Detoxification, or detox, is the first stage of alcohol addiction recovery and involves allowing all traces of alcohol to leave your system. This can be an uncomfortable and even dangerous process that is often overseen by a medical professional.
When a person has become dependent on alcohol, allowing all traces of the substance to leave their system can result in the onset of a predictable yet distressing set of symptoms, referred to as withdrawal symptoms. These include delusions, tremors, sweats, and fever.
Many choose to go through this process in a medical facility such as a rehab, while others opt to complete detox in the comfort of their own home. The level of safety that can be guaranteed with home detox depends on a number of factors including how long you have been dependent on alcohol and how many units you normally drink per week. The safest way of detoxing from alcohol is under the supervision of a medical professional which can even be done in your own home via a home medical detox service. Read more at ukhomedetox.co.uk
What is Alcohol Withdrawal?
Withdrawal symptoms are a normal part of detox, in response to a sudden change in blood alcohol concentration. With chronic alcohol use, a person’s body becomes used to the presence of the substance and adapts accordingly. Many people who have mid or end stage alcohol use disorder will experience withdrawal after just a few hours of stopping drinking as the alcohol in their system reaches an irregularly low level. This is often why alcoholics will have a drink when they wake up, to overcome the early symptoms of withdrawal.
What are Alcohol Withdrawal Symptoms?
Withdrawal symptoms from alcohol include nausea, fever, vomiting, insomnia, tremors, hallucinations, seizures, rapid heart rate, and convulsions. The severity of the withdrawal symptoms is impacted by how severe a person’s alcohol abuse has become. Light to moderate drinkers often experience moderate symptoms that can generally be managed safely at home, whereas severe alcohol withdrawal often requires medical attention and a doctor trained in alcohol withdrawal to monitor your progress and assess your vital signs regularly. Fevers, seizures, tremors, hallucinations, and convulsions can be not only scary but life-threatening if untreated. There is some risk of life-threatening symptoms for light drinkers who have abused alcohol for a long time so medically supervised withdrawal is recommended.
How Long Does Alcohol Detox Take?
Withdrawal symptoms typically begin within six to eight hours following your last drink and peak between 24 and 72 hours.
- First 6 hours: People generally begin to experience minor withdrawal symptoms within six hours of their last drink. There is the potential for a person who has a long history of heavy drinking to have a seizure six hours after stopping drinking.
- 12 to 24 hours: A very small percentage of individuals going through alcohol withdrawal have hallucinations at this point. This could mean seeing or hearing things that aren’t really there. People will also generally start to experience more minor symptoms including headache, nausea, and vomiting.
- 24 to 48 hours: Minor withdrawal symptoms usually continue during this time. Lighter alcohol users who may only experience minor withdrawal will generally have their symptoms peak at 18 to 24 hours and begin to decrease after four to five days.
- 48 hours to 72 hours: Some individuals experience a severe form of alcohol withdrawal known as the Delirium Tremens (DTs). This is a deeply distressing condition that can cause a rapid heart rate, seizures, or a high body temperature.
- 72 hours: Within 72 hours, alcohol withdrawal symptoms have usually reached their worst. At this point they may include rapid heart rate and delusions (seeing things that aren’t there).
Post Acute Withdrawal Symptoms (PAWS)
PAWS can be a major factor in relapse, regardless of how committed a person is to their alcohol addiction treatment and getting sober. The symptoms can be extremely uncomfortable and distressing. For some it can feel like an emotional rollercoaster, and negatively impact recovery.
During the alcohol withdrawal process, the first stage is generally characterised as having more physical symptoms and then as these begin to fade, psychological symptoms will emerge. This can include insomnia and anxiety, depression, mood swings, confusion, irritability, agitation, and difficulty concentrating.
These symptoms occur as your brain chemistry gradually returns to normal. As your brain functioning gets better, the levels of your brain chemicals will fluctuate as they approach a new equilibrium.
Alleviating Withdrawal Symptoms
For people who opt to go through the detoxification process at home, there are things that will alleviate withdrawal symptoms to a certain degree and make the process easier. There are also certain medications that can be prescribed to help people get through the most difficult stages, although this must be done under medical supervision.
With at home detox, it is often said that preparation is key. Removing all alcohol from the home and ensuring the cupboards are stocked with healthy, varied meals, including food you may experience a craving for is one way of alleviating additional stress and staying healthy. Staying hydrated is also essential as dehydration can be a risk factor for the DTs.
During medical detoxification, a doctor may suggest that you take medications if you have moderate to severe withdrawal symptoms. Benzodiazepines are sometimes prescribed to reduce the likelihood of seizures during alcohol withdrawal. Diazepam (Valium), alprazolam (Xanax), and lorazepam (Ativan) are all common benzo medications that are prescribed by doctors to treat alcohol withdrawal.
Neuroleptic medications can help depress nervous system activity and could assist in preventing seizures and agitation associated with alcohol withdrawal. Doctors may also suggest nutritional support and offer nutrients such as folic acid, thiamine, and magnesium to reduce nutrient deficiencies caused by alcohol use.
Alcohol withdrawal can be scary and even dangerous, but help is out there.