The Alcohol Detoxification Process
Alcohol detoxification is the process by which the body rids itself of the harmful toxins found in alcohol. This process occurs naturally and begins as soon as a person stops drinking. Whether or not treatment during alcohol detoxification is necessary depends on how much and how often a person drinks.
Alcohol abuse is common among Americans, and those who abuse alcohol are more likely to develop a physical dependence. A physical dependence occurs when the body and brain begin to accept alcohol in the system for daily functioning. This can lead to an alcohol use disorder (AUD), which means the person has developed a chronic brain disease caused by heavy drinking over months or years.
Alcohol detoxification can be a problem for those who drink heavily over long periods of time. Abruptly ending a pattern of heavy drinking can cause severe psychological and physical effects, known as alcohol withdrawal.
Withdrawal can make the process of alcohol detoxification extremely uncomfortable, and potentially dangerous. For people with AUD, the risk of experiencing uncomfortable withdrawal symptoms during alcohol detoxification is greatly increased.
The more a person drinks, the harder it can be during detoxification. Heavy alcohol use is detrimental to a person’s health and mental well-being and is likely to play a role in the severity of withdrawal during detoxification.
Alcohol Use Disorders And Alcohol Detoxification
An alcohol use disorder (AUD) is almost guaranteed to make the alcohol detoxification process more difficult.
Millions and millions of people struggle with an (AUD). A person suffering from an AUD is likely compulsively using alcohol, losing control over how much they drink, and getting angry or mean when they’re not drinking.
Drinking heavily can also cause severe health issues. Drinking too much, too often, is likely to affect several aspects of a person’s body, including their brain, heart, and liver.
A person with AUD may begin to realize they have a drinking problem when they find they meet some of the criteria of an AUD, including continuing to drink when it causes problems, having to drink more to feel the effects, and trying to stop drinking but can’t.
When a person struggling with an AUD wants to stop drinking, it can be much harder than it seems. Not drinking, or drinking less, may seem like an easy fix, but it’s more complicated because the person has likely developed a dependence to alcohol.
As soon as a person recognizes they have an AUD, then they need to understand the alcohol detoxification process will likely be painful and cause uncomfortable and potentially life-threatening symptoms of withdrawal.
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Symptoms Of Alcohol Withdrawal
During the alcohol detoxification process, the symptoms of withdrawal can set in as early as 8 hours after the last drink. This varies from person to person, and some people may not experience any withdrawal symptoms until days later.
Common symptoms of alcohol withdrawal include:
- difficulty thinking or concentrating
- mood swings
- pale skin
Even more uncomfortable withdrawal symptoms are also likely for those with an AUD. These can include clammy skin, headache, nausea, vomiting, loss of appetite, tremor of various body parts, and rapid heart rate.
Withdrawal symptoms tend to peak within 24-72 hours during alcohol detoxification but are capable of lasting for weeks.
The most severe alcohol withdrawal, which can occur when a person drinks heavily for a long period of time, is a medical syndrome known as delirium tremens (DTs).
Withdrawal symptoms caused by delirium tremens include:
- hallucinations (hearing or seeing things that aren’t there)
- severe confusion
Although delirium tremens are rare during alcohol detoxification, any period of withdrawal can be painful for an individual. The more severe an AUD, the more painful the withdrawal.
Since withdrawal symptoms can last for days or weeks, a person going through this on their own is likely to turn to a drink for comfort and relief.
However, there are many treatment options available for someone suffering from the debilitating pain of alcohol withdrawal.
Treatment For Alcohol Detoxification And Withdrawal
For many people, seeking treatment during alcohol detoxification may depend on how much they drink and the severity of their withdrawal symptoms. Whether symptoms are mild or severe, an inpatient treatment center is likely to provide all the necessary resources needed to deal with withdrawal.
Inpatient treatment centers can provide the safest setting for treating alcohol detoxification. They will not only help with the pain and discomfort of withdrawal but also provide space between the person and any outside influence that may have contributed to their AUD.
A person’s environment plays an essential role during alcohol detoxification.
A supportive environment is crucial to managing the painful symptoms of alcohol withdrawal. While some people may find they can achieve this at home, inpatient treatment centers will typically offer the following medical recommendations to help cope with withdrawal symptoms:
- soft light
- quiet place
- limited contact with people
- plenty of fluids
- healthy food
- supportive medical staff
- positive encouragement
Withdrawal symptoms are likely to be unpleasant and may require careful monitoring to ensure complications don’t arise.
Entering an inpatient treatment center during alcohol detoxification is strongly recommended for people with a history of severe alcohol withdrawal, multiple detoxifications in the past, and co-occurring mental illness.
Treatment may also be necessary for people who have recently consumed high levels of alcohol and lack reliable support at home.
It’s beneficial to enter an inpatient treatment center because, along with a supportive environment, a person will likely have access to effective medications to help ease the discomfort of alcohol withdrawal.
Medications Used For Alcohol Detoxification And Withdrawal
Perhaps the most common medications administered to combat painful withdrawal symptoms are benzodiazepines. Benzodiazepines are a class of drugs that cause sedation and are generally prescribed to treat anxiety, insomnia, and seizures – all of which may arise during alcohol detoxification and withdrawal.
Benzodiazepines should only be administered by professionals in a hospital or inpatient treatment center. While benzodiazepines can be helpful during withdrawal, a person must properly detox and no longer be drinking, because combining alcohol and benzodiazepines can have deadly results.
Medications may also be used after the alcohol detoxification and withdrawal process to aid in recovery and prevent relapse. It’s important to remember that alcohol detoxification is not a cure for an AUD. Behavioral and medication-assisted treatment should follow to give the person the best chance for recovery.
There are three FDA approved medications that may be used later in treatment to help with alcohol dependence and addiction. These include naltrexone, acamprosate, and disulfiram. All of these medications are designed to decrease cravings and resist the urge to drink alcohol.
Call now for more information on how to effectively deal with alcohol detoxification and withdrawal.