Alcohol detoxification, commonly called detox, is the process of stabilizing alcohol-dependent people who have stopped drinking in order to prevent them from going into alcohol withdrawal and suffering the potentially fatal consequences of that process.

Alcohol withdrawal can lead to a variety of symptoms which typically begin within eight hours after the last alcoholic drink but can occur much later. They usually peak within 24 to 72 hours but can continue for weeks.

Common withdrawal symptoms include:

  • Nervousness
  • Anxiety
  • Irritability
  • Trembling
  • Fatigue
  • Mood swings
  • Depression
  • Nightmares
  • Confused thinking

Other withdrawal symptoms may include:

  • Headache
  • Dilated (enlarged) pupils
  • Insomnia
  • Clammy skin
  • Loss of appetit*e
  • Pallor
  • Rapid heart beat
  • Sweating
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Tremors or shaking of the body

Severe alcohol withdrawal, called delirium tremens (or the DTs) is characterized by:

  • Fever
  • Extreme agitation
  • Hallucinations (seeing, hearing or feeling things that only exist in the mind)
  • Severe confusion
  • Seizures

Medical supervision is essential with delirium tremens in order to prevent possible death.

Alcohol or drug detox consists of three steps, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS):

  1. Evaluation. Patients are tested to determine which substances and the quantities of them that are in their bloodstreams.
  2. Stabilization. Patients undergo the process of detoxification, which is usually involves the use of medications.
  3. Guiding Patients into Treatment. This is the final stage, which is necessary because detox only addresses the physical dependence on substances.

It’s important to select a facility that has detox available on-site and that is accredited by the Joint Commission, the Commission on Accreditation of Rehabilitation Facilities (CARF), the Healthcare Facilities Accreditation Program (HFAP), or the Accreditation Commission for Health Care (ACHC).

Some rehabs don’t have detox available on-site. One facility actually sends its patients thousands of miles away for detox, making the transition to treatment more difficult, time consuming, and expensive.

On the other hand, the St. Gregory Retreat Center and many other facilities across North America provide accredited detox on-site for those who need it.

You may wish to consult with your physician or other qualified health care provider before making any decisions about detox or rehab. If you do choose either detox or a rehab, there are probably many choices near where you live,

You might also decide that you don’t need to enter a rehab but could benefit from any of a number of programs that permit you to live at home. They include HAMS Alcohol Harm Reduction, SMART Recovery, Women for Sobriety, LifeRing, Moderation Management, and the Life Process Program.

Disclaimer: This website is informational only. It makes no suggestions or recommendations about alcohol, drinking, rehabs, programs, or any other matter and none should be inferred. Neither this website nor your host receives any compensation, directly or indirectly, from listing or describing any program. Such listing or description does not imply endorsement. [+]


  • Center for Substance Abuse Treatment. Detoxification and Substance Abuse Treatment Training Manual. HHS Publication No. (SMA) 09­ 4331. Rockville, MD: Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, 2008; reprinted 2009. Available at;
  • Alcohol Withdrawal. National Institute of Health’s MedlinePlus website.;
  • Alcohol Withdrawal. Harvard Health Topics website.

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