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Inpatient Alcohol Detox

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How to Detox from Alcohol Safely

The safest place to detox from alcohol is in a professional facility. Alcohol withdrawal symptoms can be dangerous. 

At-home detox without medical support poses potentially fatal health risks. Inpatient addiction treatment centers provide the best chance of long-term sobriety. Rarely is long-term recovery successful when someone tries to manage their addiction without professional support. 

In addition to medical support services and inpatient alcohol rehab, support groups, including Alcoholics Anonymous (AA), can help with long-term recovery.

What is Inpatient Alcohol Detox?

Inpatient alcohol detox offers a safe, medically supervised environment where someone addicted to alcohol can stop drinking. Participants live at the detox facility. Medical support and supervision are available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.

Inpatient treatment has advantages and disadvantages. 

The benefits of inpatient alcohol detox include:

  • Complete focus on recovery with no distractions from work, home, or school
  • Access to emergency medical care 24/7
  • Living with peers who understand the challenges of detox and recovery
  • Access to support resources 24/7

As beneficial as inpatient detox is for many people, it’s not the best option for everyone. 

The drawbacks of inpatient detox include:

  • Complete upheaval of your regular daily life
  • Expensive
  • Lack of connection with family and community during treatment
  • Having to wait to practice newly acquired skills in “real life”

Despite the downsides, many people need time away from their obligations to focus entirely on recovery. This is especially true during the initial detox phase of recovery. Relapse and medical complications are the highest at this time. 

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Who is Inpatient Alcohol Detox For?

Inpatient addiction treatment is very effective. It’s the right option for people who want the best possible chance of recovery. However, it isn’t for everyone.

Inpatient addiction treatment is ideal for those who:

  • Can afford any costs insurance does not cover
  • Can dedicate all of their time to detox
  • Don’t have work, school, or family obligations that make around-the-clock focus on rehab possible
  • Don’t have a safe and/or alcohol- or drug-free environment at home
  • Lack support from family and friends 

What to Expect in Inpatient Alcohol Detox

The primary focus of inpatient alcohol detox is to safely remove alcohol from the body and manage related withdrawal symptoms.

Alcohol withdrawal symptoms include:

  • Tremors
  • Physical discomfort
  • Muscle aches
  • Insomnia
  • Nausea
  • Anxiety
  • Difficulty focusing
  • Mood swings
  • Cravings

Additionally, inpatient alcohol detox programs include:

Evaluation

The first stage of detox is a medical evaluation. Medical professionals evaluate the person’s overall mental and physical health. This usually includes a blood test and screening for physical issues and co-occurring mental health disorders. 

The information collected allows doctors to tailor the detox approach to the person’s individual needs.  

Stabilization

The next step of detox is to stabilize the person. This usually includes medication to reduce withdrawal symptoms. This step can take anywhere from 1 to 3 weeks.

Preparation

The purpose of detox is to prepare the person for rehab. As they begin this transition, the rehab team ensures they understand their options regarding therapy, support groups, and long-term treatment.

When people enter treatment, they should be prepared to:

  • Undergo an intake exam
  • Discuss health history
  • Discuss drinking history
  • Undergo a physical and mental health exam
  • Take medications to help with detox symptoms
  • Participate in creating a long-term treatment plan
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How Long Does Inpatient Alcohol Detox Last?

Alcohol detox usually takes about 1 to 3 weeks.

Most people remain in inpatient rehab programs for 1 to 3 months. This not only includes detox, but also weeks of therapy, counseling, relapse prevention, and more.

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What is Medically-Assisted Alcohol Detox?

Medically-assisted alcohol detox uses prescription medications to:

  1. Ease withdrawal symptoms
  2. Reduce cravings and other side effects of detoxification

Alcohol detox is a dangerous and unpleasant process. People enduring alcohol detox may experience seizures, tremors, and more. 

Controlling these symptoms, even when they are mild to moderate, reduces the risks associated with detox.

Medications used during alcohol detox include muscle relaxers, anti-anxiety medications, and sedatives. These medications can cause negative physical symptoms when mixed with alcohol.

Some of the most common medications prescribed during detox include:

Other Alcohol Detox Options 

Here are some other options for alcohol detox:

At-Home

It is possible to detox from alcohol at home, but medical professionals do not recommend doing so. This is because alcohol withdrawal symptoms can be dangerous or even deadly. Symptoms include shaking, tremors, and confusion.

Ideally, anyone addicted to alcohol will have inpatient medical supervision 24 hours a day as they detox. 

Inpatient programs are far safer than at-home detox.

Outpatient

Outpatient alcohol detox offers treatment during the day and allows participants to return home at night. These programs vary in intensity and frequency. Most require daily participation but are never 24/7.

Outpatient detox addiction treatment is preferable to inpatient programs when someone has obligations outside of treatment. 

These programs can be intense and effective but offer more flexibility than inpatient programs.

Partial Hospitalization Programs (PHPs)

PHP is a blend of inpatient and outpatient detox support. Participants spend most of their day in their program but return home in the evening. 

Usually, these are not detox programs but serve as a transition between inpatient detox and outpatient recovery.

How to Choose the Right Detox Program for You

If you’re looking for a detox program for alcohol addiction, there are several things to consider. 

For example, does the program:

  • Accept your coverage at a facility?
  • Share staff training and experience?
  • Offer treatment programs that suit your needs?
  • Provide additional resources, including medical services and counseling?
  • Offer relapse prevention resources?
  • Include aftercare?

It can be helpful to make a list of your needs so you know what you’re looking for. You can then discuss this list with a doctor or counselor.

Updated on April 18, 2022
6 sources cited
  1. Newman, Richard K, et al. “Alcohol Withdrawal.” Nih.gov, StatPearls Publishing, 27 Oct. 2019.
  2. Attilia, Fabio, et al. “Alcohol Withdrawal Syndrome: Diagnostic and Therapeutic Methods.” Rivista Di Psichiatria.
  3. Hayashida, Motoi. “An Overview of Outpatient and Inpatient Detoxification.” 
  4. National Institute on Drug Abuse. “Alcohol Addiction.” National Institute on Drug Abuse.
  5. Harvard Health Publishing. “Alcohol Abuse - Harvard Health.” Harvard Health, Harvard Health, 5 Dec. 2014.
  6. Mayo Clinic. “Alcohol Use Disorder - Symptoms and Causes.” Mayo Clinic, 11 July 2018.

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