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What happens when you detox from alcohol

Updated: Jun 10

If someone has been drinking a lot of alcohol for a long time, suddenly stopping is never a good idea.

Alcohol withdrawal symptoms can be serious and for some, possibly even life threatening. This always requires supervision from a medical professional, such as your GP.

What are the withdrawal symptoms when you detox from alcohol?

Common withdrawal symptoms from stopping drinking alcohol include anxiety, tremor, sweating, headaches, nausea, fatigue, insomnia, depression and mood swings.

In a more severe cases, seizures can occur, sometimes with little or no warning. This a life-threatening event.

Delirium tremens is the most serious type of alcohol withdrawal and is a medical emergency. The ‘DTs’ usually affects people with a severe physical dependence on alcohol and requires medicine from a doctor. Untreated, it is potentially fatal. Symptoms include hallucinations, fever, confusion and agitation, irregular heartbeat and blood pressure and even tremors and seizures.

These symptoms can usually be prevented or treated simply with medication and monitoring by a medical professional.

doctor holds patient's hands
Getting medical help before you detox is essential

Why do withdrawal symptoms happen?

Alcohol is a central nervous system depressant and makes your brain work extra hard to keep up its functions. When the alcohol is taken away, your brain is still working in overdrive to deal with a depressant which is no longer there, which can make you feel anxious and cause other withdrawal symptoms. It can take a while for your brain and body to recalibrate.

How long does a detox take?

It’s different for everyone but generally speaking, alcohol withdrawal symptoms can start about 6 hours after stopping drinking, with unpleasant symptoms lasting for about a week. Trouble with sleeping and mood problems can carry on for a few weeks while gradually lessening.


A secondary detox phase can begin a few weeks after a physical detox and is known as Post Acute Withdrawal Syndrome (PAWS). Symptoms from this condition are mainly psychological and emotional and although it’s temporary (lasting from a few weeks or months, or even a year or two), it can put you at risk of relapsing. PAWS is challenging but can be overcome with the right support in your recovery.

Does everyone need a medical detox?

No, many people don’t need to take prescribed medicine to help them safely withdraw from alcohol. If your use is more binge style, such as drinking heavily on a weekend and then having a break of several days with no withdrawal symptoms, then it’s unlikely you will need medication to safely stop. If you have been drinking most days then it’s recommended that people try to gradually reduce their intake over time to reduce withdrawal symptoms. However, you may need support to start and continue with this process.

Do I need rehab to detox?

Some things that might help you successful gradually and safely reduce alcohol include:

· Seeing your GP for medical advice and supervision if necessary.

· Consulting a mental health and addictions counsellor.

· Telling your family, friends and employer your plan, and ask for their support.

· Getting support from other people who are in recovery from alcohol dependence.

· Using distraction, finding other activities to fill your time.

· Taking some time away from your ‘normal’ life to reduce pressures and responsibilities.

· Resting, drinking lots of water and eating healthy food.

· Getting professional help to support you in building a sustainable sober life through proven therapies, such as a rehab facility. This can increase your chances of successfully getting through the challenging days of early sobriety by giving you the space and best support to get and stay well.

If you have more questions about support from the professional team at Ocean Hills, please call Elaine on 027 573 7744 for a confidential chat.

The medical facts in this article have been checked and updated by a registered nurse.

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