribed alcohol detox medication?
When you pursue an alcohol detox, a private medical practitioner or a rehab medical professional may prescribe medications such as benzodiazepines to alleviate withdrawal symptoms. Prescribed medication is determined by the severity of dependency and risk factors such as physical and psychological health.
How long will I experience withdrawal symptoms?
Withdrawal symptoms can occur 7 to 14 days after an alcohol detox; however, for those with chronic alcohol dependence severe drug abuse problems, there is risk of PAWS which is a prolonged form of withdrawal. Fortunately, withdrawal symptoms can be overcome with the support of family, friends, and the right form of therapy.
Can I get an alcohol Detox on the NHS?
Persons who have an alcohol dependence may be entitled to receiving a medical detox and supportive therapy from the NHS. Medically-assisted alcohol detox programmes at treatment centers are typically prioritised for those with severe alcohol dependency.
Does Niacin (Vitamin B3) help with alcohol withdrawal?
Compulsive drinking affects physiological and mental health. The JOM review article concerning the treatment of alcoholism with vitamin B3, reported potential clinical significance in the management of delirium and health complications when niacin was consistently used in therapy as it addresses the deficiencies caused by alcohol dependence.

Jason Sheirs
Author / Jason Shiers / Dip. Psych MBACP
Jason Shiers is a Certified Transformative Coach & Certified Psychotherapist who is a specialist in addiction, trauma and eating disorders. He has been working in the field of addiction for 25 years now.