Alcohol Detox Overview


Alcohol Detox: What it Means and How to Get Through it

Alcohol detox is a necessary first step on the road to recovery.

alcoholThe crack of a beer can opening, the pop of a cork leaving the bottle or the rattle of ice inside a glass can all sound like music to the ears of people struggling with alcoholism. These little cues can cause huge spikes in cravings to drink, and once these people start drinking, they may be physically unable to stop. Their brain cells have become hardwired to function best while in the presence of alcohol, and without that drug, the cells can malfunction or just short-circuit.

Between drinks, people may seem somewhat altered, but a quick gulp brings them back to normal. If they try to stop drinking altogether, however, they could be forced to endure alcohol withdrawal symptoms, and at times, this can prove fatal. An alcohol detox program provides vital help that can allow people to get sober without losing their lives in the process.

An Awakened Brain

Alcohol is, at its core, a sedating drug that can reduce activity levels inside the brain. The chemistry is complicated, and there are likely many different reactions taking place all at the same time, but people who have advanced cases of alcohol may be walking around with a quiet, sedated brain almost all of the time. When the alcohol is removed, those cells are allowed to awaken and they begin to transmit information at a normal rate. The conscious mind is no longer accustomed to this barrage of data, and it may interpret the information as a medical emergency. The person may begin to exhibit symptoms of:

  • Anxiety
  • Nervousness
  • Irritability
  • Fatigue
  • Confusion
  • Insomnia

According to the U.S. National Library of Medicine, these symptoms can take hold within five to 10 hours after the last drink, and they tend to get worse within 48 to 72 hours. People may have clammy skin and tiny pupils, and they may also have nausea and a lack of appetite. Their hands and feet may shake, and they may have an overwhelming urge to take a drink of alcohol.

attentionNeed for Attention

To outsiders, these symptoms might seem only mildly uncomfortable. In fact, some people who have lived with alcoholics for years may believe that the pain of withdrawal is an appropriate punishment that can keep people from drinking in the future. These people may believe that the distress can serve as a sort of prompt that can ensure sobriety, but in reality, there’s no evidence that suggests that people who have a difficult recovery are more likely to stay sober when compared to people who get help. For example, in a study in the Journal of Studies on Alcohol, researchers found that physical pain could help some people recover from alcoholism, but success was also associated with more profound factors, such as hitting bottom, changing lifestyles and experiencing something mystical. Studies like this seem to suggest that people get sober for all kinds of reasons, and there’s no reason to make someone suffer in order to make sobriety more likely. The pain might have the opposite effect, in fact, as it might make people more likely to return to drinking before the withdrawal process is complete.

Medical attention is also considered vital because withdrawal symptoms can become severe if they’re left untreated. In severe cases of alcohol withdrawal, people can develop:

  • Intense confusion
  • Hallucinations
  • High body temperatures
  • Agitation

Within six to 48 hours after drinking, people like this can develop seizures, according to a study in the journal CNS Drugs. The activity sweeps through the brain like a wildfire, and all of the awakened cells seize up and fire at an erratic level. The seizures can come in a cluster, and in severe cases, they can be fatal. Since this side effect is possible in people who are attempting to stop drinking, it’s not advisable for anyone who has alcoholism to go through detox without some kind of medical attention.

Treatment Choices

girls in alcohol detoxIn an alcohol detox program, medical professionals monitor their patients closely, looking for any sign that the awakened cells are about to cause problems for the people in their care. They may monitor blood pressure, check pupil size and take temperature readings. They may also ask people to answer questions about their mental health and comfort level. If trouble does begin to brew, medications can be used to soothe the transition between intoxication and sobriety. These drugs work on the same receptors used by alcohol, and when they’re given in a tapering dose, they allow the mind to slowly wean away from the alcohol in a controlled and safe manner.

Some people can go through this process at home, as long as they have someone willing to sit with them during the entire process and call for help if things go wrong. People like this can take their medications and see their doctors periodically, but they may be able to stay in the comfort of their own homes as the symptoms pass through them. Other people are at such a high risk of enduring a medical problem that they need to go through the detoxification process in a hospital setting, where they’ll have access to immediate medical attention when they need it. People like this may have other medical conditions that could cause seizures, they may have a history of alcoholic withdrawal seizures in the past, or they may have a history of using other drugs along with alcohol.

According to the National Survey of Substance Abuse Treatment Services, only about 18 to 19 percent of people who enter addiction treatment programs use alcohol alone. The vast majority use another drug alongside alcohol, and this kind of pileup of substances can do severe damage to the body and make the withdrawal process just a little more unpredictable. For this reason, people who use multiple substances like this are often encouraged to get their detox care in a controlled setting, rather than working through the process at home. They can get better, but they might need just a touch more help and supervision in order to get there.

Medications aren’t required for everyone who goes through alcohol detox. Some people can use alternative therapies like massage in order to soothe their discomfort, and some find that soothing talk and quiet spaces can help them to recover. But the option of medications should always be there, just in case things take a turn for the worse.

When detox is complete, the work is far from over. People may be sober, but the need to drink might still be there, lurking right underneath the surface, and the person might not have the ability or willingness to keep from sliding right back into alcohol use and abuse. That’s why it’s vital for people to go into a formal treatment program for addiction as soon as their detox programs are complete. Here, they can learn more about why they were tempted to drink to excess, and they can develop real skills that can keep them from drinking in the future. In an inpatient program, the transition from detox to treatment is smooth, and sometimes, it’s as easy as moving from one room to another. Those who go through the program at home, however, might need a prompt from family members and friends so they follow through and enter the programs that can help them.

Find Out More

At Futures of Palm Beach, we offer a comprehensive program that can help you to recover from an addiction to alcohol. Our programs begin with an intensive evaluation, allowing us to understand all of the issues that might be contributing to your drinking. Then, we design a treatment program just for you, and our counselors stay with you each step of the way to make sure you’re comfortable, healthy and relaxed. The work is hard, and detoxification can seem scary, but we can help you make it to the other side, and we can help you learn how to preserve the gains you make in detox. Please call us to find out more.

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