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Alcohol Detox Programs & Treatment Options

The symptoms of alcohol withdrawal can be uncomfortable and potentially dangerous, but you don’t have to go through the process alone. A professional alcohol detox facility can help keep you as comfortable and safe as possible during alcohol withdrawal and ease the transition into ongoing treatment.1

This page will help you learn more about what happens in 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. Looking for immediate assistance? You can call our helpline at for information on treatment options.

What Is Alcohol Withdrawal?

Alcohol withdrawal refers to the symptoms a person may experience when they abruptly reduce or stop drinking after heavy or long-term alcohol use.2 Heavy or long-term alcohol use can lead to various alcohol effects, including physiological dependence, a phenomenon in which the body becomes used to the presence of a substance, such as alcohol, and necessitates it to function normally. When a physiologically dependent person abruptly reduces or stops drinking, they may experience physical and psychological withdrawal symptoms ranging from mild to severe.2

Alcohol Withdrawal Symptoms and Timeline

For many people, symptoms of withdrawal can begin within 6 to 24 hours after their last drink, even if their blood alcohol concentration is still significantly elevated.2 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.2

Withdrawal symptoms may include:2, 3

  • Anxiety.
  • Agitation.
  • Irritability.
  • Restlessness.
  • 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.
  • Fever.
  • Sweating.
  • Delusions.
  • Hallucinations (seeing, hearing, or feeling the touch of things that aren’t there).

How Long Do Alcohol Withdrawal Symptoms Last?

The full length of alcohol detox may vary by patient, with estimated time frames ranging anywhere from 3 to 14 days for successful withdrawal management.5  If you are experiencing alcohol withdrawal symptoms, it’s important to consult with your doctor or treatment team, as they may be able to provide relief during the detox process.

Is Alcohol Withdrawal Dangerous?

Yes, alcohol withdrawal can be dangerous.

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 progressively worsening withdrawal. People who develop DTs may experience confusion, disorientation, and hallucinations, and may struggle with severe autonomic nervous system hyperactivity. Severe alcohol withdrawal seizures and DTs can be fatal, which is why a person should not try to detox from alcohol at home.2, 3, 4 

Can I Detox From Alcohol at Home?

Attempting to detox from alcohol at home is dangerous and can be fatal. When going through withdrawal at home, individuals do not have access to alcohol detox 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 In 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.5 By achieving these goals, medical alcohol detox can help patients transition from a period of acute withdrawal management to longer-term rehabilitative treatment.

While alcohol detox protocols may vary somewhat, many detox programs will include three essential components.

Step 1. Alcohol Detox Intake and Evaluation

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.2 This stage involves testing the patient for substances as well as screening for co-occurring mental health disorders.2 Patients also have a full assessment of their medical and psychological conditions and their personal/social environment to determine the required level of care and the patient’s treatment plan once detox is complete.2

Step 2. Stabilization

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 alcohol withdrawal medications to help reduce symptoms and prevent relapse.2 Beyond helping patients through withdrawal, this stage also introduces what can be expected in treatment moving forward, and the patient’s role in their treatment and recovery.2

Step 3. Continued Care 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.2, 7 Following medical detox from alcohol, many people benefit from ongoing alcohol addiction treatment such as inpatient or outpatient rehab.7

Ongoing treatment looks different for everyone, but patients can expect to participate in various group and individual counseling and behavioral therapies such as cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), motivational enhancement therapy (MET), and contingency management.7 Medical professionals may also prescribe treatment medications, such as acamprosate and naltrexone, to help patients prevent relapse and maintain their recovery progress.9

Types of Alcohol Detox Centers

Alcohol detox can take place in inpatient and outpatient settings.3 The right treatment setting varies on a patient-by-patient basis. It considers several factors such as 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.5, 6 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.5 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.5 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.3, 5 During outpatient alcohol detox, patients typically travel to an alcohol detox hospital or other type of facility for treatment sessions but return home in the evening. Outpatient alcohol detox can vary greatly in duration and intensity.6

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.2, 3, 5

How to Choose 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?
  • Do I have health insurance coverage for addiction treatment? 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?

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 search for a detox facility near you when you filter by “detox services” and location. You can also contact American Addiction Centers (AAC) to learn about your treatment options after detox, including inpatient treatment and outpatient treatment.

Our admissions navigators are available 24/7 when you call to hear your story and discuss treatment options. Calling is confidential and free, and there is zero obligation to enter treatment.

Alcohol Detox FAQs

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