Alcoholism is one of the most common and widespread forms of addiction. According to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA), around 4 percent of people in the United States suffers from alcohol use disorder, and around 10 percent has at least had an alcohol use disorder within their lifetime. Such magnitude also means treating alcoholism has a significant financial impact on society.
One of the main remediation techniques used to treat alcohol use disorder is alcohol detoxification—more commonly known as detox. While alcoholism is a state where a person has grown to become dependent on the presence of alcohol in their body, detoxification seeks to rid the body of this substance, which is deemed toxic or harmful. This starts with decreasing or completely stopping the intake of alcohol into one’s body.
It is important to understand alcohol detox so that both patients and their loved ones can better cope with the process, and more importantly, to determine the best and most effective course of treatment for long-term success. It is critical for an individual with alcohol use disorder to first get rid of the alcohol in their system even before they consider to go to Alcoholics Anonymous meetings. To that end, here are some important things to know about alcohol detoxification.
Detox May Lead to Withdrawal Symptoms
For an alcoholic, abruptly halting alcohol consumption may lead to a highly adverse reaction called withdrawal. Just as an alcoholic has become accustomed to the presence of alcohol in their body, their system has also learned to “adjust” its functions around the effects of this toxic substance. As the intake of alcohol is reduced or eliminated, the body goes seemingly out of order and requires time to return to its intended healthy state. Alcohol has been observed to cause among the most severe withdrawal symptoms that may even be fatal. Thus, managing and implementing detoxification in a supervised and professional manner is extremely important.
Withdrawal May Last from a Few Hours Up to Several Days
The detoxification process that leads to withdrawal symptoms vary from person to person. In general, however, it takes 7 to 10 days for the detox process to be completed. Initial symptoms may appear in as little as a few hours of not having anything to drink, including mental states such as anxiety and depression, as well as physical manifestations such as tremors and an increase in blood pressure and heart rate. A couple of days later, more severe symptoms may occur, such as seizures, hallucinations, chest pain and a set of manifestations called delirium tremens that include delusions, extreme confusion, profuse sweating, and a high body temperature.
Withdrawal Symptoms Peak and Then Get Significantly Better
Based on observation, medical experts find that the symptoms of alcohol withdrawal during detox peak at around the third or fourth day. Afterward, it can be said that the severity of the manifestations remarkably decrease until the patient finally attains the balanced and normal state of the body. The patient has gotten over the hump, so to speak. However, it is not to say that there are no longer any adverse reactions to deal with. Some people may have to deal with post-acute withdrawal syndrome, which is characterized by persistent anxiety or depression. It is important to watch out for this condition as it may lead the patient to go back to alcohol consumption and suffer a relapse.
Medical Detox May Be a Better Option
Medical detoxification involves the same process of eliminating the intake of alcohol into the body but in a program supervised by a doctor or healthcare professional who can administer certain medications to help relieve the difficult physical and mental symptoms. These drugs often mimic the effects of alcohol, helping the patient transition to sobriety with significantly reduced withdrawal symptoms. A medically assisted detox would take roughly the same time as a regular detoxification process but with potentially less significant adverse reactions. Thus, many patients seek this type of treatment for their alcohol dependency.
Addressing Alcoholism Does not End with Detox
Treating addiction to alcohol does not solely rest on detoxification. There are many other types of treatments and therapies that are essential to ensuring that a patient does not relapse. These include medication to aid any lingering symptoms, counselling to address any psychological issues, as well as exercise to keep the body in top form. To ensure long-term success of any addiction intervention, a patient’s physical, mental, and emotional health are best monitored by a doctor. Friends and loved ones play an important part as well in creating a support group that will help transition the individual back to being a productive member of society.
There are many misconceptions about alcoholism that usually lead to ineffective treatments and interventions. It is important to learn more about this disorder so that those suffering from it may be given a second chance at a more balanced and normal life. Understanding the journey of detoxification that a person goes through can hopefully elicit more compassion and solidarity, rather than judgment or persecution.
- National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. (2021). Alcohol Withdrawal Syndrome. Retrieved from https://www.niaaa.nih.gov/alcohol-health/overview-alcohol-consumption/alcohol-use-disorders/alcohol-withdrawal
- Mayo Clinic. (2021). Alcohol Withdrawal. Retrieved from https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/alcohol-withdrawal/symptoms-causes/syc-20369223
- Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. (2015). Detoxification and Substance Abuse Treatment. Treatment Improvement Protocol (TIP) Series, No. 45. Retrieved from https://store.samhsa.gov/product/Detoxification-and-Substance-Abuse-Treatment/SMA15-4131
- American Addiction Centers. (n.d.). Alcohol Detoxification. Retrieved from https://americanaddictioncenters.org/alcoholism-treatment/detox
- WebMD. (2021). Alcohol Detoxification. Retrieved from https://www.webmd.com/mental-health/addiction/alcohol-detoxification#1
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2020). Alcohol and Public Health: Alcohol Withdrawal. Retrieved from https://www.cdc.gov/alcohol/fact-sheets/alcohol-withdrawal.htm
- MedlinePlus. (2021). Alcoholism and Alcohol Abuse: Alcohol Detoxification. Retrieved from https://medlineplus.gov/ency/article/000764.htm
- American Society of Addiction Medicine. (2019). The ASAM National Practice Guideline for the Medical Management of Withdrawal Management. Retrieved from https://www.asam.org/docs/default-source/practice-support/guidelines-and-consensus-docs/asam-national-practice-guideline-supplement.pdf