Alcohol Detox 101: What to Know & What to Expect

Getting sober is the first step towards addiction recovery, but it often requires medical assistance to be a safe and tolerable experience. Regarding alcohol detox, we typically imagine someone holed up in a hospital or a dorm-like room in an inpatient rehab center, sweating or shaking from the withdrawal.

From a person or patient’s perspective, alcohol addiction can feel like an insurmountable obstacle, with feelings of emotional fear and uncertainty; however, in the hands of a well-trained provider, it can be comfortable, safe, and relatively straightforward. In actuality, alcohol detox (medically known as alcohol withdrawal management) is just like any other medical procedure: it requires expert oversight and careful professional monitoring.

Alcohol detox is a meaningful first step in the treatment of alcoholism (or Alcohol Use Disorder) and the journey to long-term recovery. Surprisingly, the American Society of Addiction Medicine (ASAM) estimates that 85% of patients are eligible to complete their detox in an ambulatory (or outpatient) setting, meaning that you can detox from home if found appropriate by a provider.

The medical providers at Master Center are expertly trained to provide safe, monitored ambulatory alcohol detox as part of the structured addiction treatment program. If you’re curious about alcohol detox and what it’s like, there are a few things to know and expect beforehand.

Why Ambulatory Alcohol Detox

In the past, finding a starting point for alcohol detox was a challenge. Typically, a patient had 3 possible options: going to a hospital, finding an inpatient (or residential) facility, or going to a primary care doctor and hoping for the best. However, there are many issues with these options that make alcohol detox less accessible and more difficult to do, causing many people to avoid trying at all or doing it on their own.

  1. Hospitals: A hospital may seem like the first place to go, especially if you’re experiencing a medical emergency, but people often run into issues with space accessibility, program availability, and high costs, making it a more tricky and uncertain option.
  1. Inpatient Facilities: We typically imagine these when thinking about rehab or detox in general. It may make sense to go to an isolated center for alcohol detox, but there are many barriers to accessing inpatient treatment. These centers are typically very costly—around $10,000-$30,000—can require a lengthy admissions process, and may have long waitlists.
  1. Primary Care Doctors: Although a great place to start to find support, many primary care professionals don’t offer detox services or can do much for it in a controlled setting compared to an actual addiction treatment center.

With ambulatory detox through an addiction treatment center like Master Center, the costs are much lower, accessibility is much higher than hospitals or inpatient facilities, and the patient’s experience is much better.

It should be noted that alcohol withdrawal is a serious condition, so it’s crucial to go to a medical professional and avoid handling it alone. Although it can be completed at home, consult with a specialist before starting anything.

Alcohol Detox Withdrawal Symptoms & Timeline

Alcohol withdrawal is a medical emergency and can lead to serious, dangerous consequences if not expertly treated. Here is a general list of withdrawal symptoms ranging in severity many patients can experience during detox:

  • Anxiety symptoms (sweaty hands, increased heart rate)
  • Tremors
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Hallucinations
  • Seizures
  • Delirium tremens (the most severe and life-threatening symptom).

There’s also a general time frame for alcohol withdrawal where individuals can expect certain levels of symptom severity, but keep in mind everyone is different. 

  • 4-12 hours after last drink: Alcohol withdrawal symptoms can begin, including anxiety, cravings, nausea, and vomiting.
  • 24-48 hours after last drink: Alcohol withdrawal symptoms increase in intensity, including tremors and possible seizures.
  • 48-72 hours after last drink: The person is at greatest health risk and where symptoms are usually at their worst, including a condition known as delirium tremens, a life-threatening condition.

Treating Ambulatory Alcohol Detox

Safe and effective alcohol withdrawal management (alcohol detox) starts with careful screening. At Master Center, each patient first undergoes a screening process to assess medical risk and psychiatric stability. Then, before treatment begins, each patient commits to the following conditions:

  • A partner/buddy is present for the first 3 days, then available after the first 7 days.
  • No driving until cleared by a provider.
  • Patients return to work once cleared by a provider as well.
  • Constant communication and contact between provider, detox partner, and patient.

Medically speaking, alcohol withdrawal symptoms are primarily treated with sedatives in the benzodiazepine family—including diazepam, lorazepam, or chlordiazepoxide—prescribed by an experienced and confident provider overseeing specific psychological effects during the process. This treatment perspective includes:

  • Using diazepam as the primary medication, as it is safe, predictable, and long-acting.
  • Aggressively treating with taper protocols created by Master Center licensed doctors and practitioners.
  • Monitoring patient sleep and oral intake throughout their detox process.

Typically, patients are medicated for 5-7 days until acute withdrawal symptoms subside. Often, an anti-convulsant like gabapentin is utilized towards the tail end of the process to minimize late-onset and post-acute withdrawal symptoms.

Why Ambulatory Alcohol Detox with Master Center?

Many people view alcohol detox as the “cure” to addiction; that it’s a one-and-done, short-term process. But detox is just the first step, not the cure, and with Master Center, it’s not just a brief service but a transition into ongoing treatment. We don’t just get you through alcohol withdrawal, we deliver a 30-day experience (at a bundled price) that includes important treatment experiences: biopsychosocial evaluation, psychoeducation, group therapy, psychiatric evaluation, and peer coaching to create a more compassionate, integrated approach.

Addiction is not just about drugs; it’s a disease of the body and mind that is complex, progressive, and potentially fatal, but with the right help, we can recover. At Master Center, our goal is to make this treatment plan accessible and into more than just a medical service for those that just need the push to do it.

alcohol detox consult

Concerned About Alcoholism (AUD)? Get a Consultation from Master Center for Addiction Medicine

Addiction is a chronic yet treatable disease. And, when left untreated, alcoholism—or alcohol use disorder (AUD)—is like any substance use disorder in that it can get worse. If you have some of the symptoms of alcoholism (AUD), you may be wondering if you really have an addiction and what to do—before things get worse. 

If you’re feeling this way, it’s time to speak with an addiction specialist; the same way you might consult a specialist for heart disease or diabetes. A specialist in addiction medicine can provide a proper diagnosis and recommend an appropriate treatment pathway.

Master Center offers consultation appointments, in which you’ll meet with a specially trained medical doctor, physician assistant, or nurse practitioner, often with years of experience in treating addiction. Get the expert medical advice you need in a no-pressure environment and without committing to an extended stay in rehab. Consultations are billed to your insurance privately and discreetly.

Seeking aid for alcohol dependency can be intimidating, but it’s the first step to restoring your health and well-being. Give us a call at 804.332.5950 to discuss your options.

About Master Center for Addiction Medicine

Master Center for Addiction Medicine is a groundbreaking addiction treatment program headquartered in Glen Allen, Va. Based on a vision of comprehensive outpatient care, Master Center launched in 2016 and now includes locations throughout the Commonwealth.

The Master Center offers a coordinated, multidisciplinary approach rarely seen in the outpatient setting, staffed by experienced addiction physicians, psychiatrists, counselors, therapists, and peer recovery coaches. This evidence-based approach, both reliable and flexible, provides a physician-oriented response to addiction that works seamlessly in the mainstream system of healthcare.