Alcohol Detox – Why is it so Important?

Alcohol Detox and Withdrawl

There may be some resistance to the idea of quitting alcohol consumption because of the perceived actions and feelings associated with withdrawal symptoms; however, this is the first and most important step in the fight towards sobriety and the ending of alcoholism and alcohol abuse.

Alcohol detox or detoxification is the first step taken in the treatment of alcoholism. Alcohol use disorder is when you cant stop  alcohol

The First Step to Alcohol Detox

Alcohol detoxification or detox is the first step taken in the treatment of alcohol use disorder (formerly called alcoholism). Through the process of detox, alcohol is completely flushed from a patient’s body. Of course, with every withdrawal of an addictive substance from the human body, the act of withdrawal rears its head, and with AUD, withdrawal can last for days if not several weeks after the process to remove alcohol has begun. This is all dependent on the severity of the addiction and other factors unique to each patient. Once complete, a patient will be able to focus on other aspects of the recovery process offered at a rehabilitation centre. At Houghton House Addiction & Mental Health Treatment Centres which is based in Johannesburg, therapy, various activities, counselling sessions and other forms of support are just a few of the aspects that patients can focus on as they recover.


What is alcohol and why do withdrawals occur?

Alcohol is a depressant which causes a reliance to occur within humans over a particular time period. This can take place over a few months or take years however once the patient is reliant the patient’s brain stops producing certain chemicals naturally as it now receives them from alcohol. This is the addiction taking hold within the inner working of a drinker’s brain. This is why, when a person quits drinking, it takes time for their body to adjust. During this post-drinking adjustment phase headaches, fever, nausea, irregular heartbeat, and hallucinations can and often do take place. This is the withdrawal period and it is not pleasant.

As a result, some people are apprehensive about the idea of quitting drinking because they’re nervous about the withdrawal symptoms experienced during alcohol detox. While some people may get ‘lucky’ and only experience minor effects brought on by AUD and subsequent withdrawal from alcohol, others may suffer severe and intense pain.  Withdrawal symptoms can quickly and quite aggressively change how it is felt which is why it’s crucial that those wanting/needing to detox do so under the care of medical professionals such as those who work at Johannesburg’s best rehab centre; Houghton House Addiction & Mental Health Treatment Centres. Treatment professionals at a rehab facility such as Houghton House will be able to help patients manage their pain and subsequently focus on their recovery and get better.

If you’re reading this and want to take the next step and quit drinking, you owe it to yourself to get the help you deserve at the top rehab centre in Gauteng, Houghton House Addiction & Mental Health Treatment Centres.


What are some of the key symptoms of Alcohol Detox?

The alcohol detox phase can involve withdrawal symptoms with a wide range of effects on the human body. Some are mild while others can be severe and even life-threatening. It must be noted that the longevity and severity of a patient’s AUD can and often will play a role in the withdrawal symptoms they experience. If a person has struggled with years of heavy drinking they are quite likely bound to experience severe withdrawal symptoms like seizures or delirium tremens

Here are some of the withdrawal symptoms considered to be mild in nature:

  1. Insomnia
  2. Headaches
  3. Sweating
  4. Anxiety
  5. Nausea


The more ‘severe’ withdrawal symptoms include:

  1. Tremors
  2. Extreme hallucinations
  3. Seizures
  4. Disorientation
  5. Delirium tremens (in rare cases)

What is Delirium Tremens?

Delirium tremens is a rapid onset of confusion usually caused by withdrawal from alcohol. When it occurs, it is often two to five days into the withdrawal symptoms and lasts for two to three days. Physical effects may include shaking, shivering, irregular heart rate, and sweating. Patients may also hallucinate. Although fairly uncommon, it is the most serious effect from alcohol withdrawal. It can be life-threatening however, less than 5% of people will develop delirium tremens when quitting drinking.

Although delirium tremens is unlikely, roughly 30% of those who get it will also develop Aspiration Pneumonia.

Due to the severity of some withdrawal symptoms, alcohol detox should be monitored by a medical professional. This is especially true for those who have a history of heart or lung diseases or other notable medical conditions as withdrawal symptoms can quickly worsen. Treatment at Houghton House Addiction & Mental Health Treatment Centres will ensure that a patient’s blood pressure and heart rate will be constantly monitored to make sure their condition doesn’t worsen. You can also talk to us about the symptoms you are experiencing, as well as if you are in any pain. This information helps our team work out which treatment and course of action will best help you on your journey.


Is there an Alcohol Detox Timeline?

Withdrawal symptoms can begin to surface as early as two hours after the last drink has been imbibed. While the most painful symptoms usually subside within the first week, some symptoms can last for several weeks and even up to a year. There’s no exact timeline as to when or what withdrawal symptoms a person will experience; however, there’s a general outline of what to expect. Here’s what a person can look to experience as detox begins:

First 6 to 12 hours: The initial symptoms of detox are ‘mild,’ but can quickly intensify as time goes on. Some of the early withdrawal symptoms include: headaches, shaking, anxiety, nausea and irritability.

Day 1: As you approach the end of the first day of detox, symptoms may become increasingly severe. Alongside the effects felt from the first 12 hours additional symptoms may involve disorientation, hand tremors and seizures.

Day 2: Similar to the first full day of detox, the most painful symptoms will continue into day 2.  Hallucinations and panic attacks are common during this time. Your body is actively detoxing alcohol from your body. 

Days 3-7: For rest of the first week of your detox different withdrawal symptoms may come and go. This is also the timeframe where you’re most at risk for life-threatening symptoms such as delirium tremens.

1 week in:  By the time you’ve completed your first week of detox, many of the withdrawal symptoms will begin to subside. Although some symptoms may persist for a few weeks, they are mostly minor.


Additional fact about detox:

It is important to note that even after the most serious withdrawal symptoms have dissipated, some people may experience post-acute withdrawal syndrome, the prolonged symptoms of detox. Generally, these symptoms include anxiety, low energy, trouble sleeping and delayed reflexes, and can last from several months to a year.

The most uncomfortable detox withdrawal symptoms usually peak around 10 – 30 hours after the last drink and start to lessen at the 40 -50 hour mark.

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