Alcohol Detox Symptoms: What to Expect

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Alcohol withdrawal symptoms are some of the most dangerous and potentially life-threatening. That’s because chronic alcohol abuse causes changes to the levels of chemicals in a person’s brain. Without the presence of alcohol, a person who is addicted to alcohol can experience symptoms that range from mild to severe.

Doctors can’t predict exactly how bad a person’s alcohol detox symptoms will be. They do know the longer a person has abused alcohol or the more times a person has gone through withdrawal from alcohol, the more severe their symptoms are likely to be.

Early Alcohol Detox Symptoms

A person will usually have their first alcohol detox symptoms about eight hours after they had their last drink. These symptoms may include:

  • Anxiety
  • Depression
  • Fatigue
  • Shakiness
  • Mood swings
  • Nightmares
  • Trouble thinking clearly

Over time, these early alcohol detox symptoms can give way to other symptoms, which can include:

  • Appetite loss
  • Fast heart rate
  • Headache
  • Nausea
  • Tremors (shaking)
  • Trouble sleeping

These symptoms typically peak after about 24 to 72 hours, then usually start to improve.

Delirium Tremens: A Serious Form of Alcohol Withdrawal

In rare instances, a person can experience a severe form of alcohol detox symptoms known as delirium tremens or DTs. An estimated 5 percent of all people who go through alcohol detox will go through the DTs. Symptoms associated with the DTs include:

  • Agitation or severe confusion
  • Fever
  • Hallucinations
  • Seizures
  • Severe confusion

Because of the health risks associated with the DTs, it is important that a person who could experience moderate and severe symptoms receive treatment at a medical detox facility. There, medical professionals can monitor a person’s blood pressure, heart rate, and temperature. They can also administer medications to reduce the likelihood a person will have a seizure, as well as reduce agitation whenever possible.

While there are potential difficulties to going through alcohol detox, the reward is even greater: sobriety. Once a person makes it through their initial alcohol detox symptoms, they can continue on the mental path to long-term recovery. Through continued therapy and participation in support groups, successful long-term sobriety after detox is possible.

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