Alcohol Detox Treatment

During alcohol detox all traces of alcohol are removed from the body. Alcohol withdrawal syndrome is a side effect of stopping alcohol use.Alcohol detox is the first stage of the rehabilitation process. During this stage, all traces of alcohol are removed from the body. This process is generally considered safe when monitored by a medical professional at one of the many alcohol rehab centers available. Being monitored at an alcohol rehab center lowers health risks during the withdrawal process. Life-threatening side effects can occur during withdrawal. The severity of withdrawal symptoms and the time needed for detoxification will depend on:

  • Overall health
  • Body composition
  • Metabolism
  • Length of alcohol abuse
  • Rate of consumption
  • Other addictions involved

Alcohol detox generally takes anywhere from a few days to several weeks.

Going through alcohol withdrawal at home and without medical supervision is not advisable.

Role Of Alcohol Rehab Centers During Detox

When admitted to a rehab facility for alcohol detox treatment, a team of medical professionals will guide you on your road to recovery. You will undergo a physical exam to determine overall health and discover any possible underlying conditions that need to be monitored or treated during detox. In addition, a therapist will ask questions about your alcohol use and any other drug use. Being upfront and thorough will help your therapist and rehab center devise the best treatment plan custom tailored for you. Everyone is different and is treated as such. The level of care needed and treatment plan will vary according to the individual and severity of their addiction.

Inpatient alcohol rehab centers are recommended for a greater chance of recovery without relapse. When checking into an inpatient facility, a counselor will guide you to your room and ensure no contraband is among your belongings. Contraband includes alcohol, illegal drugs, and many prescription and over-the-counter medications. Communication devices and other electronics may also be considered to be contraband. Allowed use of electronics will be different at executive treatment centers which have tailored features and services to allow professionals the ability to continue work and interact with clients.

Alcohol Withdrawal

Consuming alcohol regularly changes body chemistry leading to alcohol cravings.When alcohol is consumed regularly the body’s chemistry becomes acclimated to having a certain level of alcohol in its system. When removed, alcohol withdrawal symptoms may start within eight hours as the body adjusts. Withdrawal symptoms peak in the first couple of days after stopping alcohol though less severe symptoms may continue for weeks.1

Alcohol withdrawal symptoms include:1

  • Abdominal pain
  • Agitation
  • Anxiety
  • Confusion
  • Delirium tremens
  • Depression
  • Dilated pupils
  • Disorientation
  • Elevated heart rate
  • Fatigue
  • Fever
  • Foggy thoughts
  • Hallucinations (tactile, auditory, and visual)
  • Headache
  • Heart palpitations
  • High blood pressure
  • Insomnia
  • Irregular heart rate
  • Loss of appetite
  • Mood swings
  • Nausea
  • Nightmares
  • Panic attacks
  • Restlessness
  • Sweating
  • Tremors
  • Vomiting

The delirium tremens (DTs) affect 3-5 percent of those going through alcohol withdrawal.2 Just another reason to make sure you are under medical supervision during alcohol detox.

Medications Used In Alcohol Detox

Alcohol detox often requires medications to manage withdrawal symptoms and lessen cravings.3 Medications used will vary to match the specific needs of the individual. Medications may also be prescribed after detox to prevent relapse. These medications deter drinking and manage cravings for alcohol.


Benzodiazepine is a psychoactive drug that may be used for:

  • Agitation
  • Anxiety
  • Depression
  • Insomnia
  • Nausea
  • Panic attacks
  • Seizures
  • Vomiting


Topiramate is a nerve pain medication and anticonvulsant that may be used for migraines and seizures.4


Barbiturates like phenobarbital may be used alone or in combination with benzodiazepine to relieve anxiety and agitation and lower the risk of seizure.5


Dexmedetomidine is an alpha-adrenergic agonist that may be used to decrease blood pressure and heart rate.6


Acamprosate may be prescribed after detox to reducing alcohol cravings. It also helps reduce the withdrawal symptoms of:7

  • Agitation
  • Anxiety
  • Depression
  • Insomnia
  • Restlessness


Disulfiram may be prescribed after detox. Disulfiram blocks the body’s ability to process alcohol causing side effects such as flushing, nausea, and heart palpitations if alcohol is consumed. These unpleasant side effects may be enough to prevent drinking.8


Naltrexone an indirect opioid-receptor antagonist that may be prescribed after detox. Naltrexone is used to manage cravings for alcohol by blocking receptors involved in the reward process.8


Methadone is a narcotic that may be used during detox to ease an individual off alcohol.

Methadone is slowly reduced over time. If methadone is used during the alcohol detox stage, the patient may continue use after the detox process. Some patients continue on the drug for months to years after detox.

Methadone is addictive. There is a risk of replacing one addiction with another.


Buprenorphine blocks receptors reducing the effect of alcohol on the brain. Like methadone, buprenorphine is slowly reduced over time. Some patients continue on the drug for months to years after detox.9


Suboxone is a combination of buprenorphine and naloxone. Buprenorphine is a narcotic. Naloxone blocks the effects of narcotics and is added as a precaution to lower the instance of abusing buprenorphine.10

Additional Medications

Additional medications that may be given:

  • Nutritional supplements
  • Pain relievers
  • Sleep aids


1 Comment
  1. Ina C. 6 months ago

    Really helpful post! It’s quite surprising that there’s actually a long list of treatment medications for alcohol withdrawal symptoms.
    Breaking the cycle of alcohol addiction is never easy! It’s important that alcoholics can get alcohol rehab help in a treatment program that offers:

    • A caring, professional staff
    • Personalized treatment programs
    • One-on-one therapy & group sessions
    • Relapse prevention programs
    • An inviting location with beautiful surroundings

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* is for informational purposes and should not be considered medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment recommendations. Please consult a physician to determine your best plan for treatment.

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