What Are The Stages Of Alcohol Detox?

The alcohol detox process can be viewed in stages that include mild, moderate, and severe symptoms of alcohol withdrawal. Everyone’s experience with detox is different. Treatment can help with alcohol abuse.

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Dr. Manish Mishra, MBBS

Medically Reviewed By: Manish Mishra, MBBS


Detox from alcohol involves managing withdrawal symptoms that occur when someone with an alcohol addiction stops drinking.

Alcohol detox tends to occur in stages, with symptoms worsening over time before gradually going away.

Physical alcohol dependence leads to withdrawal symptoms that can range from mild to severe.

Stages Of Alcohol Detox

Alcohol detox looks different for everyone. Not everyone will experience severe withdrawal symptoms.

Alcohol detox timing also varies. The symptoms of withdrawal outlined below are a general guide, not a hard rule.

Stage 1: Mild Symptoms

The first stage of alcohol withdrawal syndrome tends to start within six to eight hours after the last drink. Relatively mild symptoms can be expected in this stage.

People experience these common symptoms in the first stage of detox:

  • nausea
  • vomiting
  • sweating
  • insomnia
  • shaking
  • alcohol-induced tremors (usually in the hands)
  • mood swings
  • alcohol cravings

Stage 2: Moderate Withdrawal Symptoms

The second stage of detox is usually when people experience moderate symptoms of withdrawal. These symptoms could pose health concerns and require close medical monitoring in a healthcare setting.

The second stage of detox starts about 12 to 24 hours after the last drink.

Symptoms during the second stage of detox can include:

  • high blood pressure
  • fast breathing
  • fast or irregular heart rate
  • heart palpitations
  • confusion
  • irritability
  • fever

Stage 3: Severe Withdrawal Symptoms

The third stage of detox is the timeframe when the most severe symptoms usually present themselves. This is when life-threatening symptoms may occur.

Anyone experiencing severe alcohol withdrawal should be taken out of an outpatient setting and put under medical care at an inpatient treatment facility.

Medical professionals can help manage symptoms and keep the person in detox stable.

Symptoms during the third stage of detox may include:

  • hallucinations
  • high body temperature
  • agitation
  • confusion
  • seizures
  • tremors
  • disorientation

Delirium tremens (DTs) is the name given to the most severe form of alcohol withdrawal. DTs can occur without warning, and symptoms can be life-threatening.

Medications Used In Alcohol Detox

Sometimes, medical advice during alcohol withdrawal includes the recommendation to use certain medications.

The most common type of drug used during withdrawal are benzodiazepines, which are a class of drug that include medications like Ativan (lorazepam).

Benzodiazepines help with the management of alcohol withdrawal syndrome. They reduce seizures and act as a central nervous system calming agent.

Later in treatment, drugs like naltrexone may be used to discourage people from drinking alcohol. These drugs reduce alcohol cravings.

Learn more about alcohol withdrawal and detox medications.

Risks Associated With Alcohol Detox

Anyone who routinely engages in excessive alcohol consumption is at risk to experience withdrawal symptoms.

Withdrawal from alcohol is a painful and difficult process. Some of the symptoms can lead to serious health complications.

A few alcohol-induced health complications a person can experience include seizures, delirium tremens, increased risk of heart conditions, and stroke.

People who engage in frequent heavy drinking, people with existing health conditions, and people with other substance use disorders are at the greatest risk for severe withdrawal issues.

Risks from detox are always possible, but going through medical detox at an alcohol treatment center greatly reduces the chances of something going wrong.

Addiction Treatment Options After Alcohol Detox

After detox, the true treatment for alcohol addiction can begin. Inpatient treatment is the best choice for people looking to recover from alcohol abuse.

During inpatient treatment, clients are supported to fully focus on their recovery journey. This is a period of time when all distractions are taken away and recovery is the sole focus.

Find Treatment Services For Alcohol Use Disorder

Bedrock Recovery Center is one of the east coast’s top inpatient treatment facilities for drug and alcohol abuse. We offer medical detox and inpatient treatment programs.

Our programs are designed to fit the needs of our clients, and we prioritize aftercare planning to help ensure your long-term success.

Are you or a loved one battling alcohol abuse? Call our helpline today to learn more about your options for recovery.

  1. National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) https://nida.nih.gov/publications/principles-drug-addiction-treatment-research-based-guide-third-edition/drug-addiction-treatment-in-united-states/types-treatment-programs
  2. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) https://store.samhsa.gov/product/TIP-45-Detoxification-and-Substance-Abuse-Treatment/SMA15-4131
  3. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) https://www.samhsa.gov/medication-assisted-treatment/medications-counseling-related-conditions
  4. U.S. National Library of Medicine: MedlinePlus https://medlineplus.gov/ency/article/000764.htm

Written by Bedrock Recovery Center Editorial Team

© 2024 Bedrock Recovery Center | All Rights Reserved

* This page does not provide medical advice.

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