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How Outpatient Alcohol Detox Work

The goals of outpatient alcohol detox are to provide safe and humane withdrawal from alcohol and to foster readiness into an alcohol treatment program for long term recovery.

Evaluation and Assessment of Patient

alcohol detox

Outpatient alcohol detox is a common method of treating addiction.

Treatment of alcohol use disorders begins with an assessment of the individual that includes determining some basic factors including; patterns of alcohol use, withdrawals, relapse, and prior seizure histories, medication uses, social, environmental, and physical and psychological health. It may also involve certain biomedical tests such as determining the patient’s blood alcohol content, vitamin deficiencies, infections, or diseases.

Many of these factors are significant in determining whether the person can receive comprehensive and effective treatment through available outpatient detox services or if an inpatient alcohol rehab is needed. Facilities vary in the staff that they employ and while some may have on-site professionals including doctors, nurses, or counselors, others may have limited access to professional services, relying on outside providers which would make it more diffu

Principles for Care

Outpatient alcohol detox is a first step toward recovery, but, patients should be educated regarding the process and their ongoing needs for recovery treatment. The guiding principles for care include:

  • Treating the patient with dignity and respect at all times.
  • Treating the patient in a nonjudgmental and supportive manner.
  • Letting the patient know that there is hope for recovery.
  • Planning services in partnership with the patient and his social support network such as their family or significant others.
  • Involving health professionals to promote optimal outcomes and support for safety during the withdrawal process.

Alcohol Withdrawals

Mild alcohol withdrawals usually consist of anxiety, restlessness, irritability, insomnia, and lack of appetite. Nutrition, hydration, and sleep help to promote the patient’s physical healing as well as their psychological comfort.

Severe alcohol withdrawal symptoms may include delirium tremors, shaking hands and arms, sweating, elevated pulse (above 100) and blood pressure (greater than 140/90), nausea, vomiting, hypersensitivity to noises or light, hallucinations, or seizures. These are serious health problems requiring immediate medical attention.


There is no way or predetermining the withdrawals or symptoms any patient will ultimately have. Only through close observation, can conditions be managed to ensure the patient’s safety with stabilization being a primary element in the detox process.

Depending on the outpatient provider and the determinations of their medical staff, benzodiazepines medications may be used to minimize psychological distresses. NIDA considers medications to be an “an important element of treatment for many patients, especially when combined with counseling and other behavioral therapies.

Facilities vary in the staff that they employ and while some may have on-site professionals including doctors, nurses, or counselors, others may have limited access and rely on outside providers for necessary services. Providing compassion and support along with sufficient stabilization methods prepares the person for formal treatment and increases their potential readiness for further help.

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