Alcohol use disorder (also known as alcoholism or alcohol dependence)affects over 15 million adults in the US. When a person is dependent on alcohol, efforts to stop drinking can result in anxiety, feelings of physical illness, and—in worst case scenarios– even shakes, tremors, or seizures.1
Withdrawal symptoms, cravings for more alcohol, and physical discomfortmake quitting alcohol very difficult. Alcohol detox addresses these issues in a safe, non-judgmental environment that is designed to assist each participant during the first – and most difficult – days following the cessation of drinking.
Detox can last a few days, or it can last a week or more. It’s different for everyone, with one exception: the need for support to prevent complications or an urge to relapse. This support is a key component to any successful alcohol detox program.
Withdrawal Symptoms Associated With Detox
People who have become dependent on alcohol often feel a great deal of anxiety about quitting. They may ask questions like: Will it hurt? Will I be able to get through it? How bad is alcohol detox going to be?
These are common questions, and it’s normal to have some concerns at first. Alcohol addiction devastates both body and brain, and treatment is designed to be life-changing – in a positive way – but it often starts with withdrawal symptoms and a physical adjustment period.
Alcohol withdrawal may take a number of forms. Common withdrawal symptoms include:
- “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 and drink regularly, the withdrawal symptoms you experience can cause significant physical complications. A licensed alcohol detox center can help you navigate detox smoothly and safely with minimal discomfort.
Why Is Detox Necessary?
Most people assume that the treatment of physical withdrawal symptoms is the only focus of alcohol detox. While this is indeed an important goal, it is not the only objective. Other important services provided by alcohol detox in early recovery include:
- Stabilization. Many who enter an alcohol detox facility are in crisis both physically and mentally. Before evaluation, it is important to ensure each person is feeling well enough to begin treatment.
- Medical care to prevent or treat complications. Treatment of withdrawal symptoms is a part of standard medical care during alcohol detox programs, but care for underlying medical conditions is also important. 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, supportive counseling therapy can help prevent relapse and ease the path to wellness.3
Abstinence is the overall goal of alcohol detox, which all starts with solid care during the initial stages of treatment. Evidence-based care options offer support that can boost early recovery.
“If you really have the desire to change your life, you can make it happen,” writes Reid B. at HeroesInRecovery.com. “You can live the life you really want to have. You can achieve great things and can accomplish goals. The first year is really tough; it’s honestly hard. You get used to making better and safer decisions for yourself. It does get easier. You get used to a life without substance abuse. You can ultimately become the person you want to be.”
Short-Term Versus Long-Term Detoxification
Alcohol detox programs vary, just like the patients who need recovery. Like almost everything in addiction treatment, options should be based upon the needs of the individual. In other words, one person may quickly work through withdrawal symptoms in just a couple of days and feel prepared and stable enough to begin alcohol rehab treatment while another may take a week or more just to feel well enough to focus.
Some factors that determine the outcome of each 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)
Medically-supervised detox is brief, but it takes a long time for the body to become fully healthy again.
Holistic Treatment Options Available to Augment Alcohol Detoxification Care
Detox discomfort can be lessened with the help of prescription medications, but not everyone opts for traditional drugs and medications during alcohol detox; some prefer instead to rely on sound nutrition and holistic treatments, including massage, yoga, and other therapeutic supports.
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.
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. Alcohol detox provides the groundwork for long-term success in recovery when it is combined with therapy and further treatment. 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.
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.
1 National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. Alcohol Use Disorder. N.d. Web. Retrieved Mar 2018.
2 Bayard, M., et al. Alcohol Withdrawal Syndrome. American Family Physician. Mar 2004.
3 U.S. National Library of Medicine. Alcohol Withdrawal. Medline Plus. Jan 2017.
4 Jung, Y., and Namkoong, K. Pharmacotherapy for Alcohol Dependence: Anticraving Medications for Relapse Prevention. Yonsei Medical Journal. 2006.
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