Alcohol Detox: Symptoms and Treatment

Alcohol Detox

It’s estimated that 20 to 50% of individuals that attend rehab seek treatment for alcohol abuse disorder. Considering the wide variety of substances these facilities provide treatment for, this number is staggering.

Alcohol detox may include various treatment options, depending on the severity of the specific case. Regardless of the specifics of treatment, alcohol detox is crucial when it comes to recovery.

In fact, out of all the possible substances that have the potential for abuse, alcohol may be the most important in terms of seeking professional help. Avoiding the long-term effects of alcohol is crucial for the health of any individual with abuse disorder.

However, alcohol detox is one of the few forms of detox and withdrawal that can be deadly. Very few substances share the risks associated with detoxing as alcohol. This article will discuss the most significant elements of obtaining the right services and finding a quality rehab for alcohol detox.

The Importance of Alcohol Detox

There are multiple reasons for the importance of alcohol detox. The following list highlights the most important elements regarding the alcohol detoxification process.

  • Individuals that don’t successfully detox from alcohol run the risk of developing adverse medical conditions associated with alcohol abuse.
  • The longer someone engages in alcohol abuse, the harder detox becomes. Withdrawal symptoms also tend to increase in severity with the duration of addiction.
  • Obtaining help with alcohol detox increases the odds of returning to normal life and mending any issues associated with alcohol abuse disorder.
  • Alcohol abuse often leads to challenges with mental health, including depression. Detoxing may lead to relief from symptoms of these challenges.
  • Obtaining professional help with alcohol detox is vital for managing withdrawal symptoms. Some of these symptoms have the potential to be life-threatening.

Managing the symptoms of withdrawal during alcohol detox requires understanding the stages of detoxification. These stages are highlighted by specific characteristics and range in severity.

The Stages of Alcohol Detoxification

Alcohol detox occurs in several distinct phases. These phases, and their characteristics, are highlighted below.

Stage 1

Stage 1 of detox begins anywhere from 12 to 24-hours after an individual last consumes alcohol. Symptoms during this stage include headache, insomnia, anxiety, tremors, heart palpitations, and stomach issues. These symptoms continue for approximately two to three days.

Stage 2

Stage 2 may include all of the symptoms of Stage 1 and may include increased heart rate, confusion, hyperthermia, and abnormal breathing. This stage will begin around day two and persist until day three or four.

Stage 3

Stage 3 includes the symptoms of Stage 2, with the addition of auditory hallucinations, seizures, disorientation, and attention issues. Stage 3 normally begins around day four and lasts until day six or seven.

After day seven, individuals may begin experiencing a decrease in severity from withdrawal symptoms. Although certain feelings still linger, the most dangerous effects normally subside after a week.

Luckily, there are options for relief during the stages of alcohol detox. Certain medications are available that may decrease the severity of withdrawal symptoms.

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Medications for Alcohol Detox

There are several medications approved for use during alcohol detox. These medications include the following:

  • Campral
  • Clonidine
  • Keppra
  • Klonopin
  • Celexa
  • Promethazine
  • Seroquel
  • Xanax

Depending on the severity of withdrawal symptoms, the individual in detox, and any history of prescription usage or co-occurring substance abuse disorder, one (or several) of these medications are prescribed. Certain natural and over-the-counter medications may provide small amounts of relief as well.

These medications are only available in a medically assisted detox setting. Individuals may choose to quit cold turkey. However, there are significant dangers involved with this method of detox.

Dangers of Quitting Cold Turkey

Significant dangers exist when it comes to quitting alcohol cold turkey. Alcohol is one of the only substances that cause withdrawal symptoms that can literally be deadly.

If you’re thinking about quitting cold turkey, you should understand the risks involved. Quitting cold turkey may lead to the following:

  • Risks associated with high blood pressure or increased heart rate
  • Complications involved with tremors
  • Chances of having a seizure during stage 3 of detox
  • Increased chances of injury caused by withdrawal complications if nobody is present
  • Risk of injury or dangers involved with hallucinations
  • Increased chances of relapse
  • Regardless of how minimal of a risk, there is a chance for complications leading to death

The dangers of quitting cold turkey should be enough to consider medically assisted detox seriously. There are multiple advantages to choosing a medical detox setting.

Benefits of a Medical Detox Setting

Medical professionals are present during the entire course of medically assisted detox. This environment provides several benefits, which are outlined in the following section.

  • Access to constant medical supervision
  • Constant monitoring of vitals and other important metrics
  • Receiving IV treatment to prevent dehydration
  • Access to medication options to ease withdrawal symptoms
  • A decrease in the chances of relapse
  • More controlled, comfortable environment

Choosing a medically assisted detox could potentially be a life or death situation. One of the major questions posed regarding alcohol detox is whether you can die from the complications of detoxification.

Can You Die From Alcohol Detox?

Although the chances are slim, there is a possibility of experiencing complications that lead to death. Some of the potentially deadly side-effects of detox include seizure and side effects of tremors and alcohol-induced delirium.

Individuals who succumbed to the latter’s side effects often experience a stroke or other cardiac-related events. Besides benzodiazepines, alcohol is the only substance that leads to a potentially deadly detox process.

Because of the dangers involved with alcohol, choosing an appropriate detox and professional treatment center are vital. Several factors should be considered when choosing an alcohol detox.

How Can I Choose the Right Alcohol Detox?

Choosing an alcohol detox requires answering several important questions. It’s important to weigh the pros and cons of at-home detox and a medically supervised setting. Quitting cold turkey is never a good idea. However, it is possible to promote a safer environment when choosing at-home detox.

If you’re considering detoxing at home, you should make the following preparations:

  • Make sure you have access to plenty of liquids to stay hydrated.
  • Craft an efficient diet that will lead to nourishment. Eat light, but try to stick to foods that are nutritious and provide important vitamins and minerals you need to stay healthy.
  • Equipment to monitor blood pressure and heart rate should be available.
  • Someone to monitor you should be available at all times.
  • If possible, any prescription medications should also be available. Consult your primary care physician regarding options for at-home detox.
  • It’s crucial that you ween down from alcohol use. This is a gradual decrease in the amount of alcohol you consume. You can avoid the most severe withdrawal symptoms and increase your chances of a successful detox by weening down.

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Deciding between medically assisted detox and the at-home version should depend on the following questions.

  • Do you have someone available to monitor you?
  • Has your physician cleared you for at-home detox? You should be in a fairly healthy overall state to safely complete this process.
  • Do you have high levels of willpower? Are you comfortable enough to trust yourself not to relapse?
  • Do you have access to medications provided by a physician to relieve certain withdrawal symptoms?
  • Can you take time off work during the worst of detox?
  • Are you disciplined enough to decrease your alcohol consumption over time?

If you have issues favorably answering all of these questions, choosing a medically-assisted detox may be the better option. Are you able to take the next step toward either medically-assisted detox or at-home recovery?

If you or someone you know has not yet decided on recovery, intervention for alcohol detox might be necessary.

Intervention for Alcohol Detox

Intervention for alcohol detox is the process in which several people attempt to have someone commit to detox and recovery. Intervention might be necessary during any of the following situations:

  • Is the individual with an alcohol abuse disorder in denial of having issues?
  • Has the person made several verbal commitments to treatment or detox, only to back out each time?
  • Does the person get defensive whenever treatment or detox is mentioned?
  • Has the individual experienced a decline in personal or professional life because of alcohol?
  • Have relationships with spouses or other family members been damaged because of alcohol?
  • Have legal issues occurred as a result of alcohol abuse?

If you answered yes to any of these questions, intervention for alcohol abuse might be the most appropriate course of action. This could be a crucial and even life-saving decision for the individual in question.

When considering an intervention, it’s important to understand the difference between misuse, abuse, and addiction. The following section will discuss the differences between these three conditions.

Alcohol Misuse vs. Alcohol Abuse vs. Addiction (Alcoholism)

There are distinct differences regarding misuse, abuse, and addiction. Let’s highlight the main characteristics of each of these elements.

Misuse

Alcohol misuse includes the following characteristics:

  • Occasionally having too much to drink
  • Certain occasions when drinking happened at the wrong time
  • Experiencing negative or challenging situations with peers during a drinking session
  • Becoming intoxicated to the point of forgetting certain events

Abuse

Alcohol abuse is when someone deliberately consumes alcohol to become drunk each time. Abuse includes the following scenarios:

  • Using alcohol to combat certain feelings or negative conditions
  • Overusing alcohol each time you consume
  • Drinking solely to become intoxicated

Addiction (Alcoholism)

Alcohol addiction is the most severe in terms of disorders. Addiction is a mental condition that manifests as the uncontrollable use of alcohol. These are the following characteristics of addiction:

  • Relying on the daily consumption of alcohol to function
  • Experiencing withdrawal when alcohol isn’t consumed
  • Experiencing anxiety when alcohol isn’t present
  • Denying a problem exists
  • Allowing alcohol to damage important dynamics in life
  • Choosing alcohol over important obligations
  • Underlying mental conditions associated with an abuse disorder

When considering an intervention, the worst elements of alcohol abuse disorder could be avoided by taking action during the abuse phase. Individuals can even be pulled aside to discuss habits during the misuse phase as well.

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Blood alcohol levels are used to monitor the concentration of alcohol in an individual’s system. Noting blood alcohol levels in individuals with abuse disorder may provide insight into the severity of the disorder.

Blood Alcohol Levels

  • Sober: 0.0
  • Legally Intoxicated: 0.08 (Three drinks)
  • Very impaired: 0.08-0.40 (Three to ten drinks)
  • Serious complications: Above 0.40 (Ten drinks and above)

When an individual constantly exhibits BAC levels at the very impaired level or higher, it’s important to seek treatment or plan an intervention. At this level, there is a serious potential for health risks and the chance of a challenging detox period. After a significant amount of time of daily BAC levels within this range, the body gets used to functioning only with the presence of alcohol.

A Full Spectrum of Post-Intervention Services

After an intervention, the individual has to decide between a couple of options. Deciding between medically-assisted detox and at-home detox is crucial for the start of recovery.

However, detox is only the beginning of rehabilitation and recovery. After completing the process of physical detox, the choice between inpatient and outpatient rehab is crucial.

Both versions of these treatment programs each have their benefits and drawbacks. Inpatient rehabs provide a more controlled environment, focusing on an atmosphere that promotes recovery and various types of abuse disorders. However, participating in one of these programs also means taking time off work, finding a location, and rearranging your schedule to accommodate your time away.

Outpatient rehab provides clients the opportunity to maintain a normal work and home life. Normally, clients are required to travel to a treatment facility to participate in rehab services. The chances of temptation and relapse are higher because of the lack of a controlled environment. It takes a strong support system and high amounts of willpower to become successful with outpatient rehab.

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Aftercare is Crucial for Long Term Recovery

Regardless of the specific type of treatment program selected, the actions taken after completion are as crucial as the initial decision. Aftercare services and post-treatment options always give clients higher chances of successfully remaining in recovery.

Options for post-treatment include maintaining regular visits with a primary care physician and mental health counselor. Additionally, participation in peer counseling sessions like Alcoholics Anonymous or any other 12-step program keeps clients engaged in recovery.

Alcohol detox may be a temporary occurrence, but recovery and sobriety require a lifetime of attention. Even after the temporary physical and mental symptoms of detox and withdrawal subside, it takes a conscious and daily effort to fight the temptation to drink alcohol.

Individuals with substance and alcohol abuse disorder will have the disorder for a lifetime. However, success or failure is dependent on whether or not they are actively using. The choice to remain abstinent is not easy and requires a level of strength that anyone should be proud of.

Contact our Admissions staff at Icarus Behavioral Health if you or someone you know is struggling with alcohol abuse disorder. We have years of experience assisting individuals with finding the right setting for alcohol detox and providing a holistic approach to inpatient rehab afterward, so please reach out now!