Why Detox from Alcohol Can Be So Dangerous

Written by Chloe Nicosia

Detox from alcohol has very dangerous side effects. It is not advised to go at it alone.

Alcohol is a substance that works on special receptors in the brain known as GABA neurotransmitters. These are “inhibitory” transmitters, meaning they slow down the brain’s processes. They make a person feel sleepy and euphoric as well as cause them to forget things. When a person stops drinking, these neurotransmitters are no longer stimulated, and a person feels quite the opposite. Their brain doesn’t have the amount of GABA it’s used to, and as a result a person has symptoms that include rapid heart rate, nausea, and difficulty sleeping. These symptoms of detox from alcohol are some of the milder ones.

A person can also experience a more severe form of alcohol withdrawal known as delirium tremens or DTs. Examples of symptoms associated with this disorder include:

  • Delirium or severe confusion where a person may not know who or where they are
  • Hallucinations, which are seeing, hearing, or smelling things that are not there
  • Tremors, where a person’s whole body shakes uncontrollably
  • Sudden bursts of energy or feeling very sleepy. Sometimes a person may even go into a deep sleep that lasts several days
  • Agitation and anxiety
  • Seizures, which are usually tonic-clonic seizures where a person’s body shakes very violently

The symptoms of DTs are coupled with the traditional symptoms of detox from alcohol. The results can be very concerning for a person who is trying to stop drinking. Sometimes brain damage from seizures, rapid heart rate, and/or low electrolyte levels can have concerning effects on a person who is going through DTs. This syndrome can be deadly and is one of the most significant dangers of detoxing from alcohol.

Alcohol Detox Timeline

When a person who is accustomed to drinking large amounts of alcohol on a daily basis suddenly stops drinking, the results and symptoms can vary. Most people will start to experience symptoms on the alcohol detox timeline within eight hours after taking their last drink. According to the National Institutes of Health, these symptoms are usually at their most significant about two to three days after a person takes their last drink. Following this time, symptoms usually improve.

Sometimes the DTs can take a little longer to come on. They may occur anywhere from 48 hours up to 10 days after a person has their last drink. The condition is concerning because its symptoms come on rapidly. If a person does not have the support and supervision of a rehabilitation team, they may not be able to seek medical assistance in time.

While it can be difficult to predict who will experience the DTs when they stop using alcohol, there are some factors that could indicate a person may be at risk for the condition. These include those who drink:

  • 4 to 5 pints of wine a day
  • 7 to 8 pints of beer a day
  • 1 pint of liquor or “hard” alcohol a day.

Usually, a person will have abused alcohol for 10 years or more if they are going to experience the DTs.

Solutions for How to Prevent the Dangers of Detoxing From Alcohol

At a professional rehabilitation facility, medical personnel can provide medications and IV fluids to prevent the most severe symptoms associated with detox. Examples include anti-seizure medications, medications to promote sleep, and anti-nausea medications. While these medicines cannot necessarily prevent the DTs entirely, they can lessen the symptoms as well as keep a person safe from the potentially deadly effects associated with going through alcohol detox.

 

 

 

 

Sources:

http://www.webmd.com/mental-health/addiction/alcohol-withdrawal-symptoms-treatments#1

https://medlineplus.gov/ency/article/000764.htm

https://medlineplus.gov/ency/article/000766.htm