Detoxification from alcohol, under adequate medical supervision, allows people who have become dependent on alcohol to safely withdraw from it. Without professional assistance, withdrawal can become not only uncomfortable but highly dangerous. In some situations, detox can even be life-threatening.
Despite its popularity, legal standing and cultural acceptance, alcohol is still a drug which has the capacity to damage a person’s mind, body, and life. Alcohol contains toxins that quickly change an individual’s chemical and biological standing. With prolonged use or addiction, these changes create an intense dependency and numerous, negative health effects.
Sobriety becomes essential to regain your health and protect your body. To better understand the importance of a medically supervised alcohol detox, first, we explore withdrawal, a set of symptoms and risks detox helps alleviate or reduce.
What Is Withdrawal?
When people drink alcohol in a chronic manner, such as with alcohol addiction, their bodies and brains become dependent on the chemical components of the drug. The excess alcohol changes important chemicals in your brain, specifically neurotransmitters. These chemical messengers monitor and regulate important functions in your body.
It is these very changes that cause withdrawal—a person becomes dependent on the alcohol’s chemical effect to function. When the alcohol is suddenly absent, the body reacts through withdrawal. One system, in particular, goes into overdrive due to these changes.
As explained by the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA), the autonomic nervous system is overloaded, creating changes in processes related to your internal organs and involuntary bodily functions, such as breathing, heart rate, and blood pressure. The central nervous system also begins working more intensely.
When Does Withdrawal Occur?
The first signs of withdrawal occur roughly eight hours after the last drink, according to MedlinePlus. However, you may experience minor symptoms when your blood still has alcohol content present. For some, it may be several days before withdrawal occurs.
Symptoms most commonly peak in one to three days but may continue for weeks. In delirium tremens, a more severe form of withdrawal, symptom onset begins two to four days after cessation, but may not begin until day seven or 10.
Withdrawal symptoms may range from minor symptoms to quite severe ones. The severity and duration of withdrawal are dependent on several factors, including duration of abuse and the amount regularly consumed.
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What Are The Signs Of Withdrawal?
Should you stop drinking alcohol suddenly, or “cold turkey,” you may experience uncomfortable and even dangerous symptoms of withdrawal, including:
- Tremors or shakiness
- Agitation, nervousness or irritability
- Anxiety or depression
- Altered moods
- Foggy thoughts or confusion
- Intense tiredness or insomnia
- A headache
- Nausea and vomiting
- Dilated pupils
- Increased heart rate
- Sweating and clammy or pale skin
Withdrawal should not be attempted alone, as it can be dangerous. Instead, if you’re ready to stop drinking or to fight addiction, it’s in your best interest to seek trained care. With the help of a rehab center, you can receive a proper, medically-monitored detox.
How Is Unsupervised Withdrawal Dangerous?
Withdrawal places a huge psychological and physical burden on you. If not assisted by a trained medical professional, this can get seriously out of hand. One of the largest concerns during withdrawal is a relapse, as this period often produces significant cravings.
Without proper care and support, a person may begin drinking again, moving back down the harmful path of addiction. Those who become caught in a cycle of withdrawal often face other risks as well, such as delirium tremens.
What Is Delirium Tremens?
The most severe stage of alcohol withdrawal, delirium tremens, commonly referred to as “DTs” is more prevalent in those who drink heavily, have drunk over ten years and have experienced numerous instances of withdrawal in the past.
Delirium tremens may cause:
- Fear or rapid mood shifts
- Impaired cognitive functions or confusion
- Stupor, fatigue or sleeping for a day or more
- Agitation or irritability
- Restlessness, increased activity or excitability
- Delirium or hallucinations
- Other general symptoms of alcohol withdrawal
- Seizures, typically the generalized tonic-clonic type
Delirium tremens is a serious medical condition which may cause death. It requires prompt medical care, and if you suspect it’s happening, either in you or a loved one, seek help immediately.
Avoiding these symptoms and scenarios may seem daunting. You may ask yourself, what does a medically supervised detox entail?
What Is A Medically Supervised Detox?
A medically supervised detox supports an individual in balancing and addressing any symptoms that may attack physical, mental, or emotional states during withdrawal. Detox allows your body to flush the toxins which accumulated from abuse and addiction.
In addition, detox:
- Helps prevent life-threatening seizures and DTs
- Addresses nutritional imbalances
- May utilize medications to reduce physical and mental symptoms
- Attends to co-occurring disorders
- Provides companionship, emotional guidance, and support
- Targets cravings and helps prevent relapse
Detox is only the first step towards sobriety. According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse’s “Principles of Effective Treatment,” continued care is essential. Comprehensive treatment requires an individualized plan that works for you, and Swift River offers this all-inclusive care.
What Happens During Detox?
In order to carry out these goals, our staff may utilize medication and other methods to help you effectively overcome withdrawal. After this, you’ll be prepared to begin treatment. We integrate medication-assisted therapies (MAT) in our detox programs.
MAT is a comprehensive approach that pairs medications with counseling or behavioral therapies to provide holistic care. Medications address certain symptoms of withdrawal, such as anxiety, depression, agitation, the risk of seizure or any other accompanying physical or mental changes.
The American Family Physician states that certain benzodiazepine medications are commonly used during this time, while NIAAA notes that a selection of anti-seizure medications may be useful. You’ll also be continuously monitored with routine vital checks and physical and mental assessments.
Alcohol addiction takes a toll on a person’s body, in some cases leading to a state of dehydration, malnourishment or vitamin deficiencies. B vitamin deficiencies, especially thiamine, are very common. If left untreated, this can lead to certain medical complications. Various nutritional and vitamin supplements may counter this damage and help regain and maintain hydration.
Cleanse Your Body And Mind
Has your alcohol use disorder taken control of your life? If you feel you’re no longer fulfilled in life, can’t handle responsibilities that are important to you and your family due to alcohol addiction, reach out to us. We can aid you in finding a path toward a more balanced, alcohol-free life, beginning with our medically supervised detox. Contact Swift River today.
MedlinePlus — Alcohol Withdrawal