Understanding Alcohol Detox Symptoms

It is no secret that if you want to tackle an alcohol addiction, you’ll have to complete an alcohol detox. For many people, however, detox is shrouded in mystery and confusion. Take a closer look at the most common alcohol withdrawal symptoms. Knowing what to expect can help prepare you, or your loved one, for an upcoming alcohol detox.


The withdrawal symptoms most commonly associated with an alcohol detox are physical. However, many symptoms can also be psychological in nature. One of the most common of these psychological symptoms is anxiety.

It is normal to feel anxious during withdrawal from alcohol. As the body detoxes and gets used to functioning without alcohol, many patients will begin to feel anxious. The body and the brain are under a lot of stress during detox and anxiety is one way that the stress manifests itself.

Patients might be anxious about their health or they might just be concerned that the detox won’t work. Many people are worried that the symptoms will become unbearable, or that sobriety won’t be easy to maintain. That’s why counseling or peer support can be so helpful during detox. Sometimes, just knowing that others are going through the same thing can help alleviate anxiety.


Another common detox symptom is insomnia. That can happen because of the anxiety, mentioned previously, or it can happen because patients are unused to falling asleep without alcohol in their system. Insomnia is also possible because of the discomfort of withdrawal symptoms.

Most people who are addicted to alcohol will drink before going to sleep. In fact, they may only be able to sleep at all when they are intoxicated. In detox, that option is gone. Patients often find it challenging to fall asleep or stay asleep without the aid of alcohol.

Insomnia can also be caused by unpleasant withdrawal symptoms. Fortunately, this is another withdrawal symptom that can be helped by medical professionals. Sedatives, natural supplements like magnesium, pain relief or even relaxation exercises can all work to reduce insomnia.

Gastrointestinal Distress

Perhaps the most common and best-known symptom of alcohol detox is gastrointestinal distress. Patients should be prepared for nausea, vomiting, diarrhea or abdominal cramping. This is a short-lived response to detox stress and it will fade quickly as patients work through withdrawal.


During detox, it is common for body temperature to spike. Even in air conditioning, individuals in the middle of an alcohol detox can feel very hot. This, combined with several other factors, can contribute to severe detox dehydration.

Many people who are going through alcohol withdrawal feel as if they have a fever. A high temperature and the inability to cool down are very likely. This increases the sweat level, encouraging dehydration.

All of these factors are combined with nausea and a lack of thirst. This makes it hard for patients to consume enough liquid and electrolytes. Thankfully, medical professionals in a detox facility know how to respond. Everything from an electrolyte beverage to an IV can help battle severe dehydration.

Increased Heart Rate and Blood Pressure

Two more quite common withdrawal symptoms are increases in heart rate and blood pressure. As the central nervous system responds to functioning without alcohol, these increases are a normal response. In most healthy individuals, these symptoms won’t be problematic. For some at-risk patients, however, they can be severe.

Young individuals who are relatively healthy may not suffer extensively from a temporary increase in blood pressure or pulse. That is not the case for individuals who have cardiac concerns. These increases could lead to a heart attack or even a stroke.

This is one of the major reasons that people in withdrawal need to be in a medically supervised detox. The regular monitoring of vital signs can spot problems before they become life-threatening.

Mental Confusion

Anywhere from 24 to 48 hours into the alcohol detox, some patients start to experience confusion. This is normal, but it can be worrying. Some people will struggle with short-term memory loss, or they might be confused about why they are in a detox facility.

This mental confusion won’t last long, but it can be very overwhelming. Family members and friends may not know how to proceed if this symptom appears. Medical professionals and addiction experts will know how to keep patients calm until they can recognize where they are and what’s going on around them.

Alcoholic Hallucinations

One of the lesser known symptoms of an alcohol detox is called alcoholic hallucinosis. This is when individuals in a detox see or hear things that aren’t really there. This is specifically describing hallucinations that the patient knows aren’t real.

Since the patient understands that these hallucinations don’t exist, it can be easier to manage. However, it is still a difficult symptom to be addressed.

Delirium Tremens

A very small percentage of individuals in an alcohol detox will experience delirium tremens, which is better known as DTs. In the most severe cases of DTs, patients can suffer from symptoms such as insomnia, hallucinations, seizures and even violence. This is a very severe reaction to withdrawal and it can be dangerous.

There is no way to know which patients will suffer from DTs until it happens. Therefore, all people ready to overcome alcoholism should be in a medically supervised detox for their own health and safety.

Post-Acute Withdrawal Syndrome

Most detox symptoms will be gone in under a week. In certain cases, however, individuals may struggle with PAWS, or post-acute withdrawal syndrome. PAWS typically happens two months after detox has ended, but it will feel like a less intense version of detox. PAWS can seemingly appear out of the blue but awareness and preparation can prevent it from turning into a relapse.

Knowing what to expect is half the battle. Armed with the knowledge about alcohol detox, you’ll be ready to overcome your own addiction or to help someone else make a change.