Alcohol detox is an important first step to recovery from alcoholism. Because alcohol is one of the most dangerous drugs from which to withdraw, detoxification can be a delicate process. Without medical assistance and supervision, alcohol detox can turn deadly in some of the most severe cases of alcoholism.
Alcohol Detox Process
When an individual makes the important decision to get help for his or her alcoholism, the first step to recovery is detox. This can be a dangerous thing to do alone, so it is always advisable to seek medical assistance prior to attempting to stop drinking, especially when alcoholism has been established.
There are many facilities and recovery centers around the world that offer medical alcohol detoxification, and it is often necessary to have medical assistance because of the dangers inherent to withdrawing from alcohol. Some of the most dangerous symptoms of alcohol withdrawal include seizures and delirium tremens (DTs), which consist of severe confusion and hallucinations.
When an individual first checks into a detox facility, he or she will go through an initial intake process so clinicians can get an idea of several potential factors in the detox process such as:
- When was the last time he/she had a drink? Of what? How much?
- Is he/she taking any prescription, over-the-counter, or illicit drugs? If so, how much, how often, and when was the last time he/she took them?
- Has he/she ever attempted detox before? If so, when?
- Medical history of seizures, illness, disease, and/or physical disabilities.
- Presence of any mental health issues.
A brief interview will typically be conducted to acquire this important information along with a blood test to get accurate levels of blood and other drugs in the system of the individual.
Once this important intake process has been completed, and the individual can begin detox, it is important for clinicians to constantly monitor vital signs and stability throughout alcohol detoxification. In general, alcohol detox can last from 5-10 days, with some variance depending on the individual, his or her health, and any complications that may arise, the most common of which is benzodiazepine use in conjunction with alcohol abuse.
Alcohol and Benzodiazepines
One of the most common cases of alcohol detox is an individual also needing to detox from benzodiazepines. These two drugs are the only ones, aside from barbiturates (a stronger form of benzodiazepines) that can cause potentially deadly seizures during withdrawal and detox.
The reason this combination of drugs is so common is identified as one of two reasons, or possibly both:
- Chronic and excessive alcohol consumption can lead to insomnia and disturbed sleep patterns, which often prompts alcoholics to seek some sleep relief from doctors. Although sleep aids like Lunesta® and Ambien® are very widely prescribed for insomnia, benzodiazepines are still being prescribed for the same purpose in massive amounts. Despite the fact that common sleep aids are not benzodiazepines, they have the same effects and work on the same neurotransmitter in the brain.
- Many people who are addicted to depressant drugs like alcohol, also abuse other depressant drugs like benzodiazepines or opiates. Whether an alcoholic has been legitimately prescribed benzodiazepines, or is obtaining them from an illegitimate source, the mixture of these two drugs can be deadly to take, and from which to detox without supervision.
When alcohol (a central nervous system depressant) is mixed with another drug that is a CNS depressant, like benzodiazepines, a safe detox from both of these drugs can be complicated and add days or even weeks to the detox process. The reason for this is because benzodiazepines are frequently used to detox alcoholics from alcohol since these drugs are also anxiolytic and anti-convulsion drugs. Benzodiazepines are typically used to ease the overwhelming anxiety associated with alcohol withdrawal, and also protect against seizures. Over the course of alcohol detox, the dosage of benzodiazepines is tapered down as the process nears completion. However, if an individual has been taking benzodiazepines and has built up a tolerance to them, a higher dosage of barbiturates is required to begin the detox process from both alcohol and benzodiazepines. From a higher dosage of a stronger CNS depressant, the time it takes to accomplish a safe taper can be significantly longer.
The top priority of any detox facility, and its staff is to first ensure the safety of each individual, and provide as much comfort as possible throughout the detox process.
Why is Alcohol Detox Necessary?
Many people have heard stories of individuals who have locked themselves in a room and gotten through a detox on their own, with no assistance from professionals. While some of these stories may be true, they are the exception, and not the standard. Alcoholism is, simply put, one of the most dangerous addictions known to man, both in practice and in withdrawal. During withdrawal from alcohol for true alcoholics, life can become devastatingly dangerous and unstable as symptoms can rapidly worsen despite seeming to be mild. In addition to the possibility of seizures and delirium tremons, severe cases of alcoholism also produce withdrawal symptoms such as:
- severe tremors
- hallucinations (mostly visual)
- extreme confusion
- profuse sweating
- high blood pressure
- rapid or irregular heart beat
- severe anxiety
- extreme agitation and irritability
When all of these symptoms combine, and can rapidly become severe without warning, individuals who may have been thinking about locking themselves in a room to get through detox will be thankful to have made the decision to be safe in a detox facility.
Having the benefits of safety and comfort during alcohol detox do not require an individual to suffer from severe alcoholism, as there is really no way to assess how severe the withdrawal symptoms may be.
After Alcohol Detox
Once alcohol detox has been completed, it is essential to attend some form of addiction treatment. Whether an individual was suffering from alcohol abuse or alcoholism, if the need arises for detox, treatment should be sought and immediately follow the detox process. Because alcohol detox does nothing to address the underlying causes of alcoholism or alcohol abuse, it is important for individuals to get into a recovery program so they can gain the many tools and skills that will be necessary to abstain from alcohol in the future. One of the reasons this is so important specifically for alcohol is because it is the single most widely available and acceptable drug in the United States. Alcohol is present at almost every turn, every day, and in virtually every social environment. In order for an individual with an alcohol abuse or alcoholism problem to remain sober, he or she is going to need tremendous support and awareness to resist the temptation to drink again.
This support and awareness can be found in effective addiction treatment programs, whether residential or outpatient. The nature and severity of alcohol abuse or alcoholism should be considered to determine the appropriate level of care after the completion of detoxification.
If you, or a loved one is struggling with alcohol abuse or alcoholism, please don’t wait to get help. As one of the most dangerous addictions, alcoholism is progressive and fatal. Please call us now to speak with one of our counselors about alcohol detox, and how to take this first and essential step towards recovery. We understand that getting help is a big decision, and we want to be sure that decision is reinforced with a safe and comfortable detox that conforms to the needs and preferences of each individual. Please call and get the help you, or your addicted loved one so desperately needs. We are here to help.