Alcohol Detox Programs & Treatment Options
In 2020, more than 28 million people in the United States had a past-year alcohol use disorder (AUD), a chronic but treatable medical condition where it is difficult to control or stop one’s drinking despite negative consequences.1, 2
When a person develops physiological alcohol dependence and attempts to cut back or quit drinking, they may experience physical and psychological withdrawal symptoms.3 These symptoms can be uncomfortable and potentially dangerous, but you don’t have to go through the process alone. A medical detox for alcohol at a professional treatment facility can help you with a comfortable and safe withdrawal as well as the transition into ongoing treatment.4
If you or someone you care about is struggling with alcohol, it may be time to seek professional help. Learning about alcohol detox can be an important first step that can help you make an informed decision about your health.
This page explains what happens during alcohol detox, the types of alcohol detox centers available, and things to consider when choosing an alcohol detox facility for you or someone you care about. You can also call our helpline at for information on treatment options.
For many people, symptoms of withdrawal can begin within 6 to 24 hours after their last drink—in some cases, even if their blood alcohol concentration is still significantly elevated.4 Alcohol withdrawal symptoms may follow a variable course and can range from mild to severe depending on several factors such as age, general state of health, nutritional status, and any co-occurring medical and mental health conditions related to alcohol addiction.4
Withdrawal symptoms may include:4, 5
- Impaired concentration and judgment.
- Loss of appetite.
- Nausea and/or vomiting.
- Tremor or shakiness.
- Increased blood pressure and heart rate.
- Sleep problems (e.g., insomnia, nightmares, or vivid dreams).
- Sensitivity to light, sound, and tactile stimuli.
- Hallucinations (seeing, hearing, or feeling the touch of things that aren’t there).
Without a formal detox from alcohol, withdrawal may be accompanied by several serious medical complications including grand mal seizures and dysregulation of blood pressure, body temperature, and pulse. Delirium tremens (DTs) is another potential complication of a progressively worsening withdrawal. People who develop DTs may experience florid hallucinations, mental confusion, disorientation, and may struggle with severe autonomic nervous system hyperactivity. Severe alcohol withdrawal seizures and DTs can be fatal, which is why it’s important that a person does not try to detox from alcohol at home.4-6”
Detoxing at home may be uncomfortable, dangerous, and even potentially fatal. When going through withdrawal at home, individuals do not have access to medications that may help with discomfort, pain, or potentially dangerous complications. It is also harder to get the immediate medical attention you would have access to in a detox facility. Because of the dangers of alcohol detox, it is not recommended to detox without medical professional supervision.
If you think you or someone you know is experiencing medical complications due to alcohol withdrawal, seek medical attention immediately.
What Happens During Alcohol Detox?
Alcohol detox is often the first step in treatment for people in recovery. The goals of alcohol detox include helping patients achieve a substance-free state, mitigating or relieving immediate withdrawal symptoms of alcohol addiction, and addressing any co-occurring medical or mental health conditions.7 By achieving these goals, medical alcohol detox can help patients transition from a period of acute withdrawal management to longer-term rehabilitative treatment.7
From start to finish, the full length of alcohol detox may vary by patient, with estimated time frames ranging anywhere from 3 and 14 days for successful withdrawal management.7 While alcohol detox protocols may vary somewhat, many detox programs will include 3 essential components.
Patients may undergo a thorough evaluation of their mental and physical health as well as their home and social life to assess their unique needs after alcohol detox.4 This stage involves testing the patient for substances as well as screening for co-occurring mental health disorders.4 Patients also have a full assessment of their medical and psychological conditions, as well as their personal/social environment to determine the required level of care and the patient’s individual treatment plan once detox is complete.4
The goal of stabilization is to help patients reach a substance-free state and may include various medical and psychosocial processes to help mitigate the symptoms of withdrawal. Patients may receive medication for AUD to help reduce symptoms and prevent relapse.4 Beyond helping patients through withdrawal, this stage also introduces what can be expected in treatment moving forward, as well as the role that the patient has in their treatment and recovery.4
Facilitation into Ongoing Treatment
Following treatment at an alcohol detox treatment center, many patients transition to some type of ongoing alcohol addiction treatment.4 This stage involves preparing patients for movement into treatment, including encourage involvement and commitment to the process. Follow through is emphasized as continued treatment may provide individuals with a greater chance at success with their sobriety.4
Types of Alcohol Detox Centers
Alcohol detox can take place in inpatient and outpatient settings.5 The right treatment setting varies on a patient-by-patient basis and depends on several factors, including whether a patient has a co-occurring mental health disorder and how likely they are to experience complications from an alcohol detox.
Inpatient Alcohol Detox
During an inpatient detox for alcohol, patients remain onsite at a treatment center 24/7 while their withdrawal symptoms are managed by medical professionals.7, 8 A medical professional may recommend this type of treatment setting for patients who are at risk of developing severe or complicated withdrawal symptoms or for patients who may be at risk of suicide.7 Patients who are at low risk of severe or complicated withdrawal but don’t have a reliable support network may benefit from an inpatient setting as well.7 During this detox, patients may receive medications to help mitigate withdrawal symptoms.
Outpatient Alcohol Detox
Alcohol detoxing in an outpatient setting has become increasingly common as clinical practice has evolved.5, 7 During outpatient alcohol detox, patients typically travel to a hospital or other type of treatment facility for treatment sessions but return home in the evening. Outpatient alcohol detox can vary greatly in duration and intensity.8
Outpatient alcohol detox is considered as effective as inpatient alcohol detox for patients with mild or moderate withdrawal symptoms; however, outpatient settings may not provide as full a range of medical intervention, supervision, and patient monitoring as found in inpatient settings. This is why medical professionals may advise against this type of setting for patients at risk of developing severe or complicated withdrawal symptoms such as delirium tremens or patients who have associated medical conditions such as cirrhosis, gastrointestinal bleeding, and pancreatitis.4, 5, 7
Choosing an Alcohol Detox Center
There are several factors you may want to consider when choosing an alcohol detox facility for yourself or your loved one. The following questions may help guide your search:
- What kind of treatment approaches are used?
- Does the detox program offer inpatient and outpatient settings?
- Are medications used?
- How is relapse addressed?
- What expectations are there of patients in the program?
- Are co-occurring mental health disorders treated?
- How does the program measure outcomes and success of treatment?
- How much will the alcohol detox program cost?
- Is the alcohol detox program covered by my insurance? If so, can you verify your insurance to ensure that you are in-network for the program?
- How quickly can I start?
- Does the treatment center provide alcohol crisis services?
What Happens After Alcohol Detox?
While detox can help a person achieve a substance-free state, it may not be enough to facilitate long-term recovery for someone struggling with an alcohol use disorder.4, 9 Following a medical detox from alcohol, many people benefit from ongoing treatment such as inpatient or outpatient rehab.9
Ongoing treatment looks different for everyone, but patients can expect to participate in various group and individual counseling and wellness activities as well as common behavioral therapies such as cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT), motivational enhancement therapy (MET), and contingency management.9 Medical professionals may also prescribe treatment medications, such as acamprosate and naltrexone, to help patients prevent relapse and maintain their recovery progress.10 Together these programs may help people find lasting recovery as well as repair damage to their relationships from drinking, learn to cope with stress in a healthy manner, and improve their overall well-being.
Find an Alcohol Detox Center Near You
If you or someone you care about are struggling with alcohol use, you don’t have to go through it alone. An alcohol detox center can help you comfortably and safely withdraw from alcohol as well as assist in the transition into ongoing care. Our directory of rehab centers lets you easily search for an alcohol detox center near you when you filter by “detox services,” and location. If you need help, our admissions navigators are available 24/7 when you call .
Alcohol Detox FAQs