What is Detoxing from Alcohol Really Like?

Most people can drink alcohol without the fear of unpredictable behaviors and the resultant consequences. Social drinkers, as they’re often called, are able to have perhaps a few cocktails at appropriate events over a period of time as part of the social experience. They don’t become severely intoxicated, which protects them from a number of behaviors that can put them at risk. On the other hand, alcoholics are unable to merely have a few drinks. Alcoholics aren’t social drinkers, which means that when they begin to consume alcohol, they will usually drink to the point of becoming intoxicated, which results in slurred speech, incoherence, belligerence, poor decision-making, and risk-taking behavior. Intoxication may prevent them from realizing that driving home is a very bad and incredibly dangerous thing to do when under the influence of alcohol or other substances, putting their own lives as well as the lives of others in grave danger.

Alcoholism isn’t just the inability to control or predict one’s consumption of alcohol and the resultant behaviors that occur under the influence of alcohol. When an individual is an alcoholic, he or she is physically and psychologically dependent on alcohol. According to the diagnostic criteria for alcohol dependency, an alcoholic has a high tolerance to alcohol, experiences withdrawal symptoms when alcohol is absent for a brief period of time, the amount of alcohol consumed and the frequency of alcohol consumption increase over time, there have been unsuccessful efforts to decrease or cease one’s consumption of alcohol, a significant portion of one’s time is spent obtaining and drinking alcohol, and alcohol consumption continues despite knowledge of the negative consequences and health effects.

Alcohol Detoxification and the Detox Process

Perhaps the most significant deterrent of an alcoholic’s ceasing his or her consumption of alcohol is the withdrawal symptoms experienced when an individual detoxes from alcohol. Most alcoholics experience great anxiety at the thought of detoxing from alcohol, which often persists through the first several days of the detox. It’s typically recommended that alcoholics detox only under medical supervision due to the risks associated with an alcoholic’s abrupt cessation of alcohol consumption. In fact, withdrawal from alcohol can be so severe as to become fatal, a progression that can happen incredibly quickly and without much warning. Additionally, it’s estimated that roughly 5 percent of alcoholics who go through the detoxification process will experience delirium tremens, which have a lethality rate of 15 to 20 percent without appropriate treatment. In cases where the alcoholic who’s detoxing is experiencing severe withdrawal symptoms, there’s often the need for medical intervention in the form of medications that are used to alleviate withdrawal symptoms, which is why medical supervision during detox is often advised.

It’s widely held that an individual going through alcohol detox is at highest risk of relapsing during the very earliest stage of the process, which is roughly 6 to 12 hours—8 hours on average—after he or she last consumed alcohol. Though the symptoms experienced at this stage aren’t life-threatening, they can be uncomfortable and even painful to endure, including things like sweating, shaking, headaches, anxiety, nausea, vomiting, restlessness, and fear. At between 12 and 24 hours into the detox process, withdrawal symptoms worsen and become more serious. Individuals at this stage in alcohol detoxification commonly experience confusion, tremors, hallucinations, irritability, and agitation. Due to the potential for this stage of withdrawal to be severe, it’s recommended that individuals detox under medical supervision so that, in necessary, physicians can offer medicine to alleviate the severity of withdrawal symptoms.

Between one and two days after the last alcoholic beverage was consumed, withdrawal symptoms are often at their most severe and dangerous peak. This phase of the alcohol detoxification process is when individuals are most at risk for severe seizures and even death. The withdrawal symptoms that appeared over the course of the first 24 hours will have continued to this point, becoming more pronounced and more severe and often making individuals feel totally overwhelmed by the withdrawal process. During the time, the body is excreting and elimination the alcohol and toxins that had built up in the system over the course of active alcoholism. From the second day up to the end of the first week, withdrawal symptoms finally begin to ebb and fade, becoming less severe and much more manageable; however, those who have a longer history of alcoholism or whose alcoholism was more severe might not experience the subsidy of withdrawal symptoms until as long as 12 days after the last alcoholic beverage. For most individuals, withdrawal symptoms will be all but completely gone about two weeks after the last consumption of alcohol. Unfortunately, cravings may persist, but the dependency has subsided.

three shots of whiskey

The Cause of Withdrawal Symptoms During Alcohol Detox

When an individual consumes alcohol, the body experiences a number of chemical changes, especially in the brain. Since alcohol is a depressant, the brain must elevate the rate at which it produces chemicals such as serotonin, epinephrine, and dopamine. When an alcoholic abruptly ceases his or her consumption of alcohol, the elevated levels of these chemicals in the brain aren’t offset by the presence of a depressant like alcohol. As such, virtually all areas of the body are affected by such abnormally high levels of chemicals in the body, ranging from relatively minor effects to severe and even dangerous effects.

Treating Withdrawal Symptoms During Detoxification from Alcohol

The reason that it’s recommended for individuals to detox from alcohol under medical supervision is because, as mentioned above, there are sometimes instances when withdrawal because so severe as to be life-threatening. In these instances, physicians will often offer individuals medication to alleviate withdrawal symptoms, oftentimes using benzodiazepines, vitamins, and supplements. These medicinal interventions are intended to provide relief from the discomfort of withdrawal by treating symptoms individuals and by replenishing many nutrients and vitamins that have become deficient in an alcoholic’s body. Once an alcoholic has successfully completed alcohol detox, he or she will begin a treatment program for alcohol addiction, often an inpatient program at a residential facility.

If you or someone you love is current suffering from alcoholism or addiction to other mind-altering substances, call Recovery Hub today at 888-220-4352. Our recovery specialists can help those in need find effective recovery programs that allow individuals to achieve sobriety, health, and fulfillment in life once again.

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