Alcohol Detox Does Not Always Need to Happen in A Hospital

Alcohol Detox Does Not Always Need to Happen in A Hospital

By Kevin O’Connor, PA-C, MPH, Master Center for Addiction Medicine -Hampton

For the millions of people who suffer from alcohol use disorder, a major barrier to treatment is the idea of having to experience withdrawal to start recovery. Alcohol withdrawal syndrome can occur when a high-risk drinker abruptly stops drinking. It can also occur during attempts to “cut back” in people who ingest large quantities of alcohol. Alcohol withdrawal symptoms often include anxiety, irritability, tremors, sweating, nausea, and vomiting. More severe complications of alcohol withdrawal include seizures and hallucinations. 

Medical detox is the term used to describe the clinical management of alcohol withdrawal. Detox includes using prescription medications to comfort a patient in withdrawal by easing the burden of withdrawal symptoms; and by applying supportive therapies, like counseling, to help manage the anxiety that withdrawal generates. Many people assume that detox from alcohol can only happen in a hospital or residential treatment setting, which can deter some people with alcohol use disorder from pursuing the help that they need. In reality, outpatient alcohol detox is safe and effective for most patients. Research on alcohol withdrawal shows that fewer than 10% of people with alcohol use disorder require inpatient medical detox. 

Outpatient alcohol detox is often more accessible and less expensive than residential or hospital-based treatment, and there is less disruption to a person’s personal life and employment. Outpatient detox is also advantageous during the COVID pandemic by limiting the burden on hospitals that are already functioning at high capacity.

An outpatient alcohol detox is a good option for people who have a desire to stop drinking and are in relatively good health. Other factors that help make outpatient detox successful is good communication and close follow-up with a medical provider. Family support is also very important as people in detox require assistance to perform activities of daily life, like driving, and taking their medication appropriately. 

Unfortunately, outpatient alcohol detox is not appropriate for every patient. People who have experienced withdrawal seizures, or who have heart disease or liver disease, are best managed in a hospital where they have access to higher levels of care. Outpatient detox is also not suitable for people experiencing homelessness, or people without reliable transportation. 

People suffering from alcohol use disorder should not let the fear of withdrawal prevent them from seeking care, nor should they assume it will require hospitalization. Alcohol withdrawal syndrome is treatable and can often occur outside of a hospital or residential treatment program. 

Contact Master Center to learn more about our broad range of outpatient treatment options, including our detox programs and Medication-Assisted Treatment, offered in Greater Richmond, Gloucester, and Hampton. Master Center provides same day and next day appointments.