For someone with an alcohol use disorder, the choice to quit drinking is always a good one. The next step isn’t always so clear, though. For some people, a belief that getting sober is a solo effort ends up leading to greater risks.
Before beginning to detox, it’s essential to understand the alcohol withdrawal process and its effect on your body. You can learn about what physical symptoms may appear and get a sense of the timeline of different withdrawal stages. With this understanding, you can begin to evaluate your options for finding safe and effective detox resources.
Alcohol Withdrawal Syndrome (AWS)
Alcohol withdrawal syndrome refers to the symptoms that appear when a person with an alcohol use disorder reduces their daily drinking or quits drinking altogether. The spectrum of symptoms can range from mild to severe. Symptoms may appear in a matter of hours after a person’s last drink.
Can I detox at home?
Alcohol is one of several substances that present heightened risks when detoxing at home. Even people with strong family support cannot avoid the medical risks associated with alcohol detox. As the process can be life-threatening, alcohol detox should only be done in a medical detox facility.
Dangers of Alcohol Withdrawal
The greatest danger during alcohol withdrawal is the risk of a fatal outcome. One factor in death from alcohol withdrawal comes from the onset of delirium tremens (DTs). DTs can lead to confusion and hyperactivity and result in a cardiovascular emergency.
Severe, non-life-threatening symptoms can appear in heavy drinkers going through withdrawal. Some existing conditions can be used to predict the severity of these kinds of symptoms.
- Abnormal liver function
- Brain lesions
- Co-occurring disorders
- Electrolyte disturbances
- Heavy daily alcohol use
- History of DTs or alcohol withdrawal seizures
Signs of Alcohol Withdrawal
Signs of alcohol withdrawal can vary from person to person. Even within the same person, symptoms can intensify from one withdrawal time to the next and new symptoms can appear. As these symptoms overlap with other conditions, it may be hard to recognize them as a sign of alcohol withdrawal specifically.
- Autonomic hyperactivity (e.g., sweating or pulse rate greater than 100 beats per minute)
- Grand mal seizures
- Increased hand tremor
- Mood changes
- Nausea or vomiting
- Visual, tactile, or auditory hallucinations or illusions
Alcohol Withdrawal Timeline, Stages, & Severity
The timeline for alcohol withdrawal is divided into three stages: Stage 1, Stage 2, and Stage 3. New symptoms may appear in each stage. If left untreated, the third stage can last the longest.
Stage 1 begins only hours after the last drink. For example, a last drink with dinner could result in withdrawal beginning by bedtime. During this stage, a person may feel anxious or nauseated. They may experience abdominal pain. A headache may begin and falling asleep or staying asleep may become difficult. These mild symptoms tend to seem easy to manage.
Stage 2 begins a day after the last drink is consumed. It can last several days, too. During this period, a person may experience visual, auditory, or tactile hallucinations. Withdrawal delirium known as DTs creates a risk for mortality. Their blood pressure and body temperature may rise. As symptoms grow more severe, they can have an impact on a person’s mental and emotional well-being, too.
Stage 3 begins a week after a final drink and severity of symptoms is typically lower. A person still may experience hallucinations, seizures, fever, and agitation. If left untreated, they may continue to experience this stage of withdrawal symptoms for weeks.
The Safest Alcohol Withdrawal Is Medically-Supervised
Detoxing from alcohol under medical supervision allows a patient to receive round-the-clock care as they move through the stages of withdrawal. It’s a safe and far more comfortable process for the individual. It also increases their chances of successfully transitioning to an inpatient or outpatient program once detox is complete.
Co-occurring physical and mental health needs can be addressed and treated during a medical detox. Physical needs may stem from chronic conditions, and mental health concerns may include anxiety, depression, or post-traumatic stress. A patient whose mental health and physical wellness are prioritized during this period is more likely to be prepared for the comprehensive recovery work ahead.
Medically-supervised detox also provides an opportunity for undiagnosed mental health disorders to be discovered. The treatment team may uncover a co-occurring disorder that has been a factor in a patient’s struggle to get sober. Before completing the detox process, a patient can get a personalized care plan for making decisions about moving on to an inpatient or outpatient program.
Restored Path’s Solution
Restored Path Detox is DFW’s premier location for medically supervised drug and alcohol detox in Dallas. Conveniently located in Frisco, we provide a safe sanctuary for healing that is also a state-of-the-art detoxification facility for a wide range of substances. Our compassionate physicians and therapists want you to get well and are committed to removing any existing barriers to your care. Restored Path’s team of board-certified physicians and highly qualified RNs have extensive critical care experience and are available to monitor your detox program 24 hours a day, seven days a week.