Alcohol detox, or detoxification, is a process and program for persons addicted to alcohol. The detoxification process, the first and most important phase, involves a treatment program to halt all alcohol consumption and flush harmful toxins from the body over a prescribed period of time. Detox is the most difficult, primary stage of the recovery program, but it is the most vital and dangerous period, requiring medications and supervised psychological therapy (combined) to achieve successful results. The greatest hurdle for anyone considering entering an alcohol treatment program is to realize that they have a problem with alcohol consumption and take the necessary steps to follow a stringent program designed to provide a lasting and permanent cure. Over 79,000 American deaths were attributed to alcohol in 2010. Alcoholism or alcohol abuse affects nearly 14 million adults in the U.S. A treatment professional is the surest and safest way to beat this disabling and potentially life-threatening disease.
The Harmful Effects of Alcohol
The brain is the first recipient of the negative aspects of alcoholism since it involves the central nervous system, retarding its function. Obvious side effects include degraded judgment and lack of concentration. There is often a loss of bodily coordination with slowed reactions and hampered motor skills—tripping and falling. Memory loss and mood swings are common with extended alcohol intake, as is impaired vision and loss of hearing. Slurred speech and language difficulties can also result.
The liver processes harmful chemicals and toxins in the body and flushes them out of the system. Alcohol retards the liver’s ability to metabolize the toxins, resulting in toxicity of the blood and liver tissues. Acute alcoholism can permanently damage the liver, causing cirrhosis and liver cancer. Jaundice, hepatitis and fatty liver syndrome are less severe complications, but can directly lead to the more severe cases of liver damage. The year 2010 showed that 15,990 persons died from liver disease alone.
The intake and digestive system, like the throat and stomach, can become so damaged by the repeated contact of alcohol that vomiting, peptic ulcers, gastritis and stomach cancer can result. This is due to the alcohol stripping away the protective tissues that normally serve as a barrier to caustic substances. In advanced cases, cell damage of the throat and stomach results in cancerous growths destroying the organs completely.
Alcoholism indirectly affects the reproductive systems in both men and women. Women are advised to halt all alcohol consumption during pregnancy because it can lead to negative side effects during pregnancy and has been known to cause metal retardation in babies. Due to hormone imbalances, infertility, sterility and impotency are common with repeated alcohol consumption or addiction. Men may suffer atrophy of the testes, while women are subject to increased incidences of breast cancer.
There are several ways a person can seek help with alcoholism. Unfortunately, the most drastic case involves hospitalization resorting from a serious incident, overdose (toxicity) or injury during the commission of crime while under the influence. Although the hospital will treat the most obvious sickness or injury, it is during this time that the patient will be evaluated for the determination of the root causes, and if alcoholism is suspected, a treatment program will most likely be advised and implemented. This would especially pertain to the younger patients since those between the ages of 18 and 29 account for the largest alcoholism and alcohol abuse demographic.
Voluntary inpatient facilities are for those who realize they have a serious problem and are committed to following and graduating from a treatment program. Inpatient facilities have housing, staff, regular meals, medication, diet and exercise programs. They also offer psychological counseling from trained treatment staff professionals. Outpatient facilities offer the same guidance and programs but do not provide housing facilities.
Outpatient programs are commonly prescribed and monitored by doctors or treatment facilities that allow periodic office visits. Outpatient programs cost less than inpatient facilities and generally appeal to those who have a less severe case of alcoholism or alcohol abuse but need strict guidance, medical and psychological assistance.
Performing detox without outside help, or going “cold turkey” can be beneficial for those who have strong wills and determination, but there are certain medical risks involved that could lead to complications and other serious symptoms. Expert help from trained professionals insures that the treatment program is engineered specifically for the individual’s needs.
The Medical Side to Detoxification
Whether in a hospital or treatment facility environment, medicines will be prescribed by doctors to help alleviate withdrawal pains and addiction symptoms. Such drugs include benzodiazepines, mild doses of ethanol and barbiturates (pain killers) and naltrexone. Medication amounts and frequency will be determined by the doctor. A vitamin regiment will also be prescribed which will reintroduce or add nutrients and vitamins to the patient’s diet. Crucial vitamins like folic acid and thiamine are important to the central nervous system and brain function, warding off conditions like wernicke syndrome, a debilitating brain condition. Vitamins are also important for bolstering the body’s immune system, elevating the body’s protective barriers against other diseases and conditions related to alcoholism.
The Physical Side to Detoxification
Exercise and diet is crucial to any medical supplement. A good treatment program will include an exercise regime that coordinates with the patient’s physical condition, age, strength and stamina. Exercise is required for health during any detox program. Regular movement and cardiovascular stimulation strengthens the bones, muscles and the central nervous systems. Exercise also promotes faster immune responses, increases healing and serves to elevate the patient’s psychological demeanor. Diets that contain natural vitamins will assist the patient with increased digestive efficiency and waste elimination. Lots of water will become a very important part of the program, used for its waste eliminating powers which will aid in removing excess toxins from the body and flush the organs clean.
Symptoms and Progress
During the detox process, the body will encounter certain side effects commonly associated with withdrawal. Such side effects will include, insomnia, hallucination, agitation or anger, restlessness, tremors and sweating. These symptoms will be most prevalent during the first stage of detox and are normal reactions to the treatment. The symptoms will dissipate as the diet changes and the liver begins to function with less toxic strain and poison removal. The treatment program staff will adjust medications and use withdrawal drugs such as chlordiazepoxide and oxazepam according to the severity of the symptoms. The symptoms will gradually disappear, showing evidence of a safe and successful recovery. Of course, patients who fall off the program and resume alcohol use will be advised to get right back on the program and continue with treatment.
Completing a professional detox program will offer the recipient patient a whole new outlook on life, both physically and mentally. Patients who succeed with the program routinely improve on every aspect of their lives. Sobriety harbors increased physical awareness and pride in one’s appearance. Social interaction and acceptance increases, stimulating new-found improvements in work ethics, making friends, dating and family life. Sober persons are less likely to have negative interactions with law enforcement or disputes with other authority figures. With increased vitality, sober persons can pursue employment more effectively and spend time on hobbies. Graduating from a detox program is a win-win for the individual and all those who interact with him/her.