Can alcohol detox cause fever?

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Stopping drinking can cause fever. 

Alcohol alters the central nervous system by affecting the functioning of the primary inhibitory and excitatory neurotransmitters. 

Changes in these neurotransmitter levels, as the body tries to regain equilibrium, result in symptoms including fever.

In the brain, the alcohol mimics the GAMA (gamma-aminobutyric acid), a major inhibitory neurotransmitter. This process, in turn, sends a different message to other neurotransmitters. 

Alcohol use also boosts dopamine (a feel-good hormone) in the brain leading to a desire to consume more for pleasure. 

People who occasionally take alcohol do not get withdrawal symptoms. However, if you have a drinking problem, you are likely to experience withdrawal.

The withdrawal symptoms set in when you stop drinking. These symptoms range from mild to severe. 

The withdrawal symptoms include: 

  • Headache 
  • Nausea 
  • Vomiting 
  • Tremors 
  • High blood pressure 
  • Loss of appetite 
  • Mood changes 
  • Difficulty making decisions 
  • Depression 
  • Anxiety 
  • Irritability 
  • Fatigue 
  • Memory problems 
  • Excessive sweating 
  • Difficulty sleeping 
  • Aggression towards others 

People who drink heavily are at risk of getting extremely dangerous withdrawal symptoms. Such symptoms include severe shaking, delirium tremens, hallucinations, and the other symptoms mentioned above.

The severity of the symptoms is high if you mix drinking with other drugs.  

The onset of withdrawal symptoms varies depending on the individual. Some people with alcohol addiction may experience mild symptoms during the early stages after stopping drinking. 

However, two days later, the alcoholic may end up developing delirium tremens. 

Nearly 2% of people with alcohol dependence develop delirium tremens [1]. Alcohol dependency also leads to dangerous fevers when the alcoholic quit drinking.

That's why it is essential to seek assistance from a medical professional when you want to detox from alcohol. 

 Alongside fever, individuals may also experience fatigue, which is a common manifestation of withdrawal.

Managing these symptoms is essential to support the body's healing process. Adequate rest, hydration, and nutrition play a vital role in alleviating fever and fatigue during alcohol detox

What is a fever? 

The Cleveland Clinic defines fever as a condition where your body temperature is higher than 100.4°F [2].

Generally, a fever is a state in which your body exhibits more elevated temperatures. The average body temperature is 98.6° Fahrenheit (or 37° Celsius). 

A person can develop a slight fever, which occurs when the body's temperature is within the range of 99.5°F (37.5°C) and 100.3°F (38.3°C) [2].  

But there is no standard temperature range for a fever. Temperatures above 38.3°C are considered a fever. 

You should seek medical care when your temperature goes above 38.3°C. In most cases, the high fever is an indication of an infection.

When you seek medical attention, the care provider will conduct a physical exam to determine the exact cause of the fever. 

When an alcoholic goes cold turkey, they are likely to get a fever along with other life threatening symptoms.

The fever could set in within two hours after they stop drinking. That's why it is not advisable to stop drinking without the assistance of medical professionals suddenly. 

What causes a fever?  

A fever is caused by the presence of a foreign object in the body. The foreign object may be a bacteria, virus, fungi, drugs, or other toxic substances.

There are extensive studies that show the body identifies alcohol as a toxic substance. Any form of substance abuse will likely lead to a build-up of toxic substances in the body.  

Foreign objects in the body trigger its immune response. The toxins trigger the hypothalamus in the brain which increases the body's temperature to help the body fight off the foreign substance.  

It is common to develop a fever when you have an infection e.g. a cold, flu, or gastroenteritis. Any infection that affects the kidney, lungs, bladder, ear, or throat can cause a fever.

Autoimmune disorders, certain medications and addictive substance also cause fever.  

The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism reports that excessive alcohol consumption can lead to immune system deficiencies [3].  

Alcohol alters the cells and molecules that shape the immune system. According to NIAAA, people who engage in heavy drinking for a long time are susceptible to infections e.g., lung abscess, cellulitis (an inflammation of connective tissue), and meningitis.  

The effects of alcohol on the immune system also puts the alcoholic at risk of developing diseases related to the immune system e.g., Tuberculosis. Severe cases of alcohol addiction can cause Wernicke’s encephalopathy.  

This is a condition that results from thiamine deficiency in alcoholics. The condition leads to mental confusion, poor motor coordination, loss of control over eye movement [4]. Wernicke’s encephalopathy develops into Korsakoff syndrome.  

These alcohol-related infections, diseases, and immune disorders are the result of complications. These conditions are life threatening and can cause dangerous fevers. 

Seeking addiction treatment is the best way to avoid developing complications.  


Do alcoholics get fevers? 

Alcoholics do get fevers especially when they stop drinking. However, the cause of the fever remains unclear. A study conducted by Clearvue Health observed that alcohol does not directly cause fevers.  

What it does is that it affects the body's ability to adjust its temperatures over the course of the day [5]. Heavy drinking makes it difficult for the body to control its body temperature.  

This is dangerous as people with high blood levels may be under the illusion that their temperature is higher than it actually is. This issue combined with extreme confusion increases the chances for developing hypothermia [5].  

Terms such as hypothermia, hyperthermia, and pyrexia are used interchangeably to refer to fever.  

When you suddenly stop drinking, the body registers that something is missing in the system. Frequent alcohol consumption and substance use leads the brain to build a tolerance for the substance.

When you quit drinking, the brain goes into shock as it tries to adjust to operating without the alcohol.  

When you drink excessively for weeks, months, or years, and suddenly cut back, you are likely to develop alcohol withdrawal syndrome. This syndrome sets in within hours after your last drink.  

Some alcoholics may experience mild fevers, nausea, headaches, tremors and increased heart rate.  

These symptoms are categorized as 1st degree (the withdrawal symptoms are categorised from 1-4 depending on their severity).  

The fever does not set in because the individual has quit drinking. Rather, the fever is due to the complications related to the brains excitability once you stop drinking.  

Fever is one of the uncommon symptoms after quitting drinking. This fever is caused by the brain's reaction when you stop drinking. 

In most cases, it is a slight fever (do not go beyond 100 degrees Fahrenheit). But, when a chronic alcoholic experiences what is called delirium tremens, they can get high blood pressure plus high-grade fever or pyrexia [6].  

People have different experiences when they go through withdrawal. Mild to moderate drinkers, are likely to experience acute symptoms.  

These symptoms may worsen over two to three days and may persist for weeks. Some people may get a slight fever as part of the acute withdrawal symptoms.  

However, there are instances where withdrawal begins with acute symptoms that later on progress to severe withdrawal symptoms.  

Some people end up in the emergency room because the symptoms got worse and unbearable. Severe symptoms are common among people with chronic alcohol use.  

Alcohol use disorder develops when people [7]: 

  • Take 1.5 ounces of distilled spirits, or liquor, including rum, gin., vodka, and whiskey 
  • Take 5 ounces of wine  
  • Take 8 ounces of malt liquor 
  • Take 12 ounces of beer  

If you or your loved one are struggling with excessive drinking, you should visit your GP or health care provider. He or she will provide medical advice on how to safely detox.

There are a variety of treatment options that will help you manage the withdrawal symptoms including the alcohol related fever.  

Any incidence of substance abuse or use of addictive substance can lead to a slight fever depending on the severity of use. That's why it's important to consult an addiction expert and discuss treatment.  

Stopping Drinking and depression 

Alcohol withdrawal syndrome sets in within hours after your last drink. As you go through this withdrawal process, you are likely to experience depression and other psychological symptoms like: 

  • Anxiety  
  • Nightmares  
  • Difficulty making decisions  
  • Nervousness  
  • Rapid emotional changes  
  • Fatigue  
  • Shakiness  
  • Stress that can contributed to changes in blood pressure  

The depression that occurs in most people who stop drinking is due to the biological changes that take place in the brain.

Most people who quit alcohol describe the depression as feeling the opposite way of how they were feeling when taking alcohol. Some state that they feel a sense of hopelessness and low self-worth.  

You can overcome these mental health issues by engaging in healthy activities. For instance, you could listen to soothing music, go for walks, binge-watch your favourite comedy shows, or spend time outdoors.

If the depression is unbearable and makes it difficult to perform daily duties, then it is a medical emergency.  

A proper diagnosis will help you properly manage depression plus other symptoms of withdrawal. Most clinicians used the clinical institute withdrawal assessment tools to spot the vital signs of the alcohol withdrawal.

This tool measures the common symptoms of alcohol withdrawal from a scale of 0 to 7 with o being the least severe and 7 being the most severe.  

Aside from using this tool, the health care professional will check your medical history and carry out a dual diagnosis to determine whether there is other co-occurring condition that contribute to the depression and other psychological symptoms.  

Treatment Centres are the safest way to Detox  

Medical detox is the safest way to pursue addiction treatment. This is because the discomfort experienced from the withdrawal process can lead most people to relapse.

If you withdraw once and relapse, the next time you go for detox the process will be more unbearable.  

The benefit of seeking addiction treatment is that you get the support and care that you need.

Most addiction treatment experts will provide you with trustworthy health information on ways you can manage the symptoms at home.  

Treatment for alcohol withdrawal may also include the use of certain medications. The health care provider may administer benzodiazepines to help mimic the alcohol in the brain thus preventing hyperexcitability

There are other drug treatment options that may be administers to help treat seizures and other common withdrawal symptoms.  

Stopping drinking is difficult especially if you were taking four or more drinks per day. Such a person is at risk of developing potentially dangerous health conditions that complicate the healing process.  

Another important factor to bear in mind is that most people end up with alcohol addiction as a means of coping with a mental health issue.

Therefore, it is important to seek medical assistant to treat alcohol withdrawal so that all the underlying factors can also be addressed.  

Aside from entering a treatment centre, you should prevent dehydration by taking lots of water and electrolyte fluids. Such fluids help the body to flush out the toxins from the alcohol.

Incorporating foods with essential vitamins such as the b vitamins plus other minerals and nutrients will also help the body to safely detox.  

Removing alcohol is the first phase in the recovery process. But once you overcome this stage, you still need therapy to help you deal with the factors that led to the addiction. 

Therapy will also help you develop the coping skills that you need to overcome the alcohol urge. There are instances where a person completes detox only to end up drinking weeks after.  

If you are serious about quitting, you can start by looking for support groups near you. There are extensive peer reviewed studies that show group therapy increases the chances for achieving sobriety.

Trying to detoxify from alcohol on your own puts you at risk of relapse plus other health issues. But when you work with an addiction expert, you increase your chances of achieving long term sobriety.  

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About the author

Laura Morris

Laura Morris is an experienced clinical practitioner and CQC Registered Manager with over twenty years experience, over ten of which have been as an Independent Nurse Prescriber.

She has held a number of senior leadership roles in the substance use and mental health sector in the NHS, the prison service and in leading social enterprises in the field.

Last Updated: March 5, 2024