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Alcohol Detoxification

This comprehensive article provides essential information about alcohol detox, alcohol addiction, and withdrawal.

What Is Alcohol Detoxification?

Over 14.5 million people in the United States struggle with alcohol use disorder. Fortunately, alcohol addiction treatment is available, offering alcohol detox as an effective first step to recovery.1

Alcohol detoxification is the process of eliminating and cleansing the body of unwanted fluids and toxins as a result of extreme, long-term alcohol consumption in therapy.

Alcohol Detoxification—An Introduction

Significantly reducing alcohol use after drinking heavily for weeks, months, or years may cause mental and physical health issues, ranging from mild to severe. We refer to this as alcohol withdrawal.

The Process of Detoxification

The procedure of alcohol detox can differ based on the degree of the addiction, such as the duration, frequency, and quantity of alcohol abuse, and if the individual has any co-occurring diseases. Nonetheless, detoxification typically involves three stages. These include:

  • First Stage: The first stage of alcohol detox occurs within the first six to twenty-four hours after the last intake. Mild to moderate withdrawal symptoms may occur during this time, such as headaches, anxiety, mood swings, and nausea.
  • Second Stage: The second stage usually occurs twenty-four to seventy-two hours after the last drink. On top of the symptoms from the first stage, more severe withdrawal symptoms may begin to arise, such as tremors, seizures, panic attacks, and hallucinations.
  • Third Stage: The more intense withdrawal symptoms begin to dissipate after the third day; however, various symptoms may continue to occur for one to two weeks following the last drink. The symptoms during this stage can include depression, anxiety, nausea, mood swings, and shakiness.

What Does Detox Look Like?

For the first phase of recovery to arise, drug and alcohol detox must occur. Many may fear the withdrawal procedure due to the symptoms that may follow, resulting in attempts to avoid detoxification.  

Nonetheless, detoxing is crucial to a successful recovery. Consider the following benefits of alcohol detox:

Reduced Health Risks

Serious health issues like cirrhosis or fatty liver disease may develop when the liver cannot function at its peak. Over time, alcoholism can raise the risk of a wide range of illnesses, such as:

  • Cancer
  • Pancreatitis
  • Alcoholic hepatitis
  • Arrhythmias

The liver, brain, cardiovascular system, and gut may have suffered harm from frequent drinking; however, quitting alcohol can help restore some of that harm. As soon as the frequent alcohol use stops, these organs will start to repair gradually.

Other mental ailments like schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, anxiety, and depression are frequently associated with alcohol addiction. An estimated 9.5 million adults in the United States have a mental condition in addition to a substance use disorder.2

Improved Nutrition and Weight Control

Alcohol consumption can have two detrimental effects—deplete the body's essential nutrients and supply it with sugar and empty calories. The body’s metabolism won't properly work if it lacks essential foods, including protein, carbs, fat, vitamins, and minerals. By interfering with the digestion, storage, usage, and excretion of nutrients, alcohol can also sabotage the nutritional process.

What Are the Symptoms of Alcohol Withdrawal?

Alcohol withdrawal symptoms differ from person to person and range from mild to life-threatening during the alcohol detox phase. The symptoms of alcohol withdrawal will be detailed below.

Nausea and Vomiting

People who have been dependent on alcohol for a prolonged period or engaged in heavy drinking often experience uncomfortable and unpleasant alcohol withdrawal symptoms like nausea and vomiting.

Headaches

One of the most frequent adverse effects of withdrawal in heavy drinkers is headaches from alcohol. Around six hours after the last drink, headaches usually start and can last for days or longer.

High Temperature and Chills

An alcohol withdrawal symptom that is relatively frequent is a high fever. High temperatures (more than 100 degrees Fahrenheit) is linked to alcohol withdrawal.

Unpleasant, Vivid Dreams

Alcohol inhibits brain activity, causing the brain to work harder to perform the same functions and processes. During withdrawal, the brain becomes overstimulated, causing agitation and constantly switching in and out of REM sleep (the dream stage). This combination can lead to unpleasant dreams due to agitation and vivid dreams due to overstimulation and waking up during REM sleep.

Irregular or Increased Heart Rate

Although it is rare, alcohol withdrawal might result in a racing heart. A person is more prone to experience increased heart rate if they develop delirium tremens, a severe side effect of alcohol withdrawal that includes extreme confusion, hallucinations, tremors, and mood shifts.

Excessive Sweating

Alcohol impacts nearly every system in the body, including the circulatory and central neurological systems. As a result, drinking might quicken the heartbeat and enlarge the skin's blood vessels, causing excessive sweating.

Depression

Alcohol withdrawal can result in depressive symptoms. Depression is one of the most expected mental health conditions associated with alcohol withdrawal syndrome.

Extreme Agitation

Another term for depression characterized by agitation and bodily restlessness is extreme agitation or major depressive illness with mixed characteristics.

Visual and/or Auditory Hallucinations

Hallucinations and delusions may occur within the first seventy-two hours after the last drink. Delirium tremens is a severe withdrawal side effect that commonly results in experiencing visual or auditory hallucinations.

Seizures

The sudden dissolution of alcohol intake after an extended period of excessive drinking can cause alcohol withdrawal seizures. In this context, the general tonic-clonic seizure is the most distinct and severe type of alcohol withdrawal symptom.

Fever

Fever is frequent after alcohol withdrawal. In this situation, an increase in body temperature could be caused by infection, to which people with alcohol use disorder are prone.

High Blood Pressure

Epidemiological studies have found a link between excess alcohol addiction and hypertension.

What Are the Side Effects of Alcohol Detox?

Those with a history of prolonged or heavy alcohol use who abruptly reduce or abstain from drinking often experience alcohol withdrawal symptoms. Below are some of the most common side effects of alcohol detox: 

During Acute Withdrawal

Acute alcohol detoxification symptoms may occur during the first few days and weeks after someone stops consuming alcohol. Acute alcohol withdrawal syndrome denotes the usual withdrawal signs experienced by excessive drinkers when they abruptly terminate their alcohol consumption following prolonged periods of excessive use.

During Early Abstinence

Alcohol withdrawal symptoms might appear as soon as two hours after the last drink, often peaking after the first twenty-four to forty-eight hours of abstinence. This timeline is when people may suffer the most unpleasant alcohol withdrawal symptoms, such as insomnia, vomiting, blood pressure abnormalities, sweating, tremors, seizures, and fever.

One of the most severe withdrawal side effects is delirium tremens, which develops most commonly within the first forty-eight hours after the last drink. Delirium tremens is a life-threatening withdrawal symptom, resulting in 15% of deaths in untreated patients and 1% in treated patients.3

Drugs Used in Alcohol Detox

Medical professionals can prescribe several medications for alcohol detox treatment to help alleviate withdrawal symptoms, reduce cravings, and treat side effects caused by alcohol use disorder. They include:

  • Adrenergic medications 
  • Anticonvulsants
  • Acamprosate
  • Benzodiazepines
  • Disulfiram
  • Naltrexone
Alcohol Detox

Detoxing at Home

While people may consider trying home alcohol detox, medically-supervised detoxification may help minimize unpleasant withdrawal symptoms and side effects. Therefore, we recommend detoxing at a medical facility to ensure safety, security, and comfort.

Pros

The following includes the pros of detoxing at home:

  • No financial commitments
  • Comfort of staying at home
  • Confidentiality and anonymity

Cons

Because alcohol detox can be dangerous, it is usually best treated by a medical professional at a detox or treatment health center. Here are the cons of detoxing at home:

  • Relationships may suffer due to the difficulty of withdrawal
  • Increased hazard to physical health
  • Lack of prescription medication to alleviate symptoms
  • Increased likelihood of a setback or relapse
  • Increased chance of negative mental health impacts

What to Eat During Your Self-Detox

Alcohol is a diuretic, meaning it promotes water loss in the body through the renal system, causing dehydration. Therefore, it is essential to drink lots of water and electrolyte-rich liquids and foods, such as coconut water, nuts, bananas, and milk.

In addition, consume food high in nutrients, such as broccoli, kale, beans, lean meats, salmon, and sunflower seeds.

Treatment for Alcohol Addiction Beyond Detox

Alcohol addiction treatment is an effective method to reach lasting sobriety. Research has revealed that one-third of people with alcohol use disorder no longer experience symptoms after one year of treatment.4

Alcoholism treatment might vary based on each individual’s specific requirements. Here are some alcohol detox treatments:

Individual Counseling

Therapy and counseling for groups and individuals can help people understand their alcohol issues and recover from the psychological effects of alcohol usage. Couples or family therapy may be beneficial, as family support is an important aspect of rehabilitation.

Group Therapy

Group therapy sessions can take place in a variety of therapeutic venues and treatment levels, including hospital-based inpatient programs, residential programs, and outpatient rehabilitation programs. 

Family Therapy

Family therapy can aid in the resolution of family conflicts and maladaptive transgenerational processes. In therapy, confronting problems that have caused animosity, misunderstanding, and alienation can help restore balance and well-being.

Relapse Prevention

Most individuals seek therapy to avoid relapse. Relapse prevention can significantly help those recovering from alcohol addiction by addressing the mental, emotional, and physical effects of addiction and how to cope with triggers in a positive way.

Social and Legal Services

Alcohol and drug counselors who provide social and legal services directly or by referral must consider three legal and ethical issues: discrimination against recovered persons, welfare reform, and confidentiality.

Vocational Support

People with a history of drug addiction may require vocational support to help them get back on their feet and develop a plan for employment. There are a variety of options and groups for vocational support, including functional limitations, rehabilitative assistance, job coaching, transportation, and training.

Medication-Assisted Treatment

When people stop drinking, many alcohol-related health issues improve considerably. However, some medical issues may necessitate withdrawal treatment, prolonged therapy, and follow-up care. Medical professionals may prescribe medication to patients to help alleviate any symptoms during detox, side effects from alcohol abuse, and possible co-occurring disorders, such as anxiety, depression, and bipolar disorder.

Find Help for Alcohol Detox at Soledad House

Seeking alcoholism treatment is a big step toward sobriety. At Soledad House, we provide evidence-based and supportive care to ensure successful and long-lasting recovery. Our medical staff offer high-quality personalized treatment plans to match your needs.

Contact us today to learn more about our programs and begin your journey to recovery. 

Contact Soledad House to Learn More

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