Unlike smoking, someone who struggles with alcohol addiction can’t just quit cold turkey. This is because your central nervous system becomes dependent on the substance. Alcohol has released chemicals into your body which cause an imbalance and your brain tries to adjust to keep things in balance. So, when alcohol is removed from your system it takes time for your brain to adjust once more and you will have to detox from alcohol.
When detoxing from alcohol, your body goes through a process to flush your system from the substance. During the process, you will incur symptoms of alcohol withdrawal.
Depending on how long you have been drinking, some symptoms will require the direct supervision of medical professionals. Treatment centers will have licensed physicians who will provide medical aid and care during the process. They will monitor your progress, and during intense moments they will be able to manage your pain with the appropriate medication.
Symptoms of Alcohol Withdrawal
During an alcohol detox, your body goes through a withdrawal process which can range anywhere from mild symptoms to dangerous and possibly life-threatening symptoms. Each individual will react differently and have symptoms dependent on the length and severity of their alcohol use disorder. A heavy drinker will go through a more painful and, at times, longer process to get clean. They can develop a more extreme case of withdrawal symptoms from delirium tremens to life threatening seizures.
Alcohol detox minor symptoms may include:
- Shaky hands
Alcohol detox extreme symptoms may include:
- Delirium tremens (DT)
- High blood pressure
Alcohol Detox Timeline
Withdrawal symptoms can begin within hours after your last drink. The first few hours will likely incur more of the minor symptoms, which can include anxiety, shaking and nausea. The more serious problems tend to begin after day one with an onslaught of hallucinations and disorientation.
By the second day you are at risk of inducing seizures. Most of these side effects will subside in a week or two with some of the minor ones possibly carrying on for up to a year.
If you are a long-term drinker– drinking in excess of 10 years– you are more at risk for Delirium Tremens (the rapid onset of confusion, shaking, and hallucinations). DT can usually begin from 48 to 72 hours. DT can be very severe and life-threatening, hence the reason why a medical detox is required. DT is also normally seen only within 5% of individuals during alcohol withdrawal.
Normally, it will take about a week or two for you to complete detox. This is when many of the symptoms will start to taper off. Most of the minor symptoms will, however, continue for weeks to come, which is the 1st stage of withdrawal called, “the acute stage”. In most instances, these will be treated with rest and, in some cases, medication.
Some people may also experience post-acute withdrawal syndrome (PAWS), which is the second stage of withdrawal. This is where you will notice more psychological symptoms. This can last months to a year before you begin feeling better. This is because your brain is gradually improving and approaching an equilibrium.
Treating Alcohol Withdrawal
Depending on the severity of your drinking, it is highly recommended to receive treatment during your Detox. While a small number of individuals who drink alcohol can try to detox from home, if any of the symptoms mentioned above arise, it is crucial that you seek medical help.
When treatment is sought at a facility, you are provided with care 24/7, and have access to the support and attention of medical professionals. A physician is available to monitor your progress and make sure you don’t struggle from any serious complications. They will continue to keep track of your health condition in a comfortable setting. They will also be able to to relieve any painful effects with medication.
Medication During Detox
During the detox process, there will be instances where a patient will incur complications. Their entire system will be off-balance and a medical professional will be required to prescribe medication. There are various medications that a physician can use during detox to alleviate withdrawal symptoms. These include the following:
Aftercare for Alcoholics
Detoxing from alcohol should never be considered the final step toward sobriety, or to be regarded as a cure. An alcohol detox is only the beginning in the journey toward recovery. Once you leave detox, you will still be faced with the temptations that make you want to drink. This is why it is imperative that you join an aftercare program immediately upon completion of detox.
In an aftercare program, you will continue to receive ongoing assistance. You will learn the underlying causes that lead to your drinking, and be given tools to help control them. The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism reports that a large amount of individuals who don’t seek aftercare tend to relapse at much higher rates.
Therapy and Counseling
During an aftercare program, you will be involved in different types of therapies; this is a critical step in getting better. At first you will start with multiple sessions, and as time goes on within your sobriety you will be required to attend less sessions. There are different types of therapies available and can be different for each individual.
Aftercare therapies can include:
- Dialectical Behavior Therapy
- Cognitive Behavioral Therapy
- Motivational Enhancement Therapy
- Holistic Therapy
- Biofeedback Therapy
It is also highly required that while attending aftercare you are also involved with support groups. These are groups for recovering alcoholics where you can meet and share your issues with others. Majority of support groups are classified as 12-step programs or AA (Alcoholics Anonymous).