Those living with a physical dependence upon alcohol have a hard time stopping their alcoholic behavior on their own. Withdrawal symptoms, cravings for more alcohol, and an overall physical illness mean that few alcoholics will be able to stop drinking for more than a few days at a time. Alcohol detox addresses these issues in a safe environment, providing care and psychological support as needed to assist the patient through the first – and most difficult – days following the cessation of drinking. This can last a few days, or it can last a week or more. It’s different for everyone. The one thing that remains uniform across the board is the need for assistance in the event of complications or the urge to relapse. This is primarily what an alcohol detox program provides to those who are ready to stop drinking.
Withdrawal Symptoms Associated With Detox
The physical withdrawal symptoms that occur when someone with a chronic dependence upon alcohol attempts to stop drinking is often the first thing on the minds of those interested in alcohol rehab and addiction treatment. Will it hurt? Will I be able to get through it? These are common questions and fears that come up, and they’re completely natural reactions to the prospect of treatment. Alcohol addiction is devastating to the psyche and to the body, and undergoing treatment is designed to be life-changing – in a positive way – and it often starts with withdrawal symptoms and a physical adjustment period.
According to the American Academy of Family Physicians, depending upon your experience with alcohol and other drugs during your active addiction, you may have withdrawal symptoms like:
- “The shakes” or tremors
- Nervousness or paranoia
- Intense mood swings
- Excessive sweating
- Vomiting and nausea
- Lost appetite
- Stomach cramps
NOTE: It is not advisable to quit drinking alone. If you have been living with a dependence upon alcohol for months or even years and drink regularly or daily as a result, the withdrawal symptoms you experience can cause significant physical complications in certain circumstances. Instead, enroll in an alcohol detox center and get the help you need to navigate the process of alcohol detox smoothly and safely with minimal discomfort.
Why Is Detox Necessary?
Most patients assume that the focus of alcohol detox is primarily the treatment of physical withdrawal symptoms. While this is indeed an important goal and a big part of alcohol detox, it is not the only objective. As observed by the U.S. National Library of Medicine, other important services provided by alcohol detox to the patient in early recovery include:
- Stabilization. Many who enter an alcohol detox facility are in crisis both physically and mentally. Before evaluation, diagnostic care or medical care from consulting physicians, it becomes important to stabilize the patient on every level and prepare him or her to receive further care.
- Medical care to prevent or treat complications. Treating withdrawal symptoms often is a part of the medical care provided by consulting physicians during alcohol detox programs, but care for underlying medical conditions is often important as well. Untreated, co-occurring issues – often previously undiagnosed and undefined – can cause significant complications. Your physician will supply medical care throughout your alcohol detox that can prevent or treat associated complications.
- Psychotherapeutic treatment. While the immediate goal of alcohol detox is physical stabilization and care, psychotherapeutic treatment is necessary to help prevent relapse and begin the process of treating co-occurring psychological disorders if applicable. With round-the-clock therapeutic support, patients enjoy increased success in staying sober one more day and getting more care that will help them to remain alcohol-free for a lifetime.
The overall goal of alcohol detox and rehab programs is abstinence and this starts with a solid care program provided during the initial stages of treatment. With a multi-pronged approach based on evidence-based care options, alcohol detox should provide patients with support that grounds them and gives them a boost in early recovery.
Short-Term Versus Long-Term Detoxification
There is no standard length of care applied to all alcohol detox programs. Like almost everything in addiction treatment, the choices made in terms of style, focus or duration should be based upon the needs of the individual. In other words, one patient may quickly work through withdrawal symptoms in just a couple of days and feel prepared and stable enough to begin alcohol addiction treatment while another may take a week or more just to feel well enough to focus.
Some factors that determine the outcome of an individual patient’s experience include the following:
- The length of time spent in active addiction
- The presence of co-occurring medical disorders (e.g., liver disease, osteoporosis, ketoacidosis)
- The presence of co-occurring psychological disorders (e.g., PTSD, eating disorders, bipolar disorder, depression, schizophrenia)
However, the initial cessation of intense withdrawal symptoms associated with alcoholism does not signify that alcohol detox is over. Instead, best results are experienced by patients who continue to apply detox principles to their lifestyles over the months and years to come. Yoga and other gentle exercise, organic produce and healthy food choices, lots of water, and a focus on decreasing stress both internally and externally can all help patients to continue the process of flushing toxins out of the system and decreasing the harm done by active alcoholism.
Traditional Medications Your Consulting Physician May Prescribe During Your Alcohol Withdrawal
Though it is not standard in every case, it is highly possible that your treatment team and consulting physicians will identify you as a candidate for one or more medications designed to ease or eradicate your experience of certain withdrawal symptoms associated with alcohol addiction during detox. Though they are helpful in treating the anxiety related to the initial cessation of drinking, few alcohol rehabs will prescribe medications like Valium, Ativan, Librium or Serax because they are highly addictive. Rather, it is more likely that you may be prescribed a non-addictive anticonvulsant, like Tegretol, Dilantin, Neurontin, or Depakote, to address withdrawal symptoms.
According to a study done at The Yonsei University College of Medicine and first published in the Yonsei Medical Journal, another set of medications have been shown to be effective in the prevention of relapse. The most common include:
- Antabuse. Also known as disulfiram, Antabuse is one of the first medications approved to help patients avoid relapse because it causes vomiting and other negative physical reactions when combined with alcohol.
- Vivitrol. Also known as naltrexone, Vivitrol is not prescribed until after you are no longer experiencing withdrawal symptoms and are no longer physically dependent upon alcohol. In combination with therapy, it can fight cravings by blocking the “high” that most people experience when drinking.
- Campral. Also known as acamprosate, Campral addresses the chemical imbalance in the brain caused by chronic drinking and can help patients to make more efficient progress in therapy and more effectively address psychological issues that may be keeping them in a life of addiction.
Holistic Treatment Options Available to Augment Alcohol Detoxification Care
Not everyone opts for traditional drugs and medications during alcohol detox; some prefer instead to rely more heavily on an intricate regimen based on holistic and homeopathic remedies. With a focus on creating positive symptoms within an individual, as opposed to erasing negative symptoms, and with an eye toward maintaining the smallest dose of herbs and other medicines as possible, many feel more comfortable flushing the toxins in their system left by alcohol with natural resources.
According to the University of Maryland Medical Center, some holistic and homeopathic care options include:
Vitamin B1, vitamin B complex, vitamin C, amino acids like carnitine and glutathione, magnesium, selenium and zinc have all been shown to have a beneficial effect during detox, addressing the issues of vitamin depletion caused by alcoholism and helping to limit cravings by leveling out extreme shifts in blood sugar and stress levels.
Different herbs can address different symptoms associated with detox while others promote a more healthy and efficient flushing of toxins from the system. Some of the most common include milk thistle, which addresses liver function damaged by alcohol; kudzu, which may reduce cravings; and dandelion, which may address withdrawal symptoms while helping heal the liver.
Different herbal combinations designed to address the specific withdrawal symptoms experienced can be determined on a case-by-case basis. For example, lachesis may be used to fight alcohol cravings and headaches or nux vomica may be used to treat intense negative moods in addition to nausea and vomiting.
Needles of different thickness and sizes are placed at strategic points on the body penetrating just the top layers of skin. A painless procedure, it may address the issue of cravings and lessen the experience of withdrawal symptoms.
It is important to note that none of the holistic remedies listed above are recommended as a sole source of treatment for alcoholism or addiction, nor are they to be attempted at home without the guidance and supervision of a trained provider. Rather, they are intended to augment medical care and treatment provided in a safe setting by consulting professionals trained in the provision of substance abuse treatment.
Detox Is NOT Rehab
Detox is only the first step in a comprehensive alcohol addiction treatment program and should not be considered the final stop in treatment. In combination with therapy, alcohol detox provides the groundwork for long-term success in recovery after addiction. Whether you opt for a focused alcohol detox program followed by outpatient or inpatient addiction treatment or a detox program integrated into a comprehensive alcohol rehab program, the medical care provided by your physician during alcohol detox is often an essential first step.
NOTE: Unlike alcohol addiction treatment programs, outpatient alcohol detox is generally not an option. For optimum safety in recovery, it is necessary for the patient to remain under 24-hour supervision in the event of emergency and to ensure safety from relapse.
Alcohol Detox at Michael’s House
Treatment at Michael’s House helps you successfully navigate alcohol detox and prepares you for a full recovery at our inpatient alcohol addiction treatment program here in Palm Springs. Through our alcohol and drug rehab and mental health facilities, we incorporate best practices in addiction and behavioral health treatments and provide highly individualized and client-directed care.
If you would like more information about our alcohol detox program and other addiction treatment options, contact us today.