Body Odor and Detox: Does Alcohol Detox Make You Stink?

Body Odor and Detox: Does Alcohol Detox Make You Stink?

In 2015, approximately 160,000 people went through a medically supervised alcohol detox in the United States. 1 The majority of these alcohol detoxifications (131,834) took place in a residential treatment setting.

When undergoing an alcohol detox, the body is ridding itself of alcohol, and the toxins released ooze out through every part of the body. The pores on the skin, the tear ducts, urination and bowel movements are all ways the body sheds toxins while clearing itself of alcohol.

A medically supervised detox supports detoxification, while relieving or preventing any withdrawal symptoms.

What Happens to the Body During a Detox from Alcohol?

Alcohol withdrawal syndrome is a clinical condition that occurs when a person who has been drinking high levels of alcohol, over a long period of time, suddenly stops drinking. 2

Withdrawal symptoms can start rapidly, sometimes within six hours from when the last drink was consumed. This potentially early onset of symptoms is the main reason why if you are considering refraining from drinking alcohol, that you have a medically supervised alcohol detox already booked at a facility.

Detox Symptoms

The first alcohol detox symptoms most commonly seen are:2
  • Tremor
  • Sweating
  • Anxiety
  • Irritability
  • Sleeplessness
  • Mood swings
  • Restlessness
  • Nausea
People who are mildly dependent on alcohol may only show this initial set of symptoms, and they could subside after several days.

More serious withdrawal symptoms begin to show in about 10 percent of people who abruptly stop drinking and can include:

  • Rapid breathing
  • Low-grade fever
  • Tremor
  • Profuse sweating
  • Seizures
  • Delirium tremens (DTs)
Seizure is a serious complication which may develop in more than five percent of people who go into acute alcohol withdrawal with no medical support.

Delirium tremens (DTs) can occur in some cases. DTs are distinguished by the appearance of mental confusion, hallucinations and disorientation. The fatality rate of people who develop the DTs is five to 25 percent.

What Are the Internal Effects of an Alcohol Detox?

When a person consumes large amounts of ethanol, the primary ingredient in alcohol, it acts as a central nervous system depressant. The body becomes dependent on ethanol as time passes. This reliance develops because the ethanol inhibits part of the nervous system that stimulates excitement responses, while enhancing the parts of the nervous system that control inhibition responses.

When ethanol (the depressant) is stopped, the central nervous system becomes over-excited as the inhibition is taken away. This causes the body to go into “excitation overload” that results in the alcohol withdrawal symptoms. 3

What Effects Can Others Smell During an Alcohol Detox?

Sweating, sometimes excessively, is a common symptom of someone undergoing an alcohol detoxification, even in the early stages of the detox. The body uses the process or sweating to rid itself of alcohol. The smell of alcohol will then be on the skin, the surfaces the person is sitting or laying on, and will generally permeate the room. Sweat stains left behind will give off an odor of stale alcohol.

Another syndrome that can cause body odors in detoxifying persons is a medical condition called alcoholic ketoacidosis (AKA). It’s a syndrome seen in people who chronically abuse alcohol, and can also be seen frequently in people who binge drink. People experiencing AKA will vomit and have nausea that stops them from keeping down food that is needed for nourishment. This lack of nutrition and the presence of mostly alcohol in the digestive system leads to the creation of ketones. 4 Abnormal body odors, especially on the breath, are linked to the development of ketones caused by AKA.

Another cause of pungent, fruit-like odors during an alcohol detox could be acetaldehyde which results from the internal oxidation of ethanol, the primary ingredient in alcohol. 5 The body can’t eliminate the acetaldehyde as quickly as it is accumulating, which leads to the accumulation of acetaldehyde in stomach acid, saliva and the intestines creating the smell.

Detox Treatment for Alcohol Abuse

The goals of detoxification include:

  • Reducing alcohol withdrawal symptoms
  • Preventing complications stemming from alcohol use
  • Introduction of therapy to get the person to stop drinking (abstinence)

Inpatient Treatment for Alcohol Detox

For moderate to severe alcohol withdrawal symptoms, inpatient treatment is recommended. During a residential detox, the person can be monitored closely for hallucinations and other potential signs of DTs. Other symptoms can also be prevented or greatly reduced to help with comfort.

  • The medical staff will monitor blood pressure, heart rate, body temperature, and the levels of different chemicals in the body. Appropriate medical interventions will be performed as needed when abnormalities are detected.
  • Fluids and/or medications will be delivered via an IV, to give nutrition, hydration and symptom relief.
  • Medications for sedation is used to to provide comfort, rest and relaxation until the alcohol withdrawal is finished.

Outpatient Treatment for Alcohol Detox

For mild to moderate alcohol withdrawal symptoms, detox can occur in an outpatient setting. An outpatient detox requires another person who can stay throughout the process and keep an eye on the detoxifier. Daily visits to a healthcare provider is required until detox stabilizes.

  • The outpatient healthcare provider will provide sedative drugs to help ease withdrawal symptoms.
  • Blood tests will be conducted frequently to monitor health.
  • Counseling sessions help support sobriety from alcohol. Family therapy may also be recommended.
  • Tests and medical treatment for other health issues linked to alcohol use will be provided.

Medications for Alcohol Detox

Alleviating and preventing alcohol withdrawal syndrome symptoms, including body odors, within a medically supervised setting largely uses medications. Prescribed medicines from medical professionals help keep the body in balance.

Drugs used during a medical detox include medications that reduce cravings, prevent seizures and treat co-occurring disorders. Co-occurring disorders are mental health issues, such as depression, anxiety or eating issues, that exist alongside substance abuse.


This type of medication reduces psychological withdrawal symptoms, such as anxiety. Benzodiazepines are also used for their sedation effects. Some commonly used drugs include Valium, Ativan and Librium, which allow individuals to detox without seizure risks.


Anti-seizure medications may also be used, in addition to benzodiazepines, to reduce the risks of seizures.

Psychotropic medications:

 If needed, medicines that help control co-occurring disorders can be provided during an alcohol detox. Psychotropic medications can control the symptoms from disorders such as schizophrenia.

Continuing Care for Alcohol Abuse Disorders

Detox is only the first step towards a life free from substance  abuse. Continuing care is needed through therapies. Therapies are delivered on an inpatient or outpatient basis.6

If only a detox occurs, and there is a return to daily life without further treatment, there is a high potential for a relapse. Since the root causes for alcohol abuse have not been addressed in detox, the risk of relapse is greatly increased.

Behavioral Treatments for Alcohol Abuse

A number of behavioral therapies help a person recover from alcohol abuse by:

  • Developing the skills necessary to stop drinking
  • Helping to create a strong social support network
  • Working to set attainable goals
  • Avoiding or coping with triggers that could cause a relapse

Medication Assisted Treatments for Alcohol Abuse

There are several FDA-approved medicines that can help people stay sober once they have detoxed, and while they are attending outpatient and inpatient therapies.

  • Naltrexone: helps reduce heavy drinking
  • Acamprosate: makes maintaining abstinence easier
  • Disulfiram: stops the body from metabolizing alcohol, causing uncomfortable reactions, such as skin flushing and nausea. These reactions can motivate individuals to avoid drinking while taking disulfiram.

Each person is unique, so not everyone will respond to medications, but for some people, medication assisted treatment can be an important aid for overcoming alcohol dependence.

Aftercare Treatments

Aftercare treatments are meant to offer support once a person has completed a formal inpatient or outpatient program. These services may include:

  • Mutual support group meetings: Support groups, such as Alcoholics Anonymous (AA), where recovering people meet with their peers to share support and experiences.
  • If needed, sober living housing: Housing for those who need additional time and support as they transition from structured treatment back into their communities.

Finding Help with Alcohol Detox

Fear of withdrawal, or experiencing distressing and painful symptoms, are the most common barriers to getting sober. Don’t let withdrawal fears stop you from living a sober and rewarding life. Take the first step to a better life by booking a medically supervised alcohol detox today.