During alcohol detox, alcohol leaves the body, and the body adjusts to its absence.
Alcohol detox is accompanied by withdrawal symptoms, some of which can be life-threatening. Due to the severe nature of alcohol withdrawal, medical detox is necessary. Medical detox is meant to minimize the symptoms of alcohol withdrawal syndrome and help individuals to stop consuming alcohol.
If you are suffering from alcoholism, and drinking continues to have negative effects on your life, you may be ready for alcohol detox. You should never attempt to stop drinking on your own if you have been abusing alcohol. Medical help is required.
While detox is the first step in the alcoholism recovery process, detox itself is insufficient to treat alcoholism. A full treatment program is necessary to achieve and sustain recovery. Oftentimes, the first step in determining if you’re ready for alcohol detox is recognizing that an alcohol abuse issue is present.
Effects of Alcoholism
Most adults can consume small to moderate amounts of alcohol infrequently without suffering any adverse effects; however, some people become addicted to alcohol. This is especially likely if the alcohol use is frequent and if large amounts of alcohol are drank. According to the National Library of Medicine, about 18 million people in the US have an alcohol use disorder.
Alcohol addiction involves the following symptoms:
- Cravings, or feeling a strong need to drink
- Feeling like your drinking is out of control (unable to stop drinking once you’ve started)
- Physical dependence (experiencing withdrawal when you go too long without a drink)
- Tolerance (needing to drink larger amounts of alcohol to feel the same effects once felt after a couple drinks)
Binge drinking is another problem that often occurs among those suffering from alcohol use disorder. A binge is defined as five or more drinks in two hours for men, and four or more drinks in two hours for women. Frequent binge drinking can increase the risk of physical dependence, as well as the risk of alcohol poisoning.
Preparing for Detox
A study published by Advances in Psychiatric Treatment recommends that individuals suffering from alcoholism reach a point where they feel ready to recover from their addiction before entering detox. Motivation to enter and complete the recovery process can be an important source of determination when facing withdrawal symptoms.
That being said, NIDA states that unwillingness to enter treatment doesn’t necessarily correlate with treatment failure. Those who enter treatment involuntarily, due to a court order or family pressure, often have similar rates of treatment success as those who enter rehab voluntarily.
Some types of therapy, such as Motivational Enhancement Therapy, can help to increase motivation and prepare an individual for the detox process. This type of therapy can be initiated before detox. Once the individual is sufficiently motivated to make a lasting behavioral change, further education about the detox process and the necessary following treatment for the addiction can be provided. This helps to ensure that detox will lead to eventual recovery from alcoholism, rather than acting simply as a temporary respite from the addiction.
Alcohol withdrawal occurs after the body has become physically dependent on alcohol in order to function normally. Repeated and frequent exposure to large amounts of alcohol can lead to dependence.
The journal Advances in Psychiatric Treatment lists the following symptoms as being most common with alcohol withdrawal:
- Cravings for alcohol
Occasionally, more severe symptoms of withdrawal may appear. The most severe form of alcohol withdrawal is known as delirium tremens, which can be life-threatening. Symptoms of delirium tremens include:
- Changes in thinking
- Sleep that lasts for at least a day
- Delirium and hallucinations
- Intense fear
- Frequent and quick changes in mood
- Sensitivity to light, sound, and touch
Some factors make delirium tremens more likely, such as recent intake of high levels of alcohol, previous symptoms of severe withdrawal, a history of seizures or delirium, use of psychoactive drugs, co-occurring medical conditions, and psychiatric disorders.
The Detox Process
Detox from alcohol can occur on either an inpatient and outpatient basis; however, inpatient detox is more frequently recommended due to the potential intensity of withdrawal symptoms. The detox process begins with an assessment, which involves a thorough examination of the individual’s physical and mental state. All co-occurring conditions should be identified so appropriate treatment can be offered. Blood tests to measure blood alcohol content may be taken.
During detox, medications may be used to lessen the symptoms of withdrawal and prevent complications. Continual monitoring by a medical professional is necessary in order to track the progression of detox and watch for serious or life-threatening symptoms.
Finally, those completing detox should be offered further treatment options, including comprehensive alcoholism treatment. The treatment team managing the detox process can typically make appropriate referrals to ensure the individual transitions into an appropriate recovery program. Many addiction treatment facilities offer comprehensive care that starts with detox and carries through to ongoing therapy and aftercare.