How to Detox from Alcohol Safely

Do you or someone you know continue to consume alcohol despite the negative impacts of alcohol? 

Have you ever felt bad or guilty about your drinking? 

Does the “last” drink never feel enough? 

Have people annoyed you by criticizing your drinking? 

Have you ever had a drink first thing in the morning to steady your nerves or get over a hangover?

Someone who has answered “yes” to any of the above questions may be struggling with an alcohol problem. 

When the alcohol problem spirals out of control, it could become a disorder known as alcohol use disorder (AUD). 

Some people may call it alcohol abuse, dependence, or addiction. AUD is also colloquially called alcoholism or “having a drinking problem.” 

AUD is a medical condition that affects the brain and causes a craving for alcohol. A study in 2019 found that approximately 14 million people in the United States suffer from AUD.

Many factors can cause AUD, and certain things like genetics, past trauma, underlying mental health conditions, and exposure to alcohol at an early age can increase the risk of developing AUD. 

If you have a problem with alcohol consumption and want to detox from alcohol safely, read on to learn more. 

How much is too much alcohol?

Different people tolerate alcohol differently. In the US, one standard drink contains about 14 grams of pure alcohol. 

One standard drink is equivalent to: 

  • 12 ounces of regular beer (5% alcohol)
  • 5 ounces of wine (12% alcohol)
  • 1.5 ounces of distilled spirits (40% alcohol)

Excessive alcohol use increases your risk of liver disease, cardiovascular disease, certain cancers, and other injuries. It also increases your risk of developing AUD. 

The recommended alcohol intake by the National Dietary Guidelines is:

  • Women: No more than 1 drink daily or 7 drinks weekly
  • Men: No more than 2 drinks daily or 14 drinks weekly

What is alcohol use disorder and what does it feel like?

Alcohol use disorder (AUD) is classified into three categories which are mild, moderate, and severe. AUD causes an impaired ability to stop or control alcohol use despite negative impacts. Symptoms of AUD can manifest physically and mentally. 

People with AUD tend to:

  • End up drinking more or longer than they intended
  • Drink to make everything feel better
  • Spend a lot of time drinking or getting over the after-effects of drinking
  • Want to cut down on drinking but cannot
  • Continue to drink despite having problems with their health, family, and job
  • Traded important or interesting activities for drinking
  • Get themselves into risky situations during or after drinking, such as driving, using machinery, or having unsafe sex
  • Get very sick, depressed, and even have memory blackouts

People with AUD are also at higher risk of getting alcohol withdrawal. If left untreated, it can be dangerous and potentially life-threatening. 

Having any of the above problems is a cause for concern. The more symptoms you have, the higher the need for intervention. 

If you have any of the above symptoms, speak to a licensed professional to get assessed and treated.

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How to detox from alcohol 

Having the desire to detoxify from alcohol is a critical step in recovery. Detoxing from alcohol is not without its challenges. 

Hence, it should be monitored by a licensed professional. Treatment can be done in an inpatient or outpatient setting. 

Treatment options are not a one-size fits all solution. Different people may require different treatments.

Hence, working with your licensed provider to find the best treatment option is essential. Here are some of the treatment options:

1) Therapy

Therapies are also known as talk therapy or alcohol counseling. They can prepare you with skills to avoid and overcome certain triggers, such as emotional stress, that may lead to drinking. 

Licensed therapists can help you modify your drinking behavior and overcome AUD. Examples of therapies are:

2) Peer support recovery groups

Peer support recovery groups like Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) are based on a mutual-support concept. They are available in most communities at affordable costs and sometimes free. 

Nowadays, peer support recovery groups are also available via online forums. Peer support recovery groups comprise a peer provider, usually a licensed professional, and people who gather to give and provide support by sharing knowledge, experiences, coping strategies, and offering empathy. 

Peer support recovery groups are particularly effective when combined with medications and behavioral treatment provided by your licensed provider.  

3) Medically-assisted treatment

In medically-assisted detox, medications are used to help you stop drinking and prevent a relapse. These medications are usually used alongside behavioral therapies or peer support recovery groups. 

Currently, the medications approved by the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) are:

  • Naltrexoneblocks the pleasant effects of alcohol
  • Acamprosate – helps to avoid alcohol use after recovery
  • Disulfiram – causes unpleasant effects if alcohol is consumed

People with severe AUD may need medical help to detox from alcohol because they have a higher risk of getting severe alcohol withdrawal symptoms. 

In addition to professional supervision and support, these medications can reduce the unpleasantness of alcohol withdrawal, thereby keeping you safer.

Can I detox from alcohol at home?

Detoxing from alcohol at home sounds tempting because there is no place like home for comfort. However, attempting to detox from alcohol alone can be a hazardous process, especially when you do not understand the severity of your condition or how alcohol withdrawal manifests. 

Detoxing from alcohol at home is usually not recommended by professionals due to the dangers of alcohol withdrawal, unwanted mental or physical health impacts, and increased risk of relapse. 

Hence, it is crucial to seek help from a licensed professional first and discuss the pros and cons of detoxing at home with them. 

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What is alcohol withdrawal?

Alcohol withdrawal symptoms can happen as a result of reduced alcohol use after a period of excessive use. 

The journey of detoxing from alcohol is different for everyone. People with AUD tend to find detoxing from alcohol very distressing. 

The severity of alcohol withdrawal symptoms depends on various factors, such as the level of alcohol dependency, concurrent physical and mental health issues, average quantity, presence of binge-drinking behaviors, and duration of heavy drinking behavior. 

Symptoms of alcohol withdrawal happen after your last drink and may follow a typical timeline that looks like this:

  • 8 hours after your last drink: the initial stage of withdrawal begins
  • 1-3 days later: withdrawal symptoms peak
  • 5-7 days later: withdrawal symptoms mellow down but may persist for weeks

Some examples of alcohol withdrawal symptoms according to severity are:

Nausea and vomiting
Excessive sweating
High blood pressure
Rapid breathing and heart rate
Impaired attention
Delirium tremens (DTs)*✔✔✔

*Delirium tremens (DTs) is the most severe form of alcohol withdrawal. Someone with DT will have a rapid onset of confusion, high fever, agitation, hallucinations, excessive sweating, increased heart rate, and high blood pressure. 

DTs may appear 2-3 days after the last drink. If untreated, DT can be fatal. If you or someone else are experiencing DTs symptoms, please seek emergency medical treatment.

Coping with alcohol withdrawal

Withdrawal symptoms can be highly distressing and dangerous. Severe forms of alcohol withdrawal, such as DTs, can often be fatal. 

Detoxing from alcohol safely also means being able to cope with alcohol withdrawal symptoms, including:

  • Having professional supervision
  • Using relaxation methods and therapies
  • Reminding yourself of your reasons for detoxing
  • Finding distractions in the form of another healthier activity
  • Talking it through with someone you trust
  • Leaving the place or situation that is triggering you
  • Ensuring proper nutrition and hydration
  • Practicing good sleep hygiene to get adequate rest
  • Exercising regularly

Why do I have alcohol cravings?

Like some drugs stimulate pleasure and suppress negative feelings, alcohol can produce the same feelings. 

It is this motivation to seek these pleasurable feelings that drive you to drink again, more and more, despite risks to your health and well-being. 

Cravings vary in intensity and tend to last 20 to 30 minutes at a time. 

When you drink, your brain releases neurotransmitters called dopamine and endogenous opioids, creating dependency or incentive sensitization. 

Studies found that heavy or prolonged alcohol consumption can cause profound changes in the brain’s reward and stress systems. 

This can lead to addiction, tolerance, and craving. The addiction cycle can be framed as a repeating cycle, namely:

  • Intoxication Stage – your brain is seeking the thrill of intoxication
  • Withdrawal Stage – your brain is looking for an escape from withdrawal
  • Anticipation Stage – your brain is craving the next drink after a period of not drinking. 

Certain triggers are also associated with alcohol cravings, such as memories, thoughts, emotions, and environmental cues like places, times, people, and situations you associate with drinking. 

Therefore, planning ahead is an excellent way to stay in control during a detox. With practice, alcohol cravings will be easier to overcome as you become more and more confident and skilled in riding it out without giving in. 

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What to eat while detoxing from alcohol?

Prolonged and excessive alcohol consumption in the past can injure digestive organs and deplete many important nutrients in the body, such as thiamin, vitamin B12, vitamin A, magnesium, calcium, potassium, zinc, and folic acid. 

While detoxing from alcohol, ensuring an adequate diet is very important. You may have a loss of appetite, but it is essential to try to get a balanced diet to recover. 

A nutritious and balanced diet can also help to reduce the discomfort related to alcohol withdrawal. Here are some foods to eat while detoxing from alcohol:

Water and electrolytesPlain water
Fruit juice
Fiber and complex carbohydratesWholegrain foods such as brown rice, quinoa, whole wheat bread, and pasta
Fruits such as raspberries, apples, bananas
Vegetables such as cucumbers, broccoli, and lettuce
Vitamins and minerals (magnesium, zinc, calcium, and vitamins A, B, C, D, and E)Fruits and vegetables
Nuts such as almonds, walnuts, and pecans
Multivitamin supplements
Proteins and fatsMeat such as beef and chicken
Lean fish such as cod fish

You should also avoid sugary and fatty foods that are difficult to digest and process. Besides that, you should avoid caffeinated beverages like coffee because they may affect your sleep and interfere with certain medications used during a detox. 


Excessive alcohol use and alcohol use disorders are associated with many unwanted health and social impacts. Hence, wanting to detoxify from alcohol is a commendable intention. 

A strong and supportive social network and professional supervision can motivate and improve your chances of success in detoxing from alcohol. 

Some ways to detox from alcohol include therapy, peer support recovery groups, and medications. Before attempting to detox by yourself, it is vital to consult a licensed professional first to prevent fatal complications. 

Understanding alcohol withdrawal and how to cope with the symptoms can make detoxing from alcohol a less painful journey.

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  1. Han, B., et al., Use of Medications for Alcohol Use Disorder in the US: Results From the 2019 National Survey on Drug Use and Health. JAMA Psychiatry, 2021. 78(8): p. 922-924.
  2. Newman, R.K., M.A.S. Gallagher, and A.E. Gomez, Alcohol withdrawal, in StatPearls [Internet]. 2021, StatPearls Publishing.
  3. Muncie Jr, H.L., Y. Yasinian, and L.K. Oge, Outpatient management of alcohol withdrawal syndrome. American family physician, 2013. 88(9): p. 589-595.
  4. Gilpin, N.W. and G.F. Koob, Neurobiology of alcohol dependence: focus on motivational mechanisms. Alcohol Research & Health, 2008. 31(3): p. 185.
  5. Abuse, S., M.H.S.A. US, and O.o.t.S. General, THE NEUROBIOLOGY OF SUBSTANCE USE, MISUSE, AND ADDICTION, in Facing Addiction in America: The Surgeon General’s Report on Alcohol, Drugs, and Health [Internet]. 2016, US Department of Health and Human Services.

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