Alcohol detox is the process of alcohol being expelled from the body. Although detox can occur after any period of alcohol consumption, severe cases of alcohol withdrawal may necessitate a medically supervised detox.
Alcohol detox for individuals who have been engaging in excessive drinking every day for several months is most likely to need a medical alcohol detox to withdraw safely. Unlike most other drugs of addiction, alcohol can produce life-threatening symptoms when consumption is abruptly stopped.
The process of alcohol detox can vary, depending on the symptoms and the severity of alcohol abuse or alcoholism. It is not recommended to attempt alcohol detox without a medical consultation to determine risk factors and complication potential during the process.
Outpatient Alcohol Detox
In some cases, alcohol detox can be completed without the need for admission to a detox facility. However, even in these cases, it is usually necessary for an individual to regularly check in with his or her doctor throughout the process to monitor the progression of symptoms. Most common, these are daily doctor visits, where the physician can obtain blood samples and adjust medication to manage symptoms.
If, after a medical consultation, it is determined that an outpatient alcohol detox can be completed safely, is usually necessary for an individual to have someone else with him or her for the first several days of the detox to:
- ensure proper detox protocol and medication administration are followed
- monitor the intensity of withdrawal symptoms, and be available for immediate emergency care, if symptoms suddenly worsen.
Alcohol withdrawal symptoms may be initially mild but usually, worsen within 48-72 hours after the last drink. It is for this reason that constant contact with a physician and around-the-clock monitoring by a trusted person at home is necessary.
When alcohol detox is completed on an outpatient basis, it usually resolves within 7-10 days. However, some symptoms can linger for several weeks or months after detox has been completed. Some of the most common remaining symptoms include:
- vivid and disturbing nightmares
- cravings for alcohol
As with detox from any other drug, it is essential to continue to abstain from further alcohol consumption. The best way to do this is to become involved in some form of addiction treatment and recovery support.
Medical Alcohol Detox
While alcohol detox may be completed on an outpatient basis for some cases, moderate to severe alcoholism requires more monitoring and medical care. Because symptoms associated with alcohol withdrawal can become severe and life threatening, a medically monitored alcohol detox is highly recommended to ensure complete safety.
The medication regimen and protocol of alcohol medical detox is very similar to that of outpatient detox. However, the main difference is the ability for staff to take emergency medical steps in the event of suddenly worsening symptoms. There are other important benefits of medical alcohol detox.
- access to medical equipment and procedures if necessary
Because alcohol withdrawal symptoms can suddenly worsen, access to emergency medical care can be a life-saving benefit. Additionally, constant monitoring often alters clinicians to an impending complication during the detox process, for which preventative measures can be taken.
- regular, daily meals designed for optimal nutrition during alcohol detox
The importance of nutrition and healthy meals are often overlooked during alcoholism and alcohol detox, but proper nutrition is essential for recovery from severe alcohol abuse or alcoholism. The replenishment of vital nutrients, minerals, and vitamins enhance various parts of the body such as the liver, heart, blood circulation immune systems, bone density, and healthy body function. This nutritional support gives each person a stronger foundation for recovery once alcohol detox has been completed.
- environment of other alcoholics and drug addicts, from whom individuals can build supportive friendships
Although heavily touted in addiction treatment, the sense of belonging and understanding is vitally important in detox as well. Many alcohol detox facilities are partially or entirely staffed with individuals who have personal experience with addiction and can provide authentic support throughout the process. Additionally, the presence of others who are enduring a similar detox supports each person within the facility to accept that he or she is not alone in the struggle to achieve sobriety.
- easy access to addiction treatment immediately following the completion of detox
Alcohol detox is a required first step to overcoming alcoholism. However, it is only a first step, and does nothing to address the underlying issues and contributors to alcoholism. Any alcohol detox facility will be able to facilitate a person’s ability to get into an addiction treatment program once detox has been completed. In many cases, detox facilities are directly connected to addiction treatment programs, further facilitating the transition to rehab.
- additional safety in restricting access to controlled substances and alcohol
One of the most common occurrences in alcohol detox attempts at home (or without a detox facility) is the relapse. This is the case with every drug of addiction, as one the symptoms of withdrawal are always unpleasant and include cravings for the substance. To escape the pain and discomfort of alcohol withdrawal, many people many who are left to their own devices during alcohol detox return to drinking. In a detox facility, there is no access to alcohol or controlled substances for abuse, and this lack of access drastically minimizes the occurrence of relapse and incomplete alcohol detox attempts.
Symptoms During Alcohol Detox
The severity of alcohol withdrawal depends heavily on the nature of an individual’s alcohol abuse or alcoholism. Other factors like previous alcohol detox attempts, susceptibility to seizures, and abuse of other drugs play a role in the symptoms of alcohol withdrawal.
Some of the most common symptoms are considered to be mild, and include:
- Mood swings
- Pallor (pale skin)
- Loss of appetite
- Vivid and disturbing nightmares
These symptoms are relatively mild compared to the life threatening symptoms that are associated with long-term and/or severe alcoholism. However, it is important to note that symptoms can suddenly worsen, leading to severe circumstances that can be life threatening.
Symptoms experienced during alcohol detox that is considered to be severe and should constantly be monitored, includes some of the following:
- Rapid or irregular heartbeat
- Nausea and vomiting
- Severe agitation
- Hand and body tremor
- Delirium tremens (severe confusion, hallucinations, and seizures)
- High fever
The most severe of all possible alcohol withdrawal symptoms is delirium tremens, which includes life threatening grand mal seizures, also known as generalized tonic clonic seizures. During these seizures, individuals are likely to experience some of the following symptoms:
- muscle rigidity
- loss of consciousness
- violent muscle contractions
- difficulty or stopped breathing
- biting the tongue or cheek
- clenched teeth or jaw
The seriousness of these symptoms associated with seizures requires medical attention to ensure safety and minimization of dangerous complications. When an individual experiences seizures in conjunction with the other symptoms of delirium tremens (confusion and hallucinations), very dangerous circumstances can arise.
Management of Symptoms During Alcohol Detox
During alcohol detox, whether in a detox facility or on an outpatient basis, medication is given to each person to manage his or her symptoms during the detox process. Some symptoms, like cravings and pallor, cannot be medicated, but most can be managed with appropriate dosages of various medications.
Insomnia, Seizures, and Anxiety
During alcohol detox, the most disruptive symptoms can be managed with medication. Symptoms like insomnia, seizures, agitation, and anxiety can all be managed with a benzodiazepine. Benzodiazepines are central nervous system (CNS) depressants and are classified as sedatives. These drugs are most commonly prescribed for anxiety related symptoms and the prevention of seizures.
Although very efficient medication for these symptoms, benzodiazepines are among the most common drugs of abuse with alcohol. Since alcohol abuse often results in severe sleep disturbances, the abuse of benzodiazepines is extremely common. Individuals who are undergoing alcohol detox, and in need of benzodiazepine detox are usually given a different class of drug, called barbiturates. As CNS depressants barbiturates are tranquilizers most frequently used for operative sedation.
Other medications may be administered during the detox process to manage other symptoms that may arise like fever, sweating, irregular heartbeat, and hand tremor. However this varies by the individual rehab facility and its capabilities.
After Alcohol Detox
Alcohol detox may take from 7-10 days, or longer, depending on the severity of alcoholism and the individual’s response to the detox and medical tapering. In some cases, certain symptoms may persist for several weeks or months after detox has been completed. One of the most troublesome of these symptoms is a continued craving for alcohol.
In addition to persistent cravings are the struggles and pressures in the home environment that are constant reminders of alcohol consumption and abuse. Some of these environmental factors include things like:
- people with whom the individual used to drink
- places where the individual used to drink to excess
- familiar routines that used to involve drinking
- contentious relationships that may have triggered more compulsive and excessive drinking
- jobs or activities that are particularly stressful or related to alcohol consumption
The ability for someone to avoid relapse amidst these triggers is severely compromised without the additional support, knowledge, and empowerment offered by addiction treatment.
In addition to the environmental triggers, are personal and emotional triggers that can be very dangerous for individuals in recovery from alcohol abuse or alcoholism. Emotional triggers are often contributors to the destructive behaviors that lead to alcohol abuse and alcoholism Some people are aware of these contributors, while others are not, but the overwhelming majority of individuals who suffer from addictions of all kinds have some form of underlying trauma that contributes to their addictive behaviors. Some examples of these traumas include things like:
- Serious accident or injury
- Low self esteem
- Unrequited love
- Broken or lost relationships
- Bipolar disorder or other mood or personality disorder
- Illness or surgery
- Chronic pain
The possible causes of emotional and personal trauma are endless, and vary from one person to another. Whatever the causes may be, it is important to be able to identify and address them in a safe and compassionate environment that is provided by addiction treatment.
There is no doubt that alcohol detox alone does little to nothing to address the underlying issues that lead to alcohol abuse and alcoholism. Therefore, it is essential to get the individualized and personal attention provided by addiction rehab. There are over 12,000 addiction rehab programs and services in the United States, and most can be tailored to the individual needs, preferences and belief system of each person in need of help.
If you or someone you love is struggling with alcohol abuse or alcoholism, please get help right away by calling us today. Alcohol detox is a required first step to overcoming alcohol abuse or alcoholism. Alcohol is one of the most dangerous drugs of addiction, and without successful alcohol detox and addiction treatment, its abuse is deadly. Don’t wait for alcohol abuse or alcoholism to get worse. Cal us now, and find out how to get on the path to the right alcohol detox facility, and addiction rehab program for sustained sobriety and long lasting recovery.