February 26, 2020

Alcohol Detox for Teens: What You Need to Know

When a teenager enters into treatment for alcohol abuse, it sometimes surprises their parents that the first stop on their sober journey is a medically-supervised alcohol detox. This frustrates some families. Because alcohol has made their life unmanageable, they want treatment to start right away.

However, alcohol detox is critical to safe recovery.

Why Is an Alcohol Detox Necessary?

It is important to keep in mind that alcohol detoxification does not address the addiction. Detox is NOT recovery. For example, it does not teach your teenager how to change their self-destructive behaviors and attitudes. Explicitly, it doesn’t address how to reclaim their life from the disease of addiction.
However, an alcohol detox sets the stage for successful recovery.


No aspect of alcohol rehabilitation – the education, counseling, group therapy, or ongoing support – is affective if your teenager is still physically addicted to alcohol.
Only when their body purges the alcohol and they no longer experience acute withdrawal symptoms can your teenager be clear-headed enough to accept the message of recovery.

What Happens in a Medically-Supervised Alcohol Detox?

A proper alcohol detoxification occurs at a safe, monitored facility where:

  • The teen alcoholic overcomes their physical dependence on alcohol.
  • Continuous care and – when necessary – medications are given to relieve the harsh withdrawal symptoms that occur when the alcohol is discontinued.

Detox is often medically necessary. To clarify – the abrupt cessation of alcohol of is EXTREMELY dangerous – possibly even fatal.

“First you take a drink, then the drink takes a drink, then the drink takes you.”

~F. Scott Fitzgerald

More about Medication-Assisted Alcohol Detox

Some alcohol detoxification programs refrain from administering prescription medications to ease withdrawal. However, many programs appreciate the associated benefits. In other words, your teenager need not suffer needlessly
Withdrawal symptoms and alcohol cravings are two of the largest roadblocks of early recovery. But an alcohol detox increases the chances of success.

What You Need to Know about Alcohol Detox and Withdrawal Symptoms

Alcohol is the most widely-used intoxicant in the world. Roughly 80% of Americans age 12 or older experiments with alcohol. Comparatively, this is two-and-a-half times the number of people who experiment with marijuana.
Alcohol is a sedative-hypnotic. Regular consumption results in a physiological dependence. And, when the heavy use of alcohol is reduced/stopped abruptly, that person goes into alcohol withdrawal. Symptoms include disturbances in the autonomic and central nervous systems.
Quitting alcohol abruptly causes a state of hyperexcitability within the brain. Surprisingly, this is the exact OPPOSITE of what occurs while drinking.

Because of this, an alcohol detox must ALWAYS be performed under close medical supervision.

  • Alcohol detox typically takes 72-96 hours. However, it sometimes lasts up to one week.
  • Around 50% of abstaining alcoholics suffer withdrawal symptoms.
  • Alcohol withdrawal begins in as little as 6 hours following the last drink.
  • Symptoms include –
  • Anxiety/Panic
  • Irritability/Mood Swings
  • Agitation/Restlessness
  • Headache
  • Increased Body Temperature
  • Irregular Heart Rhythm
  • Hypertension
  • Profuse Sweating
  • Nausea/Vomiting
  • Severe Insomnia
  • Mild hallucinations
  • Seizures – POSSIBLY FATAL
  • 1 in 5 experience delirium tremens – the “DT’s”.
  • Delirium tremens typically occurs within 48 hours into withdrawal. It lasts up to five days.
  • Delirium tremens manifests by the sudden onset of global confusion and severe hallucinations, to the point of a loss of reality.
  • Risk factors for delirium tremens in teenagers include:
  • Long-term heavy alcohol use.
  • A previous personal history of severe withdrawal.
  • Over a third of alcoholics will experience the DTs die if they don’t receive treatment.
  • Moreover, 15% of alcoholics experiencing the DTS die even with treatment.
  • Detox is extremely successful. Over 70% of people who enter a detox facility finish the process. Furthermore, more than half check into an alcohol rehab program.
What Are Some Medications Used During Alcohol Detox?

Medication is an effective treatment for alcohol withdrawal. It has two primary goals:

First, it reduces acute withdrawal symptoms.

Second, it prevents dangerous complications. Medications include:

  • Benzodiazepines – used for anxiety, confusion, tremors, and to reduce the risk of seizures or the DTs.
  • Librium (chlordiazepoxide)
  • Valium (diazepam)
  • Serax (oxazepam)
  • Ativan (lorazepam)
  • Naltrexone – Brand names include ReVia or Vivitrol. Naltrexone manages alcohol dependence by:
  • Reducing how often heavy drinking occurs
  • The number of days in which alcohol was consumed
  • The amount of alcohol consumed when drinking occurs
  • Tegretol (carbamazepine) –A non-sedating, low abuse potential alternative to benzodiazepines.
  • Antipsychotics –Treats anxiety and hallucinations
  • Beta blockers –Treats hypertension and tachycardia
  • Clonidine – Treats hypertension
  • Dilantin – Treats seizures/convulsions

Alcohol abuse at any age makes your life unmanageable. However, it is even more damaging to the still-developing teenage brain. If your child is misusing alcohol or any other addictive substance, Teensavers Treatment Centers can help.

For over 35 years, Teensavers has been one of the most-respected program of alcohol recovery for teens in California. Using an evidence-based comprehensive treatment strategy, Teensavers transforms the lives of families in crisis. For more information, contact Teensavers today.

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