Alcohol Detox

Alcohol detoxification or detox occurs when a teen stops drinking alcohol and gets the drug out of their system. Alcohol detox can occur in a variety of settings, but because symptoms of alcohol withdrawal can be life threatening to a teen, it is best to go through detox under professional supervision.

When teens drink alcohol it alters the way their brains work. Over time this can lead to a physical or psychological dependence on alcohol, or alcohol addiction. The first step in overcoming alcohol addiction is to go through detox. In alcohol detox, a teen stops using alcohol and goes through withdrawal. Alcohol withdrawal can cause a variety of symptoms soon after the teen quits using alcohol. Some of these withdrawal symptoms are very serious:

  • Tremors or shaking
  • Fast pulse
  • Sweating
  • Heart palpitation
  • Loss of appetite
  • Nausea and/or vomiting
  • Headache
  • Insomnia
  • Restlessness
  • Anxiety
  • Agitation
  • Fever
  • High blood pressure
  • Disorientation
  • Hallucinations
  • Seizures

Because some of these effects of withdrawal are life threatening, alcohol detox is best done under professional supervision. A medical professional can help treat some of the symptoms of withdrawal during alcohol detox, as well as provide counseling for any other problems the teen may have in connection with their alcohol abuse, such as depression or other mental illnesses. This is important because the goal of alcohol detox is not only to stop using alcohol, but also to begin the process of staying sober and overcoming alcohol addiction.

There are many programs that can help a teen through alcohol detox. Some of the options teens may have include:

  • Outpatient drug treatment programs. Teens who do not have severe withdrawal symptoms or other complications and who have a good support system may be able to go through alcohol detox in an outpatient program. This means that the teen spends time during the day with a doctor and/or counselor, but comes home at night to sleep. The teen may be given medications to help with their withdrawal symptoms. This type of detox program may be cheaper than other programs, but relies heavily on the teen and their support system to help the teen stay away from alcohol so they can detox. After detox the teen may be able to use the same type of program to continue treatment for alcohol addiction.
  • Hospital inpatient treatment. When teens have more severe or life-threatening alcohol withdrawal symptoms, have been involved in an alcohol-related accident or alcohol poisoning, or are pregnant or have other medical complications, they may need to go through detox in a hospital. Inpatient alcohol detox allows for constant monitoring of a teen's condition and supervision of the teen to make sure they get through detox without using alcohol. It also provides access to counseling and therapy to begin treatment of alcohol dependency. Following release from the hospital after alcohol detox, the teen will need ongoing treatment for their alcohol addiction.
  • Residential treatment programs. Teens may also go through detox as part of a residential alcohol treatment program. These programs are generally designed for teens who have serious alcohol problems, often in conjunction with other drug or mental health problems. In long-term residential programs, the teen goes through detox under medical supervision, then continues in counseling and treatments for alcohol dependency and any related issues.

The right type of alcohol detox for a teen depends on the severity of the teen's alcohol problem, any other medical complications the teen may have, and the resources available to the parent to help pay for detox, such as health insurance or community drug treatment assistance. A doctor or other medical professional can help parents determine the best detox program for their teen, as well as what financial assistance might be available.

It is very important for parents and teens to remember that alcohol detox is not a cure for alcohol addiction. Detox is the first step in treating alcoholism. After going through alcohol detox, a teen needs ongoing support and counseling to help them stay sober and to treat any underlying problems that may have contributed to their alcohol problem. Support groups like Alcoholics Anonymous help many teens with their alcohol addiction, as do ongoing group or individual therapy sessions.


Max Bayard, et. al., American Academy of Family Physicians, American Family Physician journal, "Alcohol Withdrawal Syndrome" [online]

Office of National Drug Control Policy, Treatment, "Types of Treatment" [online]

Hugh Myrick and Raymond F. Anton, National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, "Treatment of Alcohol Withdrawal" [online]

Motoi Hayashida, National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, Alcohol Health and Research World, "An Overview of Outpatient and Inpatient Detoxification" [online]

Related Article: Alcohol Abuse Treatment >>