The first step on the road to recovery is deciding to get clean; for most people, this is not an easy decision. For those who have been abusing alcohol for a long time, it will be necessary to complete an alcohol detox before any other treatment can begin. It is vital to get the chemicals out of the body before the process of rehabilitation can start; this can be challenging for many affected individuals. If you are ready to turn your back on alcohol for good, you are probably wondering what is involved in alcohol detox. It can help to know what is ahead of you, even if it does not make the process any easier.
It is worth remembering at this point that it can be dangerous to suddenly stop drinking alcohol on your own, especially if you have been abusing it for a long time. Many of those who have made the decision to get clean will be keen to get started and believe that it is going to be easy to quit without help. There is no doubting the fact that some individuals have managed to quit drinking by themselves, but in reality, it is rare for someone who has been an alcoholic for a while to be able to do this alone. Before even considering quitting alcohol, you should find out as much as you can about the detox process and seek medical advice.
Should You Detox at Home?
Detoxing from alcohol is a complicated process whether it is done at home or in a dedicated facility. Before even thinking about detoxing at home, you will need to consider a number of things. There are certain situations where detoxing at home is a bad idea; for example:
- If you are suffering from severe depression
- If you have had suicidal tendencies in the past
- If you have a severe or chronic health condition such as liver or heart disease
- If you have been a heavy drinker for many years
- If you generally experience withdrawal symptoms when in need of alcohol, such as extreme sweating, shaking and hallucinations
- If you are usually aggressive or violent while under the influence of alcohol
- If you have previously experienced convulsions or seizures.
Most people would benefit from detoxing in a dedicated facility as they will be monitored throughout the process by experienced professionals. A detox in a dedicated facility is safer and more comfortable option all round.
What Is Alcohol Detox Like?
Since alcohol is a depressant substance, it affects almost every cell in the body. As such, it can be difficult and complicated to withdraw from, especially for those who have been drinking heavily for many years. Nevertheless, if you are quitting alcohol in a dedicated facility, you will be kept comfortable throughout and staff should be able to prescribe medication or supplements to help ease any withdrawal symptoms you experience.
For most, alcohol withdrawal symptoms will begin around six to twelve hours after having had their last drink. These symptoms can occur even when there is still quite a lot of alcohol in the person’s system. Symptoms tend to vary in intensity, and the first symptoms that occur are typically minor in nature. Withdrawal tends to occur as the body tries to get back to normal; as it responds to the lack of alcohol, various bodily functions and systems will begin to race, resulting in signs of hyperactivity. These symptoms include shaking or tremors, a rapid heartbeat, and a raised body temperature.
Other minor symptoms include headaches, nausea, vomiting, diarrhoea, loss of appetite, and sweating. These symptoms will be similar to those the individual may have experienced before when in need of alcohol. At this stage of the detox, the patient may feel disorientated and agitated. It is common to want to sleep but to be unable to, therefore feeling very restless and irritable.
Some may experience anxiety, depression, fear, mood swings, and loss of memory. While many of the minor symptoms will clear up within a few days, there are some that can linger for weeks, particularly insomnia.
During an alcohol detox, it is not uncommon to experience hallucinations. In fact, around a quarter of all detoxing alcoholics will hallucinate at some point. These moderate symptoms usually begin around twenty-four to forty-eight hours after the last drink. In many people, hallucinations start as fleeting shadows but can progress to the person hearing, feeling, smelling, or seeing things that are not there.
Hallucinations can be quite frightening for the affected individual and for family members who are with the addict, but they are not dangerous in themselves. Nonetheless, if the individual becomes violent or tries to harm him/herself, it is necessary for someone to act to prevent this from occurring. It is for this reason that most alcohol detoxes should take place in a supervised facility.
Seizures and convulsions are considered major symptoms and tend to occur at any time from six to seventy-two hours after the last drink. Although these are not considered life-threatening, they can be frightening, particularly for family members supervising a detox. Still, it is important to note that seizures and convulsions can almost always be prevented in a supervised facility.
Delirium tremens (DTs) are also major symptoms of an alcohol detox; these can be life-threatening. They are caused by sudden and severe changes to the functioning of the individual’s nervous system and brain. While the onset of the DTs usually occurs around forty-eight to seventy-two hours after the person has had his or her last drink, they can occur as late as the second week after the last drink.
With the DTs, minor symptoms such as sweating and shaking are usually much more intense. The person may suffer severe tremors and sweating and can experience what are known as paranoid delusions, which is where they believe everyone is out to get them. Blood pressure and body temperature tend to be quite high and the patient may find it impossible to get to sleep. This can lead to increased irritability.
Severe DTs can be fatal, so it is vital that those in attendance know how to react if they appear. In a supervised facility, medical staff will be fully trained in treating the DTs and will have experience of doing so. The good news is that in such a facility, the DTs can usually be prevented with medical treatment and early intervention.
How Long Does an Alcohol Detox Last?
For most, an alcohol detox will last for anywhere between a few days to a couple of weeks. Some people will suffer shakes for many weeks, but most will find that they are at their worst after about three or four days, before the symptoms then subside. After the fourth day, the risk of seizures is low.
Those who drank heavily for many years may experience the DTs, which can continue for as long as two weeks, or sometimes even more. Some individuals who experience paranoid delusions may have a hard time later seeing these for what they were. Many will continue to believe that the staff at the facility really were trying to get them because they are remembering their hallucinations in vivid detail. They may need special counselling and therapy to help them remember the truth.
What Treatment Is Provided During a Detox
Those in need of help for an alcohol addiction often delay getting treatment because they are afraid of what a detox will be like. These individuals will probably have seen TV programmes and movies where a detoxing patient was tied down to a bed stop them from harming themselves or others.
Thankfully, an alcohol detox does not have to be like this. There is no point in us telling you it will be easy; it will not. But the good news is that there are treatments and medications that can help prevent the worst symptoms and make the process far more comfortable.
In a dedicated detox facility, medical professionals can prescribe various medications that will help to ease any symptoms you may experience. These drugs are typically sedative replacement drugs that are given in decreasing doses over five or six days.
Multivitamins and mineral supplements can also be provided to help prevent seizures and convulsions. In addition, pain relief medication might be prescribed to help with any aches being experienced. It is important to remember that any medication taken during an alcohol detox should only be prescribed by a medical professional.
How Will You Feel After Detox?
If you get through the alcohol detox, you may expect to feel great, but you should be aware that there may be a few aches and pains that you will experience for some time. This is completely normal; do not forget that you have been ingesting a chemical substance for a long time, which will have inevitably taken its toll on your body. You are not going to be healed overnight; in some cases, it can take several months before you start to feel somewhat normal again.
Nonetheless, if you are prepared to be patient, your body will heal itself. Your muscles will start to repair themselves and the swelling to your liver will go down. You need to know though that there could be some damage to your body that is permanent. Your liver may be scarred from long-term drinking and you might have experienced some damage to brain cells.
It is common to suffer with mood swings, depression, and other mental health problems for many months after completing a detox. Nevertheless, with continued support, you can overcome these problems.
If you would like more information about what is involved in alcohol detox or detox programmes, please do not hesitate to get in touch with us here at Liberty House Clinic today. We have an excellent record of success when it comes to helping people overcome their addictions to all types of substances, including alcohol. We also offer comprehensive rehabilitation programmes designed to tackle the emotional and physical side of the illness. Call now for more information about how we can help.