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The first step in treating the alcoholic is the detoxification stage. In some cases this is done in a hospital setting, while other inpatient centers carry out detoxification programs that meet state licensing criteria. It must be remembered that detoxification is not a cure for alcoholism but a step in the treatment process.

Detoxification is characterized by withdrawal symptoms that can include, but are not limited to, anxiety, hallucinations, muscle tremors, and seizures. Medications are often administered to help alleviate some of the withdrawal symptoms. Optimal nutrition with vitamin supplements is provided in cases where the alcoholic is debilitated. The detoxification process is medically supervised by trained professionals.

Detoxification can also be done on an outpatient basis, although some advocate inpatient supervision because of the danger of complications from withdrawal. It will probably be necessary for an alcoholic who is undergoing outpatient detoxification to be monitored regularly by a specialist to detect problems. In some cases, medications such as Antabuse are prescribed to induce somatic reactions if alcohol is ingested.