Did you know that alcohol is one of the deadliest substances when compared to other drugs? Every year in the United States nearly 100,000 individuals die due to alcohol-related causes, making alcohol the third leading preventable cause of death in the country in an average year behind smoking tobacco and obesity. Part of what makes alcohol so deadly is alcohol withdrawal. In fact, when it comes to withdrawal from any substance, alcohol is one of the most fatal alongside Benzodiazepines such as Xanax. As such, it is important for individuals to be aware of when they or their loved one may be in need of a professional medical detoxification from alcohol, what the symptoms of alcohol withdrawal are, what occurs during a medical detox from alcohol, and what the path to recovery from alcohol may look like for you or your loved one.
How Do You Know If You Need to Medically Detox from Alcohol?
Alcohol depresses the central nervous system, slows down brain function, and can have a devastating impact on organs such as the liver. Over time, regular alcohol user’s brains and bodies become physically tolerant to alcohol, and when alcohol leaves the body withdrawal symptoms can ensue. Some individuals who are addicted to alcohol may be well-aware that if they are ever to stop drinking alcohol they will need a medical detox. For such individuals, fear of withdrawal symptoms may even keep them in the cycle of alcohol addiction. These are often daily alcohol users who may have already experienced withdrawal symptoms in the past when they have abruptly stopped drinking, or when they have gone without alcohol for enough time in order for withdrawal symptoms to ensue. However, many individuals who consume alcohol may be unsure if they need a medical detox or if they can detox safely themselves at home.
For starters, if you or a loved one struggle with alcohol addiction or alcohol abuse, it is always recommended to have a professional evaluation by an addiction specialist in order to ensure your safety. For individuals with an alcohol abuse disorder a self-detox from alcohol is usually never recommended. However, there are some basic factors to consider when making a decision as to if you are in need of a medical detox such as how much alcohol you consume in terms of frequency and quantity, how long you have been drinking alcohol in the short- and long-term, if you struggle with underlying mental health symptoms such as anxiety or depression, if you have experienced withdrawal symptoms in the past, if you struggle with any physical health symptoms such as irregular heart rate or seizures, and many other factors to consider.
What Are Alcohol Withdrawal Symptoms?
Alcohol withdrawal symptoms vary from person to person with regards to presenting symptoms, severity, duration, and onset. For some, alcohol withdrawal symptoms can begin as soon as 2 hours since your last drink, with average onset between 6 to 12 hours. Alcohol withdrawal symptoms usually last for approximately two weeks, with individuals usually experiencing peak withdrawal symptoms within the first 2 to 7 days. Less severe post-acute withdrawal symptoms may last for months.
Some common alcohol withdrawal symptoms include:
- Racing heart rate
- Clammy skin
- Mood swings
Heavy drinkers may experience the above symptoms, as well as more severe symptoms such as:
- Body tremors
- High blood pressure
- Auditory or visual hallucination
If you or a loved one are experiencing alcohol withdrawal symptoms, call 911.
What Is a Medical Detox from Alcohol?
A medical detox from alcohol means you are being supervised and guided through the detoxification process by a medical professional such as an addiction psychiatrist, nurse practitioner or other doctor who specializes in addiction. A psychiatrist, doctor, nurse practitioner or other such licensed addiction professional may prescribe medications in the short-term to help safely detox you in order to prevent life-threatening symptoms while also helping to ensure mental and physical comfort through the process to the best of their ability.
Although a pharmacological intervention is not always necessary for alcohol withdrawal, it may include the use of Benzodiazepines such as Librium or Valium, anticonvulsant medications such as Neurontin or Depakene, or the use of Babiturates, among other medications. These medications are used in the short-term to mitigate withdrawal symptoms and are not intended for long-term use beyond the withdrawal period.
During the medical detoxification period, vitals will also be closely monitored through the process to help effectively manage withdrawal symptoms and decrease the risk of complications such as seizure. While alcohol detox often takes place in a safe-setting such as a hospital or drug and alcohol detox center, it can also be done in the comfort of your home or a safe and secure setting such as a hotel via concierge medical doctors and concierge nurses who provide such at-home detox services for individuals who are appropriate for that level of care.
What Happens After a Medical Detox from Alcohol?
While many individuals believe that alcohol addiction stops once the individual is physically detoxified and abstinent, relapse rates after just the medical detoxification process without continued care are alarmingly high. What happens after a medical detoxification from alcohol will vary from person to person. Your addiction treatment specialist should curate a customized treatment plan for you moving forward. What your recovery plan from alcohol will look like for you will depend on a multitude of factors including your history with alcohol, prior attempts at treatment from alcohol, and various other unique qualities.
Recommendations may range from attending mutual help meetings such as Alcoholics Anonymous or SMART Recovery, attending an outpatient treatment center for alcohol addiction where you will receive therapy and/or medication management, attending an inpatient rehabilitation center for alcohol addiction for 30, 60, 90 days or more, working with a private addiction therapist and/or addiction psychiatrist, or working with a recovery coach also known as a sober coach. Your level of care will depend on your history with alcohol and your personal needs.
There are various methods of treatment for alcohol and drug addiction, all of which aim to bring awareness to triggers and underlying issues that lead to addiction, as well as to teach coping skills with the ultimate goal of preventing relapse. Common therapies for alcohol treatment include Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, Rational Emotive Behavioral Therapy, Dialectical Behavioral Therapy, and Motivational Interviewing as well as Medically Assisted Treatments such as the use of Naltrexone (Vivitrol), Disulfiram (Antabuse), Acamprosate (Campral), among others. Ultimately recovery from alcohol addiction is a lifelong process which ideally involves living a healthy holistic lifestyle to help generate optimal mental, physical and spiritual wellbeing.
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