The biggest decision an alcoholic can make is deciding to get sober. It can be a long time before a person suffering from alcohol addiction gets to this point as denial often gets in the way. However, once that individual is ready to commit to a programme of recovery, the next step on the journey is to think about alcohol detox.
Getting sober is just the first part of the journey towards a clean and healthy life, but it is a crucial one. But however dangerous it is to consume excessive amounts of alcohol, it is just as dangerous to stop suddenly, especially if your body has become physically dependent on the substance.
Detoxification is the process of getting rid of all the alcohol from your body. You begin by stopping drinking and then you must wait until all traces of the alcohol are gone before moving on to the next step, which is rehabilitation. Detox is not the same as treatment – it is not enough to just stop drinking and assume you are no longer addicted. Recovery from alcohol addiction means getting sober and staying sober, and in order to do this, you will need various treatments such as therapy and counselling. You may even be required to join a fellowship programme such as Alcoholics Anonymous.
Detoxing from alcohol can be a complicated process because of the way that alcohol affects almost every part of the body. It is a central nervous system depressant, which can mean the body reacts strongly when alcohol is stopped. This can result in a number of withdrawal symptoms, varying in severity.
It is common for withdrawal symptoms to begin around six to twelve hours after your last drink. This means that there can still be substantial amounts of alcohol left in your blood. There is no way to predict the type of symptoms you will experience, but most people do experience some. Symptoms of alcohol withdrawal range from mild to severe, and how severe they are will usually depend on the type of alcohol you consumed, how often you drank alcohol, how long you were addicted, your age, and your general physical and mental health.
The mind and body tend to race in the early stages of withdrawal as it struggles to cope without the expected arrival of alcohol. This often results in symptoms of hyperactivity such as the jitters. For some people, this may mean slight tremors, but others shake so badly that they cannot function.
Other common symptoms can include a loss of appetite followed by nausea and vomiting. Many alcoholics have experienced these symptoms in the past when they have gone without a drink for a given period. Some alcoholics notice that they suffer from shakes in the morning because they have spent eight or more hours asleep and not drinking. They may also notice that once they do have a drink, their symptoms subside. This is one of the reasons many recovering alcoholics relapse.
Other minor symptoms include restlessness and insomnia. It is common to be desperate to sleep and to feel very fatigued but to be unable to actually fall asleep due to the mind and body racing. Sweating, raised blood pressure, anxiety, mood swings, depression, and memory loss are all common symptoms that should ease within a few days.
Some symptoms may take longer to dissipate, but in general, minor symptoms tend to ease off within a couple of weeks.
Around a quarter of those who complete a programme of alcohol detox will experience hallucinations. Although these are rarely serious, they can be very frightening to both those experiencing them and to any bystanders. Hallucinations tend to begin after around twenty-four hours but could take as long as forty-eight hours after your last alcoholic drink. Hallucinations may consist of nothing more than fleeting shadows, but they could include more vivid episodes, with some individuals saying they felt as if insects were crawling over their bodies. Others hear voices and other sounds that can be extremely frightening.
Alcohol detox can also lead to some dangerous and potentially fatal withdrawal symptoms, which is why most experts agree that detoxing from alcohol should take place in a medically supervised facility. The major symptoms are known as the DTs (delirium tremens), and these can occur from around forty-eight hours after the last alcoholic drink right up to the second week after drinking the last alcoholic beverage.
The DTs can include many of the minor symptoms but at a much more intense level. This includes severe shaking, paranoid delusions, raised blood pressure, high temperature, and rapid pulse. The delusions experienced by those with the DTs may mean the patient becomes violent towards themselves or others. Severe DTs can be life-threatening, with shock, dehydration and heart problems all causing severe problems. It is believed that these symptoms are heightened by an intense adrenalin flow and the nervous system being over stimulated.
The good news is that the DTs can usually be prevented with support and care from medical professionals in a supervised facility.
Many alcoholics delay reaching out for help because they are frightened of what detox will mean for them. They may be of the opinion that detox means being tied to a bed and thrashing about while the alcohol slowly makes its way out of their body. And who could blame them; after all, this image has been depicted in movies and television programmes for many years. Nevertheless, alcohol detox does not have to be like this. A carefully supervised medical detox in a residential facility can mean the patient is comfortable and safe at all times.
Although detoxing in a supervised facility would be the preferred option for most, it is not uncommon for some people to want to detox at home. Detoxing at home is possible, provided you have someone with you throughout the process. Some people will ask a close friend or family member to act as a 24/7 attendant while others will have a sponsor from their fellowship group. It is important that whoever is with you during this time is familiar with addiction and withdrawal.
Because detoxing from alcohol can be a stressful experience, it is important to make sure you fully consider your options before you make your final decision. If you have suffered withdrawal symptoms in the past, however mild, you should consider detoxing in a facility where you will have constant access to care and support.
There are a number of other reasons detoxing in a supervised facility may be the best option, including:
It is considered risky for those with any of the above conditions to try to detox at home, without medical supervision.
It is true that some people are quite capable of detoxing from alcohol at home under the supervision of an attendant, but as there is no way of knowing how each person is going to react, it will always be the riskiest option. Unfortunately, some alcoholics are in danger of severe complications while undergoing an alcohol detox, which could be fatal if not dealt with immediately.
Complications of an alcohol detox could include vomiting that does not seem to be getting any better or vomit that contains blood. Patients with a temperature that exceeds 39oC need to be seen by a medical professional, especially if any breathing difficulties accompany the high temperature. Other complications include sudden or severe chest or abdominal pain, violent behaviour, rapid pulse rate (over 120 beats per minute), severe agitation, and intense hallucinations or delusions.
Private alcohol detox is a good option for those who have been dealing with a severe alcohol addiction. This type of treatment means luxury surroundings with top level care at all times. Patients will be made comfortable throughout the detox and will have access to support and medication if necessary.