Alcohol detoxification (or detox) is the process that takes place in your body as it gets rid of the toxins that have built up due to prolonged alcohol abuse. There can be many side effects from the process of alcohol detox and these side effects can vary in severity. The staff here at Discovery Institute will guide you or your loved one through the stages of alcohol detox and on a path to sobriety.

Alcohol is a depressant and causes your brain to slow down. Your body becomes addicted to alcohol and craves it to avoid the side effects of withdrawal. The longer you drink alcohol and the amount of alcohol you drink during that time will determine the severity of the withdrawal symptoms. 

As you make the first steps and commit to the process of alcohol detox you will have many questions and concerns. Changes in your body and the way the detoxification process may affect your emotional well-being are possible. Common questions about alcohol detox are listed below.

1. What Is the Best Way to Treat Alcohol Withdrawal?

Alcohol withdrawal is treated in different ways depending on the severity of the addiction. In all circumstances, you need a safe, alcohol-free environment. A strong support system is also key to a successful detoxification process.

Making sure you have access to nutritious foods and lots of fluids is also important. It is also common for your doctor to prescribe withdrawal medications that will lessen the effects of alcohol withdrawal. It is important to be supervised by medical staff so that these medications and your withdrawal symptoms can be closely monitored.

2. What Happens In An Alcohol Detox?

Alcohol detox is not an easy process to go through. The detoxification process is different for each person. During the initial phase you will experience: 

  • Fatigue
  • Anxiety
  • Depression
  • Mood swings
  • Cravings for alcohol
  • Elevated heart rate
  • Difficulty sleeping
  • Physical tremors
  • Stomach pain or vomiting

After a few days pass you may experience these symptoms:

  • Fever
  • Seizures
  • Hallucinations
  • Disorientation
  • Rapid heartbeat
  • Agitation

3. Can Alcohol Withdrawal Lead to Fatality?

Alcohol Withdrawal

Alcohol withdrawal can lead to life-altering and, in some cases, life-threatening results. It is highly recommended that you are under a doctor’s care while going through the stages of alcohol withdrawal. The withdrawal process will cause your body to work overtime. 

There are certain factors that may cause a person to die from alcohol withdrawal. If the alcohol addiction has taken place over a long period of time it’s possible that the body will not recover. If the health of the alcoholic isn’t good the withdrawal process may be too much and the person may die.

4. How To Know If I’m Experiencing Alcohol Withdrawal?

The symptoms of alcohol withdrawal include:

  • Fever
  • Anxiety
  • Vomiting
  • Nausea
  • Headache
  • Insomnia
  • Sweating
  • Seizures
  • Mood swings
  • Hallucinations
  • Shaky hands

5. How Long Do Alcohol Withdrawal Symptoms Last?

The length of time that symptoms last from alcohol withdrawal will vary. The amount of time depends on the severity of the addiction to alcohol. The average time range that withdrawal symptoms may last is between 2-8 days.

6. How Do I Know If I Am An Alcoholic?

Will My Body Repair Itself If I Stop Drinking

A sign that alcohol has become a problem in your life occurs if you are unable to think about anything else other than when you’re going to have your next drink. It is this obsession with alcohol that indicates that you have a problem. If having the next drink of alcohol controls every aspect of your life then you have become an alcoholic.

Other indicators can include:

  • Memory loss from drinking
  • Drinking when you are alone
  • Suffering from stomach problems 
  • Hiding the amount of alcohol you have consumed
  • Feeling guilty about the amount of alcohol you consume
  • Experiencing “the alcohol shakes” when you’re not drinking

7. Will My Body Repair Itself If I Stop Drinking?

Alcohol affects the way your brain processes things. Alcohol also affects the central nervous system. Alcoholics have a greater chance of heart problems such as cardiomyopathy, stroke, arrhythmias, and high blood pressure.

Drinking excessive amounts of alcohol will also damage and weaken the liver, the digestive system, the pancreas, and other organs. Alcohol will weaken your immune system. This weakened immune system will cause you to be more susceptible to illness and diseases.

The body can repair itself if the amount of alcohol that was consumed wasn’t in large quantities, and the length of time that alcohol was consumed was minimal. It has been found that alcoholics are at a higher risk to contract pneumonia or various diseases such as cancer and tuberculosis.

8. How Can I Naturally Remove Alcohol From My System?

Drinking excessive amounts of alcohol deprives your body of many things. Due to being so focused on getting the next drink, you ignore any signs of stress and overall health problems. These warning signs should not be ignored.

There are many ways to flush your body of alcohol naturally. These tactics will also help minimize the symptoms from overindulging. Here are some strategies for ways to ease into detoxing your body of alcohol.

  • Sleep: Sleeping is a way to let your body rejuvenate. It will allow your body time to begin the process of flushing the alcohol out of your system.
  • Stay hydrated: Water is a great way to cleanse your body and flush out any toxins. Hydration is key in feeling healthier overall. Drinks that have electrolytes in them are also a good way to hydrate. The electrolytes will build and maintain the water levels in your body.
  • Eat: Do not gorge on a big, heavy meal; eat smaller and healthier meals instead. This will allow your body to regain energy. The toxins in alcohol may cause sugar levels to dip, and eating a small meal can correct those levels. Good food choices are eggs or crackers.
  • Get moving: Exercise may be the last thing you want to do, but it is a great way to flush the toxins left behind by alcohol. Physical activity gets the blood flowing which makes the toxins leave your body faster. Your liver is greatly affected when you drink, so exercise is a great way to detoxify.
  • Stay away from sugar and processed foods: Sugary foods like candy and soda are never considered a healthy option. If you are detoxifying alcohol from your body then it’s best to focus on eating healthy foods that will encourage the process.
  • Limit salty foods: Foods with a high level of salt will slow down your need to urinate. Toxins escape through urine, so it’s very important to eat foods that will not decrease the amount of urine you produce.

9. How Long Does it Take to Detox Your Body?

How Long Do Alcohol Withdrawal Symptoms Last

The process of detoxing your body and freeing it from the toxins in alcohol will vary for each person. The factors that come into play are how much you drink, how long you’ve been drinking, and if you have been through a prior detoxification process. On average the detoxification process takes about a week, but the withdrawal symptoms may last much longer.

Symptoms within the first 6 to 12 hours include anxiety, cravings, extreme sweating, headaches, nausea and vomiting, and the shakes. Anxiety occurs because your body is not feeling well at all and the urge to have a drink to feel more “in control” is intense. This intense urge is caused by cravings that are created due to alcohol being a highly addictive substance.

During the next 12 to 24 hours some of the original symptoms may increase. Additional symptoms may include hallucinations, dehydration, and an upset stomach. Dehydration is caused due to extreme sweating and the need to urinate frequently. Hallucinations may take place because there is a combination of your body producing extra dopamine as well as a decrease in your blood sugar levels.

The next stage occurs between hours 24 to 48 and is the most dangerous time period. Your body begins to go into full “fight mode” during this phase. Symptoms may include low blood sugar levels, alcohol seizures, irritability, and delirium tremens. Delirium tremens is also known as alcohol withdrawal delirium and can be fatal.

The last phase of alcohol detoxification happens in hours 48 to 168. This is the stage when the physical symptoms of alcohol detox begin to slow down or disappear altogether. At this stage, it is the mental symptoms that become prevalent. Such feelings as depression, anxiety, confusion, restlessness, and anger come to the forefront.

10. Does Alcohol Withdrawal Cause Vivid Dreams?

Drinking alcohol in excess decreases the function of your brain. When you are detoxifying your body of alcohol your brain begins to work overtime. This overtime causes a disrupted sleep pattern.

Because alcohol can alter the quality of sleep this then leads to a decrease in the quantity of sleep. Drinking any amount of alcohol lessens the chance that you will fall into a deep sleep. This deep sleep stage is known as REM sleep.

REM sleep is the stage of sleep when dreaming occurs. Because of the alcohol in your system, your body may bounce between REM sleep and non-REM sleep. This may then cause vivid dreams or “night terrors” to occur.

How Can Discovery Institute Help?

Detoxifying from alcohol can be a long, tough process. If you are looking for help for yourself or a loved one Discovery Institute is ready to talk to you. Contact us today for information about how our program can provide the fresh start that you need. We look forward to walking with you as you pursue freedom from alcohol use disorder!

Reviewed for Medical & Clinical Accuracy by Dr. Jeffrey Berman, MD

Dr. Jeffrey Berman is a psychiatrist in Teaneck, New Jersey and is affiliated with Robert Wood Johnson University Hospital. He received his medical degree from State University of New York Upstate Medical University and has been in practice for more than 20 years. He also speaks multiple languages, including French and Hebrew.