Alcohol detox is the crucial first step in recovering from alcohol abuse and addiction. Since alcohol is both physically and psychologically addictive, detoxification depends on the individual and the severity of alcohol addiction.
The goal of alcohol detox is to remove alcohol from the body while managing acute alcohol withdrawal (AW) symptoms, which may range from mild to extremely severe and life-threatening.
Is Alcohol Detox Different From Other Drugs?
All drugs of abuse are psychologically addictive, but alcohol addiction presents an especially dubious challenge. The physical dependence on alcohol is a direct result of changes that occur in the brain with sustained, heavy alcohol use.
Unlike many other drugs of abuse and addiction, alcohol can have significant effects on the brain’s delicate balance which can lead to life-threatening consequences, upon the sudden cessation of heavy and frequent alcohol consumption.
The time it may take to complete alcohol detox depends on several circumstances. Longer periods of alcohol abuse may contribute to the severity of withdrawal. While there is an exact science behind who will experience severe alcohol withdrawal, there are some predictors, based on a 2013 study. According to the study, the following factors may be predictors of severe alcohol withdrawal:
- Older age, especially in individuals over the age of 60
- Co-morbid medical or surgical illness
- Previous occurrence of delirium tremens during detox
- Dehydration, common in alcoholism
- History of seizure during previous alcohol withdrawal episodes
- Brain trauma
- Potassium deficiencies, especially present in geriatric patients
Alcohol detox can become severe and dangerous at anytime, but the most severe symptoms often present between 24-72 hours after the last alcoholic beverage. It is during this time period when someone is at the greatest risk of suffering from delirium tremens (DTs).
Alcohol detox can turn deadly in cases of severe alcoholism, and without medical assistance. Potentially fatal symptoms brought on by delirium tremens (DTs) occur in less than 5% of people who need alcohol detox centers, but the process can be dangerous and extremely uncomfortable even if delirium tremens does not develop.
Although a low dose of benzodiazepines can treat severe alcohol withdrawal symptoms, medical professionals recommend hospitalization and constant monitoring during the process.
The most common withdrawal symptoms can begin within 6 hours after the last drink, and they include:
- Shaky hands
- Increased heart rate
Alcohol withdrawal symptoms typically peak between 10 and 30 hours, so early symptoms are likely to become more severe. Assessments of the severity of alcohol withdrawal can be determined by medical staff, using the CIWA-Ar (Clinical Institute of Withdrawal Assessment of Alcohol scale).
Individuals going through alcohol detox are at higher risk for a seizure between hours 12 and 48. Not everyone who needs alcohol detox will experience severe withdrawal symptoms, but it is important to have home support or enter a detox facility if symptoms become severe and medical assistance is needed. The time it takes to complete alcohol detox depends heavily on the individual, pre-existing medical conditions, and co-occurring mental health issues. Alcohol detox typically lasts between three and ten days.
What Is Delirium Tremens?
Delirium tremens (DTs) presents in the most severe cases of alcohol detox and affect less than 5% of people who detox from alcohol.
Signs of DTs may begin 1 to 4 days after the last drink, and most commonly occur in individuals who drink heavily for several years. Early signs of impending delirium tremens include:
- Hand tremors
- Irregular heart rate
Although rare, alcohol withdrawal symptoms can be severe enough to require hospitalization and constant monitoring. A medical assessment may determine the severity of alcohol withdrawal and the need for medically assisted alcohol detox centers in California. This assessment focuses on ten categories to determine the potential severity of alcohol withdrawal. These are scaled within a range of 0-15 or more, and include the following:
- Auditory Hallucinations
- Clouding of Senses
- Sudden and Profuse Sweating
- Tactile Hallucinations
- Visual Hallucinations
Each of these ten categories is assessed, on a scale ranging from 0-8, 8-10, 10-15, or more than 15. This scale is known as the Clinical Institute Withdrawal Assessment -Alcohol (CIWA-A), and is used as a reliable and feasible manner to recognize delirium tremens before the condition progresses. Sometimes, symptoms of impending delirium tremens provide insufficient notice, before the condition is full-blown. If signs of delirium tremens are present, medical attention is necessary right away:
- Sudden extreme confusion
- Severe anxiety
- Chest pain
- Excessive sweating
- Increased heart rate
Delirium tremens can include extreme hyperactivity, hallucinations, and even death in up to 5% of individuals who experience it. Although delirium tremens is a rare occurrence in alcohol detox, professionals still recommend medical attention. Alcohol detox may require benzodiazepines to counter the potential for seizures. The preferred benzodiazepine for alcohol detox is either diazepam (Valium®) or lorazepam (Ativan®), and phenobarbital, in situations where other benzodiazepines provide insufficient sedation.
Do You Need Alcohol Detox Centers?
Individuals who need alcohol detox include people who experience any symptoms of alcohol withdrawal after stopping consumption. Alcohol withdrawal symptoms will present after stopping alcohol use. The symptoms of alcohol withdrawal are not always severe enough to cause delirium tremens, but there are other reasons to have a medically monitored alcohol detox centers.
Even if alcohol withdrawal symptoms are not life-threatening, they can still be severe enough to cause intense pain and discomfort both physically and psychologically. Medication can manage severe symptoms like agitation, anxiety, and insomnia during a medically monitored alcohol detox. It is never safe to attempt to self-medicate while detoxing from alcohol.
Alcohol withdrawal symptoms can become severe without notice, even if the initial symptoms are mild, as the peak time for acute withdrawal often occurs 2 to 3 days after the last drink.
Even if severe symptoms never develop, medical attention is recommended to provide a more comfortable detox experience. Often, benzodiazepines are helpful for the treatment of symptoms like anxiety, insomnia, shaky hands, and increased heart rate. These are not dangerous symptoms, but they can cause extreme discomfort and complications.
Signs That You Need Alcohol Detox and Treatment
Alcohol detox centers are not only for severe alcoholics. There are many signs and indicators that you may need to get help for your drinking habits and behaviors. Self-assessment is the first line of defense before negative consequences begin to make life unmanageable.
Some of these signs may be easy to recognize in yourself, and others may require an honest assessment from others who are close to you.
- Think about drinking alcohol at all hours of the day, notably in the morning
- Crave alcohol whenever it is not available for consumption
- Have difficulty being able to stop drinking once you’ve started
- Drink alcohol at inappropriate or illegal times such as while working, at school, or while or just before driving
- Commit to stop drinking for a while, and are unable to keep your commitment
An affirmative response to any one of the above questions indicates a serious alcohol use disorder, and you should seek help and alcohol detox right away.
Alcohol Detox is Not Alcohol Treatment
Alcohol detox is an essential first step to recovery from alcohol use disorder or alcoholism, but there is much work to be done after detox is complete.
Recovery from alcohol abuse is the only way to ensure that another detox will not be necessary for the future. Alcohol detox is a grueling process for the brain and body, and the more someone endures repeat detox episodes, the greater the risk of developing delirium tremens.
One of the reasons alcohol detox can be so challenging is because alcohol abuse changes the way the brain functions, and increases its dependence on alcohol.
Detox alone does not reverse this effect on the brain, as it takes time for that process to begin, only after alcohol detox. Recovery and sobriety are required to give the brain time to heal and re-establish balance for healthy functioning.
What Role Does Alcohol Addiction Treatment Play in Recovery?
Many people erroneously believe that addiction treatment acts as a cure to addiction, but that is wrong on two important levels.
- There is no cure for addiction
- Only you decide whether you’ll take another drink
An age-old debate continues over whether addicts have any control over their actions, especially in relapse. Millions of addicts who remain in recovery today are proof that sobriety and recovery are possible.
So, where does addiction treatment fit in between alcohol detox and recovery? Treatment provides a myriad of tools and supports that empower addicts and alcoholics to stay sober. Some of these tools include the following:
- individual therapy to identify and address underlying traumas and challenges that may have contributed to alcohol abuse
- identifying avoidable triggers in people, places and things, to prevent relapse
- learning how to cope with stress, disappointment, trauma, and loss without turning to alcohol
- identifying safe places and people that support your sobriety
- understanding how alcohol abuse and alcoholism have changed your brain, and how you can holistically help it to heal
- learning and adopting healthy and nutritious lifestyle habits and choices
These tools help lay the groundwork for recovery, and although they may seem like common sense steps, learning to apply them to your unique life takes professional assistance. If these were tools were things that everyone could acquire on their own, there would never be a need for alcohol detox.
At Vogue Recovery Center, we not only provide 24 medical assistance during and after detox, but we also provide an exclusive and customized treatment program in a enjoyable and comfortable environment. Your customized alcohol detox and addiction treatment addresses your needs, goals, and preferences so you have a recovery plan that fits your life and allows your brain to heal from alcohol abuse.