Alcohol Detox: Process, Side Effects & Treatment

The natural process that occurs in the body to remove waste products and poisons from long-term excessive alcohol consumption is known as alcohol detoxification (detox). Medication, medical monitoring, and counseling are generally used during alcohol detox in a treatment setting.

Detoxification is a therapy that combines medical treatment, such as counseling, intending to assist individuals in overcoming physical and psychological addiction to alcohol.

Those who have been alcoholics for a long time are more likely to suffer from unpleasant detox symptoms, some of which can be deadly.

Long-term drinking can lead to tolerance and biological adjustments that create false homeostasis. This equilibrium must be disrupted and the user restored to a healthy condition, which is as essential as it is complex.

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What is Alcohol Abuse?

Alcohol abuse is a serious problem that can have devastating consequences for the abuser and their loved ones. It is important to identify the signs and symptoms of being abusive so that you can get help for yourself or someone you know before it’s too late.

Classifying abuse, as opposed to alcohol dependence, is often a difficult task. There are many different signs and symptoms of problematic drinking patterns which stem from abusing alcohol. In one sense, it can be defined as drinking too much for the individual’s age or culture. Often, these drinking patterns might not cause serious problems for the user but can still be classified as abuse due to their frequency and long-term implications. There are many ways to identify whether you or someone you know is abusing alcohol:

What Are Some Signs Of Alcoholic Abuse?

While some people can technically drink while using medication or drugs that cause drowsiness, it is still a sign of abuse if the person becomes intoxicated from drinking. This can lead to physical and emotional dependence and increase the likelihood of an accident or injury occurring while being under the influence.

Abusers often have a hard time stopping their intake before becoming extremely drunk. They may drink more quickly than normal or continue drinking past the point of intoxication. This behavior can easily result in alcohol poisoning, which can be fatal if not treated immediately.

Alcohol abusers are often unable to stop drinking even when they know that it negatively affects their health, relationships or work life. Chronic drinkers may begin to engage in high-risk activities like drinking and driving or bringing alcohol into places where it is prohibited.

What Are The Signs Of Alcohol Dependence?

The signs of alcohol dependence are slightly different from those of abuse. There are several physical and emotional symptoms that an individual may experience when they become alcohol dependent. These include:

  • Being unable to control how much you drink
  • Craving alcohol
  • Having withdrawal symptoms if you do not have a drink for a while
  • The inability to stop drinking even when it has serious consequences on your life

These types of behaviors are extremely dangerous and can often lead to harmful consequences such as:

  • Family problems or divorce
  • Loss of friends or social isolation due to high rates of alcohol abuse
  • Financial strain
  • Legal problems as a result of drunk driving or other alcohol-related offenses

Signs Of Alcohol Poisoning & The Risks Involved

Alcohol poisoning can be extremely dangerous and even fatal if not treated immediately. It is important to know the signs of alcohol poisoning to seek treatment for yourself or someone you know. Some common signs of alcohol poisoning include:

  • Confusion or stupor
  • Vomiting or nausea
  • Seizures
  • Hypothermia (low body temperature)
  • Unconsciousness

While many people might not think that there are serious risks involved with binge drinking, it can lead to several dangerous consequences, including:

  • High blood pressure
  • Heart attacks
  • Stroke
  • Death

According to the American Psychological Association, 44% of college students reported binge drinking within two weeks before taking their survey. It is important to be aware of the risks involved with this unhealthy behavior to seek treatment or help for yourself or someone you know who may be struggling with alcohol abuse or dependence.

What is Alcohol Detox?

Alcohol detox is a step in the addiction treatment process that will flush all harmful toxins from an individual’s body while undergoing alcohol withdrawal. After alcohol detox, individuals can learn how to maintain abstinence and change their behaviors. In most cases, an alcoholic must participate in counseling during this time.

Alcohol detox is hazardous for those who are heavy drinkers. It is also not the treatment itself but its precursor because it can lead to withdrawal symptoms if not done correctly. Alcohol detox requires medical supervision and may need to last several days to a couple of weeks, depending on how much alcohol has been consumed recently.

The Importance of Detox in Alcohol Withdrawal

The first step in treating alcoholism is to go through alcohol detox. Your body expels all traces of alcohol during this phase. Withdrawal symptoms typically go away after one to two weeks of detoxing; nevertheless, this might take longer depending on the severity of alcohol dependence. 

After that, you can concentrate on other aspects of the recovery process, such as different activities, therapies, counseling sessions, and support choices.

The body’s dependence on alcohol may become apparent after a few months or years of drinking. The brain eventually stops producing chemicals it receives from alcohol, becoming dependent on the narcotic substance. The reason for this is that quitting drinking necessitates your body’s adjustment, which takes time. It is why withdrawal symptoms such as headaches, fever, nausea, irregular heartbeats, and hallucinations occur.

Some people are hesitant to quit drinking because they are concerned about the negative symptoms during alcohol detox. While some drinkers may experience minor symptoms of alcoholism, others may suffer from severe discomfort.

Symptoms of withdrawal vary considerably from person to person, which is why detox under the supervision of medical practitioners is critical. Various medications may be used to treat your pain at a rehabilitation center. It allows you to concentrate on your recovery and get better rather than focusing on your withdrawals.

What is the Process of Alcohol Detoxification?

Detoxification is the process of coming off alcohol, which serves as a precursor to more extensive treatment. Detoxification may be done safely in inpatient and outpatient settings, but medical monitoring is advised for heavy drinkers. The detox process usually includes three stages:

  • Intake – Intake focuses on providing medical and mental health services. This stage also involves putting an individual into a safe environment, such as a hospital or supervised treatment facility.
  • Medication – People who are dependent on alcohol often suffer from withdrawal symptoms. Detox usually involves medication to help manage physical and psychological side effects to cope with these.
  • Stabilization – Most people stabilized in the intake process move on to this phase. During stabilization, social services are often considered to better assist individuals after detoxification.

What are the Medications Used During Alcohol Withdrawal?

Different medicines may be used to minimize unpleasant withdrawal symptoms if alcohol detox is treated in an inpatient rehabilitation facility.

Medication might also assist in keeping a person’s body chemicals in equilibrium, lowering the danger of serious problems. A medical professional will give the medicine and monitor its effects during rehabilitation. If the treatment begins to have adverse side effects or prevents detoxifying, another option can be utilized.

The following are some of the medicines used during alcohol withdrawal treatment:

1 Benzodiazepines

Benzodiazepine is a sedative drug with anxiolytic, anticonvulsant, muscle relaxant, hypnotic and amnesic properties. It is generally used to help decrease the anxiety you feel when you are withdrawing from alcohol.

Long-acting benzos are typically given for three days or as needed. Chlordiazepoxide (Librium) and diazepam (Valium) are two of the most frequently used benzos in an inpatient rehabilitation facility.

2 Naltrexone

Naltrexone is an opioid receptor antagonist used for the treatment of alcohol dependence. It can help with cravings for alcohol during the detox process. Naltrexone works by blocking the euphoric effects of alcohol, leading to relapse. Because naltrexone might induce withdrawal symptoms, it is suggested that you wait for seven to ten days before taking it if you are currently dependent on alcohol.

Side effects of nausea, vomiting, abdominal pain, and headaches.

3 Acamprosate

Acamprosate is an amino acid that helps relieve symptoms of alcohol addiction. It may help with insomnia and gastrointestinal side effects associated with detoxification from alcohol.

Studies have also begun to look into whether or not acamprosate helps with the signs of PAWS, including sleeplessness, anxiety, and restlessness. It can also help you control your alcohol consumption; nevertheless, it won’t cause an adverse reaction if alcohol is consumed.

4 Disulfiram

Disulfiram is a drug used to treat alcohol abuse and dependence. It works as an acetaldehyde dehydrogenase inhibitor, which inhibits the enzyme responsible for metabolizing alcohol.

When you are under the influence of disulfiram, it causes you to feel sick when alcohol is consumed. It might help by minimizing cravings and possibly prevent relapse in some individuals. Disulfiram is effective in detoxification; however, women of childbearing age should avoid taking this medication due to its potential danger to a fetus.

What is Alcohol Withdrawal Syndrome?

Alcohol withdrawal syndrome can be defined as a set of symptoms that may occur after a person has stopped drinking alcohol. When a person has become dependent on alcohol, the body has adapted to this substance and will experience unpleasant effects once it is not present anymore.

Symptoms of alcohol withdrawal can range from mild to severe.

If you drink only once in a while, you’re unlikely to experience alcohol withdrawal symptoms if you stop. However, if you’ve previously gone through alcohol withdrawal, it’s more likely that you’ll have another episode the next time you quit drinking.

What Are Alcohol Withdrawal Symptoms?

The most typical symptoms of alcohol wuthdrawal are generally grouped into three categories:

1) Restlessness or nervousness

2) Irritability

3) Anxiety

4) Decreased sleep

5) Tremors, shakiness, and tingling sensations in the hands and feet

6) Headache

7) Sweating, nausea, vomiting

8) Loss of appetite

9) Fast heart rate or irregular heartbeat

10) Seizures

11) Fever and chills

12) Anguish

What are the Causes of Alcohol Withdrawal?

Your body reacts to alcohol in the same manner as it does to any other alcoholic beverage. It has a depressive influence on your system, just like different types of alcohol.

Your brain eventually gets used to having alcohol around all the time. Your body works hard to keep your brain awake and your nerves communicating with one another.

When the alcohol level drops suddenly, your brain remains in this keyed-up state. That’s what causes withdrawal. It is especially difficult for people who have alcohol addiction, they experience more severe withdrawal symptoms unlike the mild symptoms for simple alcohol withdrawal syndrome.

The Alcohol Detox Timeline

The withdrawal symptoms begin to appear anywhere from two hours to two days after your last drink. While the most severe symptoms generally go away in the first week, minor issues can persist for many weeks to a year. There is no precise timetable for when or what kind of withdrawal symptoms you will encounter; instead, there’s a general description of what they might look like.

The following is a summary of the detoxification process, which includes an explanation of each stage:

First six to 12 hours

The first symptoms of alcohol detox are light, but they can rapidly worsen over time. Headaches, fear, tremors, nausea, and irritability are early signs of withdrawal.

Day One

Symptoms may become more severe at the end of the first 24 hours. The effects were seen since 12 hours, disorientation, hand tremor, and seizure are possible.

Day Two

The second day is comparable to the first full day of detox, with the most severe symptoms persisting. Hallucinations and panic attacks are typical during this period, as your body eliminates alcohol from its system.

Three to Seven Days

For the rest of your first week in detox, you could experience various withdrawal symptoms. Additionally, this is when you’re most likely to suffer from life-threatening symptoms such as delirium tremens.

After one week

Many of the withdrawal symptoms will begin to decrease after your first week of detox. While some symptoms may last for a few weeks, the majority are minor and can be alleviated with medication.

Even after the most severe withdrawal symptoms have passed, some individuals may experience post-acute withdrawal syndrome (PAWS) – the long-term symptoms of detox. 

Anxiety, lack of energy, difficulty sleeping, and sluggish reactions are typical symptoms that can last several months to a year.

The most severe detox withdrawal symptoms usually begin 10 to 30 hours after the final drink and start to wane by 40 to 50 hours. Although delirium tremens are uncommon, around 30 percent of people who acquire it develop aspiration pneumonia. A medically-assisted withdrawal helps prevent severe problems, keeps track of a patient’s health status, and eliminates unpleasant symptoms.

What are the Types of Alcohol Detox Programs?

When it comes to detox programs, think a step ahead to rehabilitation. That’s because you’ll also require therapy to get rid of your addiction, and some treatments bring the two together.

There are two primary choices for alcohol detox programs. These are:

  • Inpatient – you will live in a hospital, detox center, or rehab center during the whole process. You will have round-the-clock assistance to assist you through.
  • Outpatient – you will visit your doctor during the detox process, possibly daily. Depending on your symptoms and recovery, the process can be as short or as long as many weeks.

Inpatient care usually includes more services and is generally more expensive. Outpatient care is a less-expensive alternative typically safe and effective for individuals suffering from mild or moderate alcohol withdrawal. If your physical and mental health is good, your home is secure, you have support at home, and you haven’t had a problem with drinking before, it’s probably safe to enter outpatient care. The following is a general breakdown of the types of alcohol detox programs:

  • Rehabilitation programs may provide various services, including medical therapy and counseling and life skills education, and assistance in preventing relapse.
  • Intensive inpatient treatment at a hospital or medical institution is not as popular as it once was. However, these programs are worthwhile if you have significant medical or mental health concerns.
  • Residential rehabilitation typically lasts between one and three months. These are ideal if you have a more serious issue that makes it challenging to remain sober.
  • Other rehabilitation options may be a better fit for you if you aren’t a danger to yourself or others and can stay sober when you return home.
  • Partial hospitalization or day treatment is a type of outpatient treatment in which you live at home but go to a hospital or clinic at least five days each week. Telehealth technologies have recently been introduced in many programs, allowing for the delivery of therapies. It can be an alternative to residential or inpatient care.
  • Intensive outpatient treatment is an extended series of more extensive appointments than a typical outpatient program. You may complete this after partial hospitalization, detox, or residential rehabilitation. It can also assist you in avoiding the need for those services.

How to Choose a Program for Alcohol Detox?

Begin by making a list of your needs. If you have a medical or mental health issue, for example, you’ll want services for it. An inpatient program could be appropriate if you’ve struggled for years and don’t have a solid social support system.

You may then evaluate the quality and cost of a program. You want to locate a program that you can afford that has certified, trained personnel and a high success rate.

You might want to prepare a list of questions to ask different institutions, such as:

  • What types of insurance do you have?
  • What kind of training does your staff have? Are they qualified?
  • Is it possible for you to provide me with a sample treatment plan?
  • Do you provide therapy and medical assistance?
  • What can you do to avoid a relapse?
  • Is there any follow-up after I complete the program?

Insurance Coverage for Alcohol Detox

Typically, certain services will be covered; however, the amount you’ll have to pay out of pocket is determined by your health plan and the program you choose. The insurer will only cover medically required treatments. It considers your unique circumstances and determines which type of therapy you qualify for.

Mental health care, including AUD treatment, is covered by Medicare Part A. Outpatient services for alcohol use disorder are covered by Medicare Part B.

You can ask your health care plan to inquire about the following before pursuing any alcohol detox programs to ensure coverage.

  • Other expenses and copays are examples of out-of-pocket costs.
  • If your policy covers a variety of treatments, including detox and inpatient or outpatient rehabilitation therapy.
  • How does your health plan decide what to cover for your detox program?

Follow-up Care

It’s not uncommon for recovering alcoholics to experience relapses as they return to their everyday routines. It may be simple to succumb and start drinking again once you’ve gotten back into the swing of things. As a result, you’ll want to continue treatment for at least a year. You have various choices, including 12-step programs, individual therapy, group therapy, and support groups.

Recovery Care Options

Check into sober living or halfway house programs near you. These can help you transition from a treatment program back to life at home by providing a safe environment with 24-hour supervision and guidance for a few months after your program ends.

Do I Need a Detox Program?

If you require alcohol for your body to function correctly, you most likely need assistance. It’s not simply a question of willpower when it comes to overcoming detox; stopping “cold turkey” without medical support is never advised. Even when it isn’t as dangerous, quitting cold turkey can be difficult.

Your health care provider should provide you with an alternative for the withdrawal and offer assistance. During this challenging time, you need experienced support staff to get you through it without leaving any stone unturned. You must understand all of your treatment choices to make an educated decision on how you want to proceed.

Can You Care for yourself at home on alcohol detox?

It is a crucial question, as you are responsible for caring for yourself during this difficult time. Nobody should ever try to detox on their own — it’s unsafe and can lead to relapse or even death. You’ll need to have some medical support, which means being monitored by doctors and nurses specializing in addiction treatment.

For people with mild alcohol dependence, you must first speak with your doctor about your plans to stop. Be completely honest about your dependency on alcohol. Your doctor can properly determine whether you need an in-house detox in a medical center, or you can do it at home.

While undergoing home detox, take note of these tips:

  • Take your medicines as instructed by the doctor or nurse. If you have concerns regarding the effectiveness of your medications, contact your physician or nurse call center.
  • Make sure you have someone you can trust watching over you the entire time. Invite friends and family members to watch with you until you’re finished detoxifying.
  • Keep a list of emergency phone numbers nearby. It should include your doctor, the police, the nearest hospital and emergency room, as well as neighbors who can assist if required.
  • Make sure all alcohol has been cleared from the home before you begin. It includes everything, including medicines and rubbing alcohol, and specific flavors like vanilla extract.
  • During your detox, keep “drinking buddies” at bay.
  • Make your surroundings serene. Soft lights, slow music, and a pleasant place to sit or lie down might make the procedure go more smoothly.
  • Drink a lot of water and eat low-calorie foods like fruit, cheese, and crackers. Carbohydrate-rich meals may help to decrease alcohol cravings.
  • Realize that detox is going to be difficult.
  • Keep in mind that the nurses and health care providers who are watching over you during detox are there to assist. Before you begin, let them know that you may not behave like yourself until detox is completed.
  • If you do not have access to a treatment center, consider joining an Alcoholics Anonymous support group. Sharing your difficulties with other individuals going through similar problems might help you feel less overwhelmed.
  • Keep the number for a suicide crisis centre on hand. In your community, look up a suicide prevention crisis center to contact if you or someone you care about is thinking of committing suicide or feels hopeless. Get help right away if you or someone you know talks about suicide or being down in spirits.

When should you call for help?

Call 911 if you feel you may require emergency care. Call immediately if:

  • You find yourself unwilling to avoid self-injury or harm others.
  • You vomit repeatedly, but you can’t stop.
  • Your vomit contains blood or coffee grind-like particles.
  • You can’t breathe, or you’re breathing rapidly.
  • Your heart beats more than 120 times each minute, and it won’t stop.
  • You are experiencing chest discomfort.
  • You have a seizure.
  • You see or sense things that aren’t there ( hallucinations).

If you’re looking after someone who’s going through detox, call 911 if the following symptoms appear:

  • The individual goes unconscious (becomes unconscious).
  • The person experiences or senses things that do not exist, and they hear or see things repeatedly.
  • The individual is highly agitated and refuses to calm down.
  • The individual snaps, becomes enraged, or threatens to harm himself or others.
  • A seizure occurs.

If you have any of the symptoms below, please get in touch with your doctor or nurse call line right now, or go to an emergency medical facility immediately:

  • You’re running a high temperature.
  • You have a lot of stomach discomfort.
  • You are very shaky.

If you notice any changes in your health, be sure to notify your doctor or the emergency contact number for a nurse if possible.

Life After Alcohol Detox

The first stage of treatment for those seeking to quit drinking is detox, which merely cleanses the body of alcohol. Elimination of alcohol from the system does not cure alcoholism; it only purges your thoughts and heals your body so that someone who has an addiction may get further help. Contact a rehabilitation expert now to learn more about alcohol detox and therapy and how they may help you.

After detox, therapy and counseling can assist you in determining the cause of your drinking and finding methods for living without alcohol. Just remember that there is no overnight remedy for an addiction or a drinking problem; it takes time and effort, but every good chance begins with Alcohol Detox.