An alcohol use disorder (AUD) detox may involve taking medications or spending time in rehabilitation. However, the best approach will vary between individuals.

If a person has been consuming more alcohol than is healthy for them, they may decide to do an alcohol detox.

Options for quitting alcohol use and recovering from AUD range from home treatment to spending time in rehabilitation. Many people will need medical support, including the use of medications.

This article discusses what an alcohol detox is in more detail, including potential duration, medications, and life after alcohol detox.

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An alcohol detox aims to help a person quit drinking alcohol and recover from AUD.

AUD is a serious medical condition that can result from chronic heavy drinking.

When a person has AUD, their body can become dependent on alcohol. This makes it more difficult to stop or control their alcohol intake even though continuing to consume alcohol raises the risk of severe social, health, and financial consequences.

People with AUD may also experience symptoms of alcohol withdrawal, which can sometimes be life threatening. Healthcare professionals can help a person quit safely.

A person with severe AUD may need to spend time in a rehabilitation clinic, where a team of specialists can help them quit and support their rehabilitation. For people with less severe AUD, a doctor may recommend an outpatient program.

A person considering an alcohol detox should first speak with a doctor about their alcohol use and concerns. A doctor can recommend a suitable plan of action to help them quit or limit their alcohol consumption.

Alcohol withdrawal syndrome involves a collection of symptoms that a person with AUD may experience after giving up alcohol. Around half of all people who suddenly quit or limit their alcohol consumption develop withdrawal symptoms.

Milder symptoms include:

More severe symptoms include:

Individuals experiencing these symptoms after quitting alcohol should seek medical advice.

Delirium tremens

People experiencing delirium tremens may also show signs of:

A person with signs of delirium tremens needs urgent medical attention. Around 3% to 5% of people who quit alcohol after developing AUD experience delirium tremens. It can be life threatening.

The length of time it takes for a person to recover from AUD varies between individuals.

It depends on factors such as:

  • the severity of AUD
  • whether or not they develop delirium tremens
  • whether they have access to medical support during withdrawal
  • the person’s overall mental and physical health

A person who is recovering from AUD may expect withdrawal symptoms to develop as follows:

Symptom/recoveryWhen to expect
mild symptomscan occur within 6 hours of the last alcohol intake
seizuresaffect some people 12 to 24 hours after the last drink
delirium tremenscan appear within 48 hours and last up to 5 days
recovery from symptomslikely if a person does not develop severe symptoms in 24 to 48 hours
full recoverya person will likely need ongoing, long-term support to prevent a relapse

Ideally, detox will take place in a calm and supportive environment. This can reduce the risk of hallucinations and other severe symptoms.

Medications for mild to moderate withdrawal symptoms

In a medical setting, a doctor may prescribe:

Medications for severe withdrawal symptoms

Treatment for delirium tremens usually involves benzodiazepines, such as:

A person will need intensive monitoring to ensure they receive an appropriate dosage. In some cases, they may also require other medications, such as barbiturates or propofol.

Detox and recovery from alcohol withdrawal is only the first step toward quitting alcohol. A doctor can recommend a long-term treatment program for the individual, which may include:

  • attending a support group
  • having individual or group counseling
  • undertaking skills training for managing stress, overcoming cravings, and other challenges
  • taking medications to reduce the risk of a relapse, especially at times of stress

Many people with AUD make a full recovery from withdrawal. However, there is a high risk of relapse if the person drinks again due to lasting changes in the brain that result from long-term overuse.

Resources for support

People recovering from AUD and their loved ones may find the following sources useful:

Read about alcohol support groups.

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Anyone who has concerns about the amount of alcohol they are consuming can discuss this with a doctor.

People should also seek medical advice if a loved one:

  • experiences withdrawal symptoms when they stop consuming alcohol
  • finds they are overwhelmed with thoughts of drinking alcohol
  • has difficulty working or managing relationships or finances due to alcohol consumption
  • continues to drink even though it makes them feel ill or puts them in danger

Below are some common questions and answers about alcohol detox.

How long does it take for your gut to heal after you quit alcohol?

Some older 2014 research suggests inflammation in the gut and damage to the microbiome start to heal around 3 weeks after quitting alcohol. However, the overall outlook will depend on the individual, the severity of alcohol use disorder, and how much damage has already occurred.

Can you detox at home?

Not everyone needs to spend time in a rehabilitation clinic when they quit alcohol, but it is best to seek medical advice before starting an alcohol detox. Some people may be at risk of life threatening symptoms or complications.

What is the best approach to an alcohol detox?

The most suitable treatment will vary between individuals. Both outpatient and inpatient programs are available, depending on a person’s needs. A doctor can advise which options are most suitable for each individual.

A person who has been consuming more alcohol than is healthy for them may decide to undergo an alcohol detox.

Any person considering this should first speak with a doctor due to the risk of alcohol withdrawal syndrome, which can have severe symptoms. Alcohol use disorder (AUD) is a medical condition, and medical treatment can help a person recover.

Healthcare professionals recommend ongoing support following alcohol detox for AUD to prevent a relapse.