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How to Help Someone Detoxing from Alcohol

How to Help Someone Detoxing from Alcohol

Medical Note: If you’re helping someone through alcohol detox and the symptoms are serious, please reach out to a medical professional for help immediately.

Supporting a friend or family member through detox from alcohol can be a very difficult process. While you want to help your friend through their struggle, alcohol detox requires a lot of patience and preparation for all involved. Alcohol withdrawal can be very dangerous and even life-threatening, so it is crucial to learn as much as you can from a qualified medical professional.

Helping your friend or loved one recognize that they have an alcohol use disorder or dependence on alcohol is an important first step. However, alcohol detox is not something to enter lightly. Understanding the effects of alcohol detox and the symptoms of withdrawal can help you support your loved one through their journey of recovery.

Recognize that recovery is a long journey

Supporting a friend or family member through alcohol detox and withdrawal is a long journey that requires time and energy. While the alcohol detox process may last only a few days or weeks, recovery is a much longer journey. People who overcome an alcohol use disorder need support and encouragement for years to come.

While the outward signs and symptoms of alcohol dependence and withdrawal may not be as obvious over time, there is often still an inward struggle. Helping someone through alcohol detox requires a commitment on your part. As part of your loved one’s support system, you have to be prepared to go on the emotionally taxing journey with them and you may require a support system of your own.

Recommend medical treatment

In some cases, people going through alcohol detox prefer to do so at home. While their home may initially seem like a more comfortable environment, it is best to go through the process of alcohol detox under medical supervision. Withdrawal symptoms can be very dangerous and unpredictable. Under professional medical treatment, your loved one can be closely monitored by doctors and nurses who are trained to handle detox and withdrawal. From providing the proper medication to creating a comfortable environment, professional alcohol detox facilities are considered the safest place for alcohol detox.

Speak with their medical professional

With permission from your loved one, you can speak to their doctor or nurse to learn more about the detox process. The medical professional familiar with the condition of your friend or family member can provide key insights for supporting them through their journey. They can tell you what will be the most beneficial for your loved one, including activities and encouragement.

You can also stay up to date with your loved one’s treatment plan. Their medical professional may be able to provide insight into the struggles of alcohol detox and withdrawal. By providing support at key times, you can help your friend or family member move through the withdrawal process and not give up.

Learn the signs of alcohol dependence

Some warning signs of alcohol abuse and dependence are obvious, while others may not be as instantly recognizable. Understanding the signs and symptoms of alcohol abuse can help identify the severity of an alcohol use disorder. The severity and timeframe of alcohol abuse can contribute to the symptoms of withdrawal.

Common symptoms of alcohol abuse include:

  • Temporary memory loss or blackouts
  • Irritability
  • Mood swings
  • Frequently making excuses for drinking
  • Isolating or becoming distant from friends and family
  • Hiding drinking behaviors
  • Experiencing withdrawal symptoms when not drinking

Understanding alcohol withdrawal

Alcohol withdrawal occurs after drinking heavily and suddenly stopping or cutting back on drinking. For some, the symptoms of alcohol withdrawal are mild, but for others the symptoms can be more severe. Understanding the symptoms and stages of alcohol withdrawal can help you support your loved one as they go through the difficult process of detox.

Common symptoms of alcohol withdrawal include anxiety, depression, headache, nausea and vomiting, insomnia, and sweating. More severe symptoms, including delirium tremens, which can be extremely dangerous. Further symptoms can include hallucinations, high blood pressure, fever, and seizures. If not monitored under proper medical care, alcohol withdrawal symptoms can be life-threatening.

It can be tempting for people to give up when the symptoms of alcohol withdrawal become more severe. However, if they are cared for by a medical professional, the symptoms are more manageable. Encouraging your loved one to continue their journey and remember their purpose for going through detox can help them stay committed to recovery.

Know the steps of detox from alcohol

Detox is different for everyone, and the process should be based on advice from qualified medical professionals. The first step of detox treatment at an inpatient or outpatient center is typically an evaluation. A doctor can evaluate their current condition, screen for any other existing conditions, and conduct a physical examination. The evaluation stage can help medical professionals create the right path for treatment.

Next, the stabilization phase involves providing a comfortable and safe environment for the person going through detox. A professional medical facility provides a stable place and comfort during more serious withdrawal symptoms. The medical staff can provide nutrition, medication, and support throughout the detox process. You can best provide support during this phase by following the guidelines of medical professionals and the facility.

The transition phase helps prepare your loved one to continue the recovery process after their detox treatment. From ongoing care to support groups, there are many available options for post-detox treatment.

Contribute to a positive environment

You can help your loved one during the detox process by removing alcohol from their house or frequently visited places. It is also helpful to regulate visitors during the detox process. People who drink heavily or encourage your loved one to drink may not be the best company during this time.

Managing stress is important to creating a positive and caring environment during detox. You can help your loved one by removing stressors from their life and taking responsibilities off their plate if possible. This allows them to focus their time and energy on the detox and recovery process.

Commit your time

Letting your loved one know that you are available for them during this time can help provide support. If possible, take a few days off work to be available for your friend or family member. You may need to find your own support so that you can focus your energy and attention on the recovery process.

Alcohol detox is unpredictable, so there is no way to know which steps will be the most difficult for your friend. Some days may be easier than others, and your loved one may need emotional support or help at unexpected times. Blocking out time to support your friend can ensure that you are ready to be there for them whenever they need you. 

Practice patience

Addiction and detox are already tense subjects, often surrounded by hurt, concern, and toxic behaviors. It can be difficult to support your loved one through detox if you have been negatively impacted by their alcohol addiction. However, detox and withdrawal is not the time to address hurt feelings. Practice patience by focusing on your loved one’s recovery. They will be very vulnerable during this time, and working through complicated feelings and family issues can add to stress and tension.

Encourage good nutrition

Eating healthy and staying hydrated can help make the detox process more bearable. While your loved one may crave junk food or comfort food, they need healthier options. Making healthy foods, snacks, and plenty of water available can help them feel better and combat withdrawal symptoms. Go shopping for your friend and stock their kitchen with good foods. You can even prepare a few meals for them to help ease the burden of responsibility during the detox process.

Prepare activities to stay busy

Staying busy can help keep your friend’s mind off the detox process. From playing cards or board games to watching movies and TV shows, there are many activities that can distract someone. The medical facility likely has rules for visiting a patient, but they may also have materials for activities. Ask staff members if they have any games available activities.

If you or a loved one needs professional help with detoxing from alcohol, please contact one of our intake professionals to see how we can help.

Brooks V.
Brooks V.
Brooks has been a freelance journalist for the better part of two decades, as well as spending a decade as a crisis intervention counselor. Through his own work and researching the work of others throughout the many facets of the detox, crisis intervention, and mental health worlds he has been able to tell the stories of those worlds in an effort to help addicts and those with mental illnesses understand and navigate them.