Alcohol Detox

Alcohol detox refers to how an individual abstains from consuming alcohol to rid their body of the substance and restore chemical balance. Alcohol withdrawal signs and symptoms will vary for each individual based on gender, genetics, and physical health. Other determining factors of the severity of alcohol withdrawal symptoms include the duration of the addiction and how heavily the individual drank. 

The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA) reports that in 2019:

  • 14.5 million people ages 12 and older had an alcohol use disorder
  • 414,000 adolescents ages 12 to 17 had an alcohol use disorder

Alcohol is one of the few drugs known to cause death from withdrawal. It is very strongly encouraged to undergo the detoxification process in a trusted medical facility that can monitor symptoms and warning signs of complications that can arise. Alcohol addiction is a prevalent disease in the United States, making the treatment for alcohol use disorder a priority at Crescent Moon Recovery.

What Are the Signs of Alcohol Use Disorder?

The statistics above show that alcohol use disorder (AUD) is a huge and growing problem in the United States. This disorder refers to the inability or unwillingness (or both) to stop drinking alcohol despite the negative impact it can have on an individual's health, social life, relationships, and family unit. Considered a brain disorder, there are different levels of severity of alcohol use disorder, and the more severe, the worse withdrawal symptoms can be. 

You or a loved one may be suffering from an alcohol use disorder if these symptoms are exhibited:

  • When you attempt to stop drinking, withdrawal symptoms occur
  • More alcohol is required to achieve the same effect
  • When intoxicated, your thoughts and behaviors have become more negative
  • You experience cravings for alcohol that distract you from other things
  • You spend a lot of time drinking or recovering from its after-effects
  • No longer engaging in social activities when alcohol is not present
  • Continuing to drink alcohol despite its adverse physical and social effects
  • You are hiding the amount you drink from your loved ones for fear they will see how much you drink
  • You begin to neglect your health and hygiene

If you suspect that you or a loved one are suffering from alcohol use disorder, it is essential to seek treatment to stop active addiction and rebuild your life. There are many different treatment options for alcohol use disorder such as detox, inpatient treatment, intensive outpatient programs, 12-Steps groups like Alcoholics Anonymous (AA), and other recovery groups.

The Dangers of Alcohol Use Disorder

Besides the dangerous and potentially deadly withdrawal symptoms, alcohol abuse can have many short- and long-term effects that can be either temporary or permanent. Prolonged alcohol consumption can lead to permanent debilitating health issues and diseases, making it vital that a person suffering from alcohol use disorder receive help before these adverse effects take hold and cannot be reversed.

Alcohol can permeate virtually every tissue in the body, meaning that prolonged and excessive drinking can damage almost every organ system in the body. It has been known to lead to many different cancers and chronic diseases. Even the short-term effects can cause people to do things that have lasting consequences.

Short-term effects of alcohol abuse can lead to poor judgment, lack of inhibition, and bad decision-making. Other short-term effects include:

  • Trouble concentrating
  • Blurred vision
  • Slurred speech
  • Reduced inhibition
  • Dulled perception
  • Mood swings
  • Vomiting
  • Passing out

When a person continues drinking for prolonged periods of time and excessively, these symptoms can intensify. When an individual begins to feel sober again, they will often feel depressed, as dopamine levels in the brain begin to fall. If a person participates in a pattern of binge drinking, they are also at risk of alcohol poisoning. This occurs when the body has consumed more alcohol than it can process in a short period. Once this happens, the toxic effects of alcohol can overwhelm the body, resulting in vomiting, low body temperature, seizures, unconsciousness, and even death. 

The long-term effects of alcohol use disorder are incredibly serious and dangerous. They include:

  • Heart disease
  • Certain types of cancer such as throat, esophageal, breast, liver, colorectal, and mouth cancers
  • High blood pressure
  • Digestive problems
  • Fatty liver disease
  • Cirrhosis
  • Stroke
  • Irregular heartbeat
  • Memory loss
  • Alcohol dependence

Often, health complications, the risk for many different diseases, and the deterioration of personal life can lead a person to identify their alcohol use disorder, and they may try to abstain from alcohol. However, due to alcohol dependence and addiction, it is often challenging for those with AUD to achieve sobriety on their own. Moreover, quitting alcohol by going “cold turkey” or going through detox alone at home can lead to dangerous or even life-threatening withdrawal symptoms.

As such, it is essential for those struggling with alcohol use disorder to consult with addiction professionals to find a treatment facility, like Crescent Moon Recovery, that can provide detox stabilization, medication-assisted treatment (MAT), and psychotherapy to ensure positive treatment outcomes and lasting recovery.

Alcohol Withdrawal

Alcohol dependence and the withdrawal symptoms that come with it are thought to arise as prolonged and excessive use makes various changes in brain activity. Alcohol is neurotoxic, meaning it has been associated with brain damage. More specifically, alcohol changes the functionality of GABA receptors and glutamate in the brain. From this, the brain reacts by decreasing GABA receptors and increasing glutamate. It adjusts to the amount of alcohol consumed and continues to act this way as long as alcohol use continues, forming a tolerance. During this process, alcohol is also releasing dopamine, the reward neurotransmitter in the brain. 

Once a person stops consuming alcohol, it disrupts this pattern of brain activity, causing a hyper-aroused state and onset of withdrawal symptoms. These symptoms can begin to occur six hours after the last drink and can last 72 hours or even longer. In cases of severe alcohol dependence, withdrawal symptoms have been known to continue for months after a person has stopped drinking.

The highest risk for seizures occurs between 24 and 48 hours after the last drink. Different types of seizures like grand mal and status epilepticus occur due to a severe and abnormal electrical discharge in the brain that results in a lack of consciousness, brief cessation in breathing, muscle rigidity and jerking, and a brief or long sleep that, upon awakening, will cause severe confusion. During status epileptics seizures, periods of unconsciousness can last as long as hours, causing permanent brain damage or even death.

People experiencing withdrawal from alcohol may experience these symptoms:

  • Tremors
  • Sweats
  • Restlessness and irritability
  • Anxiety
  • Depression
  • Headaches or migraines
  • Gastrointestinal disruptions like vomiting, diarrhea, and lack of appetite
  • Increased blood pressure
  • Hallucinations
  • Insomnia and nightmares
  • Poor concentration and impaired memory
  • Delusions and paranoia
  • Seizures
  • Dehydration
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Alcohol Detox: What To Expect

Detoxification from alcohol is considered medically dangerous by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Administration (SAMHSA). This means that withdrawal symptoms from alcohol have the potential to cause serious harm to the body and, in some cases, lead to death. As such, medicated assisted detox treatment is often necessary for people wanting to safely recover from alcohol use disorder and reach long-term sobriety. 

If you fear that you or a loved one are experiencing alcohol dependence, it is important that you reach out to your doctor or a medical professional for a diagnosis and treatment options for achieving sobriety safely. Because withdrawal symptoms can be so severe and even life-threatening, it is never recommended that detoxification from alcohol occur at home or without the presence of medical professionals.

The Stages

Alcohol detox and treatment will occur in stages. The first stage is the evaluation process. During the evaluation, a medical professional will assess many areas of an individual's alcohol use and overall health to best determine the kind of treatment plan that fits their needs. Age, general health, nutritional factors, the appearance of co-occurring disorders, and the severity of addiction are all considered and discussed in the evaluation process. The most beneficial information for the clinician is whether withdrawal symptoms have occurred in the patient before, which ones, and to what extent. 

The second stage of treatment for alcohol use disorder is stabilization. This stage refers to the managing of withdrawal symptoms during detox through medically assisted treatment. In alcohol detox, patients are monitored closely for symptoms and provided with medications accordingly. The most common medication used in alcohol detox are benzodiazepines, other anti-convulsants, anti-psychotics, and beta-blockers. The stabilization period can vary in length for each individual, as do the duration of withdrawal symptoms.

Medications for Treating Alcohol Withdrawal in Detox

Benzodiazepines. Benzodiazepines are a group of sedatives and anti-convulsants used to treat anxiety and seizures during alcohol withdrawal. Librium and Valium are two of the most commonly used benzodiazepines for alcohol withdrawal. Usually, longer-acting benzodiazepines will be used because they hold a lower chance of recurrent withdrawal symptoms or seizures. These medications are used in more serious cases of alcohol addiction where it is more likely that seizures will be a symptom of withdrawal. 

Anti-convulsant medication. Even though benzodiazepines can be used to treat seizures, there are instances where medical professionals may decide to use different anti-seizure medications such as Tegretol, Neurontin, Trileptal, or Depakene to manage the more intense symptoms of alcohol withdrawal.

Barbiturates. There may be cases in which patients are not able to take benzodiazepines to manage their alcohol withdrawal symptoms. In emergency cases of alcohol withdrawal, barbiturates have been shown to reduce symptoms of withdrawal in patients with alcohol use disorder as well. 

Treatment After Detox

The final stage of alcohol detox and treatment is aftercare. This part of treatment can look different for each individual, and medical professionals and caseworkers can help determine the best course of action fit for each situation. 

Crescent Moon Recovery's treatment options following detox from alcohol include: 

  • Residential Inpatient Treatment. During inpatient treatment, participants will live at a drug rehabilitation facility for a designated length of time (usually 60 to 90 days) and receive both individual and group addiction therapy. In individual therapy, participants may receive many different forms of therapy and take part in activities and exercises to work through the more lasting psychological effects of recovery. Outside of therapy, they might partake in many different activities and events to learn how to enjoy their lives in recovery again.
  • Intensive Outpatient Treatment (IOP). This is a less immersive type of addiction treatment in which participants may live at home or in sober living houses and visit a treatment center for a set amount of hours daily for group and individual therapy. In intensive outpatient treatment, participants are able to have more responsibility for their addiction recovery by learning hygiene, nutrition, and career development skills.
  • Partial Hospitalization Programs (PHP). PHP is more intensive than standard outpatient treatments, and it is beneficial to people who don't have a strong support system outside of addiction treatment. PHP provides 24-hour care and a mandatory 20-30 hours of activity in treatment per week.


Withdrawal symptoms from alcohol detox can be dangerous and even life-threatening, making it vital that those struggling with alcohol use disorder (AUD) get help at an addiction treatment facility that can provide detox stabilization and medication-assisted treatment as necessary. Crescent Moon Recovery, located in Fountain Valley, California, offers detox and treatment options for a range of substance use disorders (SUDs). To learn more about our treatment options and services, call Crescent Moon Recovery at (714) 464-8474.

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