If you have a long-term drinking problem, you’ll need a health care professional to help you stop using alcohol safely. This first stage of the treatment process is called detox.
What Is Alcohol Detox Like?
It depends. First a health care professional has to determine how severe your drinking problem is. This helps them decide which detox setting would be right for you.
Don’t attempt to detox from alcohol by yourself, Chicago psychiatrist Lauren Pace, DO, tells WebMD Connect to Care. “The first thing is to coordinate with a mental health outpatient provider if they have one. Otherwise people can go directly to the emergency room,” Pace says. The goal is to not have significant alcohol withdrawal symptoms.
If you’re not at risk for severe symptoms, a health professional might recommend outpatient detox for you. You stay at home with a friend or loved one who can keep an eye on you, says MedlinePlus. And you go for frequent checkups, so medical professionals can track your progress during withdrawal. This way, they can boost your level of care if needed.
If you’re at risk for moderate to severe withdrawal symptoms, you may need to stay at an inpatient treatment facility or a hospital during detox. Health care professionals monitor your health and manage your withdrawal symptoms. You may need fluids or medicines through a vein (IV) and sedatives while you go through withdrawal, says MedlinePlus.
The detoxification process can take anywhere from 2 to 7 days, Mayo Clinic says.
Why Alcohol Detox Is Worth It
Detox gets you started on your treatment journey. It can ease withdrawal symptoms and treat potentially deadly complications like delirium tremens.
It also helps you avoid serious health risks that stem from problem drinking. The CDC says that over time, drinking too much can make you more likely to get:
- Heart disease
- Some types of cancer
- Memory problems, including dementia
- Depression or other mental health issues
Alcoholism can also lead to social problems, such as domestic violence, being let go from your job, lost productivity, and isolation.
Again, detox is just the first phase of treatment. Once you’re done detoxing, you have many options for continued support. You can join group therapy or a support group, and find an individual therapist if you don't already have one.
People with severe drinking problems are able to maintain sobriety longer when they are in recovery in a monitored environment away from alcohol, Pace says. A person battling alcohol addiction can live at a residential treatment center and work with a program typically for 1 to 3 months.