Detox from alcohol
Are you ready to stop drinking?
If you’ve developed dependence on alcohol, it is very important that you seek medical supervision during detox. Signs of alcohol withdrawal can lead to serious conditions which develop in the first 72 hours of detox and require medical treatments. More here on the protocols for alcohol detox with a section for your questions at the end.
Alcohol detox treatment
Alcohol detox is also known as alcohol withdrawal; it is a time during which alcohol (ethanol) leaves the body after a period of dependence. Physical dependence occurs when alcohol is needed to balance the neuronal adaptations and maintain normal brain function. Removal of alcohol from the body induces a rebound stimulatory effect, resulting in hyperexcitability of the nervous system and resulting symptoms.
In fact, alcohol detox is characterized by symptoms of hyperactivity of the autonomic nervous system. While many of these symptoms can be mild in nature, about 10% of alcohol dependent people can develop more severe symptoms. This is why all cases of alcohol detox require medical supervision and begin with a battery of assessments. What are common alcohol detox symptoms and their related treatments?
1. Mild-to-moderate alcohol withdrawal symptoms
During mild cases of detox, you can often be treated in an outpatient setting. However, you will need someone to commit to staying with you during this process and who can keep an eye on you. Daily visits to your health care provider are often needed until you are stable. Treatments for mild cases of alcohol detox usually include:
- Blood tests
- Sedative drugs to help ease withdrawal symptoms
- Patient and family counseling to discuss the long-term issue of alcohol use
- Testing and treatment for other medical problems linked to alcohol use
2. Moderate-to-severe alcohol withdrawal symptoms
People with moderate-to-severe symptoms of alcohol withdrawal may need inpatient treatment at a hospital or other facility that treats alcohol withdrawal. Treatments for these cases can include:
- Monitoring of blood pressure
- Monitoring of body temperature
- Monitoring of heart rate
- Monitoring of blood levels of different chemicals in the body
- Fluids or medication administration by IV
- Sedation using medication called benzodiazepines until withdrawal is complete
Detoxing from alcohol time
How long does it take to detox from alcohol? Withdrawal usually begins 6 to 24 hours after the last drink. Under normal conditions, it can last for up to one week. However, some cases of detox require additional support, and some people (especially heavy, chronic drinkers) can experience protracted withdrawal symptoms from alcohol for weeks to months AFTER the last drink. To be classified as alcohol withdrawal syndrome, patients must exhibit at least two of the following symptoms:
- autonomic instability
- increased hand tremor
- nausea or vomiting
- psycho-motor agitation
- transient hallucinations (auditory, visual or tactile)
- tonic clonic seizures
Detox from alcohol symptoms
Alcohol detox symptoms usually occur within 8 hours after the last drink, but can occur days later. Symptoms usually peak by 24 – 72 hours, but may persist for weeks. Symptoms include:
- jumpiness or shakiness
- mood swings
- not thinking clearly
- sensitivity to light or sound
- transient hallucinations
A SPECIAL NOTE: Delirium tremens (DT’s) are the most intense and serious condition associated with alcohol detox. The DT’s occur in approximately 5% of people and usually appear 2 to 4 days after last use. The DT’s are characterized by severe agitation, tremor, disorientation, persistent hallucinations, and large increases in:
- blood pressure
- breathing rate
- heart rate
Who needs clinical alcohol detox?
There are some people who should only detox from alcohol in an inpatient or hospital alcohol detoxification setting. These include:
- People diagnosed with concomitant medical or psychiatric illness
- People who have been through multiple past episodes of detoxification
- People who lack a reliable support network
- Pregnant women
- Those with a history of alcohol withdrawal seizures
- Those with a history of delirium tremens
- Those with a history of severe withdrawal symptoms
- Those with recent high levels of alcohol consumption
Detox from alcohol at home
Detoxing from alcohol at home IS NOT RECOMMENDED.
When a person stops drinking alcohol suddenly, just up and quits because he or she thinks it’s time to do so and it’s easy to do, the consequences can be deadly. Sudden alcohol cessation can cause hallucinations, convulsions, and even heart seizure that may result in death. This isn’t something to take lightly and is an excellent reason not to try to detox from alcohol at home.
Detox alcohol questions
Detoxification is a very serious process. You need to inform yourself well before taking action. So, if you have questions, please use the section below. We will do our best to respond to your personally and promptly.
Reference Sources: NIAAA: Exploring alcohol withdrawal syndrome
Photo credit: Stefan Beutler