Updated on February 6, 2024
3 min read

Alcohol Detox: 9 Things to Consider

People with alcohol use disorder (AUD) may experience withdrawal symptoms when abstaining from liquor. These uncomfortable withdrawal symptoms can drive one to relapse. In severe cases, some side effects can even prove deadly. 

However, detoxing under appropriate supervision can mitigate these risks and harmful side effects.

Alcohol Withdrawal Symptoms Timeline

The symptoms of alcohol withdrawal can begin as little as six hours after the last drink and last up to 72 hours. If any of these symptoms become severe, seek medical care immediately.

Here are the conditions you can expect when detoxing from alcohol:

Stage 1 (6 to 12 hours):

  • Tremors
  • Headaches
  • Mild anxiety
  • Insomnia
  • Heart palpitations
  • Sweating
  • Upset stomach

Stage 2 (12 to 24 hours):

  • Seizures
  • Hallucinations
  • Nightmares
  • Mental fog
  • Nausea and vomiting

Stage 3 (48 to 72 hours):

  • Visual hallucinations
  • Tremors
  • Seizures
  • Nausea
  • Impaired attention span

Delirium Tremens and Its Symptoms

In rare cases, a person undergoing substance abuse treatment may also experience Delirium tremens (DT). DT is a severe form of alcohol withdrawal syndrome that involves neurological and autonomic nervous system hyperactivity.

It can be potentially fatal, underlining the severe alcohol health risks of heavy drinking.

Possible DT symptoms include:

  • Agitation
  • Confusion
  • Occasional hallucinations
  • High blood pressure
  • Elevated heart rate
  • Fever
  • Sweating

About half of the people with AUD experience withdrawal when they stop drinking. Roughly 3 to 5 percent experience severe symptoms like Delirium tremens.3

Delirium Tremens Risk Factors

Factors that increase a person’s risk for DT include:

  • Being of older age
  • Liver function
  • Previous occurrences of DTs
  • History of seizures during medical detox
  • Platelet counts
  • Potassium levels
  • Sodium levels
  • Dehydration
  • Brain lesions

Anyone at risk for DTs should detox from alcohol at a properly equipped medical facility. DTs management requires specialized medical care and close monitoring due to its life-threatening complications.


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The Role of Medication in Treating Withdrawal Symptoms

Medication becomes necessary when progressing from mild symptoms to moderate or severe. Examples of withdrawal medications include:

  • Benzodiazepines: Reduce the risk of seizures
  • Neuroleptic drugs: Depress the nervous system to prevent seizures and agitation
  • Nutritional support (supplemental vitamins, etc.): Reduces withdrawal symptoms and corrects dietary deficiencies

Additional symptoms, such as high blood pressure, can be treated with medications specific to that condition.

Prescription Medications

After the initial symptoms ease, doctors may prescribe medications to curb a person’s desire to drink. These might include:

  • Antabuse (disulfiram): Induces unpleasant side effects after alcohol consumption and deters people from drinking again
  • ReVia (naltrexone): Blocks alcohol’s pleasurable effects and reduces a person’s craving for it, maintaining abstinence and decreasing the likelihood of relapse
  • Topamax (topiramate): Potentially lowers alcohol cravings and promotes abstinence in some people with AUD
  • Campral (acamprosate): Reduces alcohol cravings and withdrawal symptoms by restoring the balance of chemicals in the brain, disrupted by long-term alcohol use

Medicinal therapies are most beneficial when combined with support groups and counseling.

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Alcohol Detox Diet

Getting enough fluids and nutrients is crucial to a successful alcohol detox process. An alcohol detox diet might include the following:


Alcohol can intensify the adverse side effects of detoxification due to its dehydrating effects. However, staying hydrated flushes toxins from your system and alleviates the symptoms, including:

  • Fatigue
  • Nausea
  • Loss of appetite
  • Anxiety and depression
  • Overall feelings of sluggishness and cloudy thinking

Soups and broths are suitable light sources of sustenance and aid in hydration. They can be helpful to people who can’t keep down alcohol detox foods.

Nutritional Supplements

Most people with advanced alcohol abuse usually have vitamin and mineral deficiencies. So, doctors often recommend that those going through alcohol detox consume nutrient-rich foods such as:

  • Vitamin A
  • Vitamin D
  • Vitamin E
  • Vitamin K

A Balanced Diet

As your appetite returns, it’s essential to eat a balanced diet. Consuming these foods will reduce cravings and make you feel your best:

  • Vegetables 
  • Fruits
  • Lean protein
  • Whole grains
  • Healthy fats

However, sugar cravings can be a problem during alcohol detox because of the high sugar content in alcohol. Once you stop drinking, your body may crave sweet foods to fill the void. This may cause fluctuations in blood sugar levels.

Fortunately, many detox and treatment programs offer nutritional guidance and help create a customized healthy diet. Eating healthy can speed up recovery and make the transition to sobriety easier.

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Updated on February 6, 2024
6 sources cited
Updated on February 6, 2024
  1. National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. “Alcohol and Nutrition - Alcohol Alert No. 22- 1993.” U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, 2000.
  2. Clinical Institute Withdrawal Assessment for Alcohol Scale | Study.Com.” Study.Com, 2020.
  3. Schuckit, Marc A. “Recognition and Management of Withdrawal Delirium (Delirium Tremens).” New England Journal of Medicine, 2014.
  4. Rahman A, Paul M. "Delirium Tremens. In: StatPearls [Internet]. Treasure Island (FL)": StatPearls Publishing, 2021.
  5. Dugdale, DC. “Alcohol Withdrawal: MedlinePlus Medical Encyclopedia.” MedlinePlus, U.S. National Library of Medicine, 2021.
  6. Berger, FK. “Substance Use Recovery and Diet: MedlinePlus Medical Encyclopedia.” MedlinePlus, U.S. National Library of Medicine, 2020.

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