What Can I Expect from Alcohol Detox?
Drinking alcohol is widely accepted as a means to relax, socialize, or simply boost one’s mood. However, addiction to alcohol can not only ruin someone’s life, but can also prove fatal for a variety of reasons. The most confusing thing about addiction to any substance or activity is that those addicted continue to use or engage despite tragic consequences. Alcohol addiction is no exception to this general rule. Those who continue to drink regardless of these consequences are usually doing so to avoid uncomfortable or painful withdrawal symptoms.
Within the addiction treatment community, alcohol detox and withdrawal are infamous for being both physically and mentally exhausting. What many don’t know is that some symptoms of alcohol withdrawal can be deadly. However, this period of bodily cleansing is the first big step toward getting your life back on track. Simply put, alcohol detox plays an essential role in alcohol addiction treatment.
Drinking excessively over several weeks, months, or years typically results in an advanced stage of physical dependence. When someone decides to quit drinking once they’ve reached this stage, (NAME) recommends connecting you with a medically supervised alcohol detox.
What Is Alcohol Withdrawal?
Reaching a state of dependence on alcohol means that both your body and brain need alcohol to function normally and feel well. You’ll know you’re in this state if you experience specific withdrawal symptoms a few hours after trying to quit “cold turkey”. Withdrawal symptoms and alcohol detox go hand-in-hand as part of your body’s natural process of removing toxins from your system.
Just because your body is experiencing a natural process, doesn’t make withdrawing from alcohol feel normal at all. In fact, it will feel extremely abnormal if you’ve never experienced it. What occurred before giving up drinking and entering withdrawal is that long-term alcohol abuse has disrupted your brain’s neural pathways. The good news is that withdrawal symptoms are the first indicator that your brain is trying to adjust to functioning without alcohol. However, there will be a time when your brain tries to tell that it needs alcohol in order to work. That is what leads to the intense cravings that are often a part of alcohol detox.
How Does Alcohol Addiction Affect the Brain?
In the simplest terms, too much alcohol use disrupts the neurotransmitters that relay messages to your central nervous system. Gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA) is one primary neurotransmitter affected. GABA is tied to relaxation because it helps with the production of endorphins in the brain. This helps provide you with a sense of well-being. If you’ve been drinking heavily for quite some time, there is likely a GABA imbalance that results in negative mental and physical withdrawal symptoms when you decide to abstain.
In addition, alcohol abuse affects the production of dopamine, another neurotransmitter linked to your body’s reward circuit. Dopamine regulates your mood, energy, and motivation to seek pleasure over pain. It also helps your body with its motor coordination, attention, and cognition. As your body develops a higher tolerance for alcohol over time, your brain becomes more and more dependent on alcohol to feel good. Therefore, dopamine production stops when a long-term heavy drinker suddenly quits putting alcohol into his or her system. All of a sudden, the primary source of feeling good is taken away, and your brain and body are trying to tell you to keep fueling your reward system with alcohol.
What Is the Timeline for Alcohol Detox?
Although alcohol detox typically lasts for 7 to 10 days, alcohol withdrawal affects everyone differently. For some, the withdrawal and detox process will last a few days, while it can take months for others. As your liver breaks down ethanol in order to remove it from your body, withdrawal symptoms begin to kick in. You need to connect with an alcohol detox program that lasts anywhere from 5 days to over a week, depending on the severity of withdrawal symptoms. However, cravings, insomnia, and other side effects may continue for awhile after detox. To find the best alcohol detox near you, reach out to us here at (NAME) so we can help connect you.
What Are the Symptoms of Alcohol Withdrawal?
Symptoms of alcohol withdrawal generally occur in three stages: minor, moderate, and severe. About 6 to 12 hours after your last drink, you may experience mild symptoms, like headache, nausea, and slight tremors. Within 12 to 24 hours after quitting, you may experience more moderate symptoms like sweating, confusion, fever, and vomiting. In the most severe stage of withdrawal, you may experience what is known as delirium tremens. If applicable, severe withdrawal symptoms will begin between 48 and 96 hours after stopping.
This is a generalized prediction of what alcohol withdrawal can look like. However, you may experience a combination of any of the following symptoms throughout the detox process:
- Changes in heart rate
- High blood pressure
- Loss of appetite
- Mood swings
Again, the severity of your symptoms will vary depending on several variables. These include:
- How long you’ve been abusing alcohol
- Amount of alcohol you were regularly consuming
- How frequently you drank
- Your history with abusing other substances (polydrug use)
- Family addiction history
- Physiological makeup, including age, weight, and gender
A preexisting physical or mental health condition may also impact your withdrawal process.
What Are the Symptoms of Delirium Tremens?
Many alcoholics will experience delirium tremens (DTs) during alcohol detox. This involves an especially dangerous set of symptoms. Delirium tremens is a medical emergency that can prove fatal without medical treatment. It most commonly occurs in individuals who have been drinking in excess for many months or years. Research has shown that about 5% of the estimated 2 million Americans who go into alcohol addiction treatment experience delirium tremens. This condition is also called alcohol withdrawal delirium, and its mortality rate can vary from 3% to 15% each year.
Symptoms of delirium tremens may include:
- Extreme agitation
- Disorientation and confusion
- Extreme tremors
- Autonomic hyperactivity, such as excessive sweating, shortness of breath, palpitations, and dry mouth
- Rapid heart rate (tachycardia)
- Vivid auditory and/or visual hallucinations
What Causes Delirium Tremens?
It’s not completely clear what causes delirium tremens. However, recent research suggests that your brain releases glutamate during alcohol detox to compensate for alcohol’s enhancement of GABA. Because glutamate is an excitatory neuron, this may likely explain autonomic hyperactivity during withdrawal. The potentially fatal complications of DTs include:
- Over-sedation (potential for choking on vomit)
- Abnormal heart rhythms
- Respiratory problems or you may even stop breathing
- Aspiration pneumonitis (occurs when someone inhales toxins into the lungs)
- Liver dysfunction
- Kidney dysfunction
- Seizure-related head injuries
- Aggressive behavior triggered by hallucinations
Certain individuals are more at risk than others for experiencing delirium tremens during alcohol detox. You may fall into this group if you are middle-aged or elderly. You may also be more at risk if you have:
- Had seizures during prior alcohol detox
- A co-occurring mental disorder
- Abnormal liver function
- Intense alcohol cravings
- Consumed large amounts of alcohol daily
- Misused alcohol for a prolonged period
- Experienced delirium tremens before
Symptoms of acute alcohol withdrawal can be very similar to the symptoms of DTs. Therefore, diagnosing DTs can be challenging. While acute alcohol withdrawal is rarely fatal, death from delirium tremens is not so uncommon. If you go through alcohol detox at an accredited facility, the caring and experienced addiction professionals can get you through the process safely. We always recommend that you attend an alcohol detox that is able to take you to the local hospital if anything goes awry during detox.
Is It Safe to Detox from Alcohol at Home?
Death from alcohol detox can be a reality. Therefore, it’s extremely important not to attempt detoxing at home. Detox is extremely dehydrating due to the methods your body uses to rid itself of toxins. These include severe sweating, diarrhea, and vomiting. When these symptoms are combined with alcohol’s preexisting contribution to dehydration, there is a much higher risk for seizures and other dangerous symptoms.
Although this picture of alcohol detox appears quite harsh, (NAME) can help you find the best alcohol detox for you, as quickly as possible. Reach out to us today at (xxx) xxx-xxxx so we can help you find the perfect medically assisted alcohol detox.
What Can I Expect from Medical Alcohol Detox?
There are three general stages of medically assisted alcohol detox. These phases will help ease you through the process and begin a fulfilling life of recovery.
Stage 1: Evaluation
During this stage, one of the caring intake specialists will gather pertinent information to create a strategy to best fit your specific needs. They will assess the amount of alcohol (and other drugs if applicable) in your blood using blood, urine, or breath tests. Your current mental state will also be assessed, as well as any pre-existing medical conditions you may have. Every detox we partner with is caring and doting on your needs. They do everything they can to ensure this part of the process is as simple as possible.
Stage 2: Stabilization
Stabilization is the main aspect of alcohol detox and will take up most of the time you are in a detox facility. Throughout this phase, you will receive medical and/or psychological treatments to alleviate the side effects of detox. This may include medications to prevent seizures so they can safely wean you off of alcohol. This is a long process, but the detox facilities are used to helping people through this part of the process. They know what to look for and how to best help you, so listen to their advice and take the process one moment at a time.
Stage 3: Awareness Building/Addiction Education
Making it through acute alcohol withdrawal, and delirium tremens if applicable, does not mean that you are guaranteed sobriety. Once severe symptoms are eliminated, the real journey of recovery begins. This final stage in medical detox typically includes group meetings to:
• Educate you about addiction
• Provide peer support
• Prepare you for alcohol addiction treatment
We at (NAME) know how possible recovery is because connect people just like you to rehabs on a daily basis. Join us in this fulfilling journey in which you will control your life, not your addiction.