How do you know if you need medical detox from alcohol?

When you’re addicted to alcohol, the idea of quitting is often overwhelming – especially when you think about going through withdrawal. One of the first questions that may cross your mind is, “do I need medical detox or can I safely detox on my own/at home?”

Whether you should seek treatment when detoxing from alcohol depends on a number of different factors, including how long you’ve been drinking, how often you drink, other co-occurring disorders (such as anxiety or depression), how many times you’ve tried to quit, and more.

Alcohol Detox Symptoms

For heavy drinkers, alcohol withdrawal is potentially life-threatening. Alcohol withdrawal can begin as early as two hours after your last drink, continue for weeks, and range from mild anxiety and shakiness to seizures and delirium tremens (DTs).

For most people, the first signs of alcohol withdrawal appear six to 12 hours after you stop drinking. Some of the most common alcohol detox symptoms include:

  • Shakiness.
  • Sweating.
  • Mild anxiety.
  • Nausea.
  • Vomiting.
  • Headache.
  • Insomnia.
  • Mood swings.
  • Depression.
  • Fatigue.
  • Clammy or pale skin.
  • Dilated pupils.
  • Rapid heart rate.
  • Loss of appetite.

Delirium Tremens (DTs)

Delirium tremens is a severe form of alcohol withdrawal and involves sudden and severe mental or nervous system changes.

Delirium tremens typically occurs when you stop drinking alcohol after a period of heavy drinking, especially if you don’t eat enough food during that time. It’s most commonly associated with people who have a history of attempting alcohol withdrawal. It may also be caused by a head injury, infection, or illness in people with a history of alcohol abuse.

Symptoms typically occur 48 to 96 hours after your last drink, but they may not surface until seven to 10 days later. The most common symptoms of delirium tremens include:

  • Body tremors.
  • Changes in mental function.
  • Agitation or irritability.
  • Confusion or disorientation.
  • Decreased attention span.
  • Deep sleep that lasts for several days.
  • Delirium.
  • Excitement.
  • Fear.
  • Hallucinations.
  • Increased activity.
  • Quick mood changes.
  • Restlessness.
  • Sensitivity to light, sound, or touch.
  • Sleepiness or fatigue.
  • Seizures.
    • Most often occur 12 to 48 hours after the last drink.
    • Most common in people with past complications from alcohol withdrawal.
    • Typically categorized as generalized tonic-clonic seizures.