Alcohol detoxification is commonly called alcohol detox. It is the process of
stabilizing alcoholics who have stopped drinking. This is to prevent them from going into alcohol withdrawal. That could potentially cause death.

Alcohol withdrawal can lead to a variety of symptoms. They generally start within eight hours after the last drink but can occur much later. They usually peak within 24 to 72 hours but can continue for weeks.

Alcohol Detox Symptoms

There are common alcohol detox symptoms.

  • Nervousness.alcohol detox
  • Anxiety.
  • Irritability.
  • Trembling.
  • Fatigue.
  • Mood swings.
  • Depression.
  • Nightmares.
  • Confused thinking.

Other withdrawal symptoms may include these.

  • Headache.
  • Dilated (enlarged) pupils.
  • Insomnia.
  • Clammy skin.
  • Loss of appetite.
  • Pallor.
  • Rapid heart beat.
  • Sweating.
  • Nausea.
  • Vomiting.
  • Tremors or shaking.

Severe alcohol withdrawal, called delirium tremens (or the DTs) is characterized by these symptoms.

  • Fever.
  • Extreme agitation.
  • Hallucinations (seeing, hearing or feeling things that only exist in the mind).
  • Severe confusion.
  • Seizures.

Medical supervision is essential with delirium tremens to prevent
possible death.

The heavier drinking has been, the greater the chance that withdrawal symptoms will be severe.

If withdrawal symptoms are expected to be mild-to-moderate, detoxification might be on an out-patient basis. Daily visits to a doctor may be needed. The treatment typically includes the use of sedatives to reduce withdrawal symptoms, counseling, blood tests, and carefully monitoring health.

If a doctor believes that the symptoms are likely to be moderate to severe, the patient is more likely be treated on an in-patient basis. This usually involves the use of strong sedatives, giving fluids through a vein (IV), and closely watching vital signs. If symptoms are expected to be severe, the patient will be carefully monitored for the DTs.

The Alcohol Detox Process

Detox consists of three steps, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS).

  1. Evaluation. Patients are tested to determine which substances and the quantities of them that are in their bloodstreams.
  2. Stabilization. Patients undergo the process of detoxification, which is usually involves the use of medications.
  3. Guiding Patients into Treatment. This is the final stage, which is necessary because detox only addresses the physical dependence on substances.

It’s important to select a facility that has alcohol detox available on-site. It should be accredited accredited by one of the following.

  • Joint Commission.
  • Commission on Accreditation of Rehabilitation Facilities (CARF).
  • Healthcare Facilities Accreditation Program (HFAP).
  • Accreditation Commission for Health Care (ACHC).

Some rehabs don’t have alcohol detox available on-site. One facility actually sends its patients thousands of miles away for the process. This makes the transition to treatment more difficult, time consuming, and expensive.

On the other hand, the St. Gregory Retreat Center and many other facilities across North America provide accredited detox on-site for those who need it.

You may wish to consult with your doctor before making any decisions about alcohol detox or rehab. If you do choose either detox or a rehab, there are probably many choices near where you live,

You might also decide that you don’t need to enter a rehab. Few people do. Most people benefit from any of a number of programs that permit them to live at home. They include these.

SMART Recovery (Self-Management and Recovery Training).


Life Process Program.

Moderat Management.

Rational Recovery.

Women for Sobriety,

HAMS  (Harm reduction, Abstinence, and Moderation Support).

Further Reading on Alcohol Detox


  • Detoxification and Substance Abuse Treatment Training Manual. HHS Pub. No. (SMA) 09­4331. Rockville, MD: SAMSHA, 2008; reprinted 2009. Available at;
  • Alcohol Withdrawal. MedlinePlus website.;
  • Alcohol Withdrawal. Harvard Health Topics website.

Disclaimer: This website is informational only. It makes no suggestions or recommendations about alcohol, drinking, rehabs, programs, or any other matter and none should be inferred. Neither this website nor your host receives any compensation, directly or indirectly, from listing or describing any program. Such listing or description does not imply endorsement. [+]

Filed Under: Alcoholism General Information, Alcoholism Treatments