alcoholicAlcoholism is easily one of the most common addiction problems in the world today, which is why treatment programs are so ubiquitous. But before beginning a treatment program, everyone – from alcoholics to their friends & family members who are putting them through rehab – should understand what alcohol treatment entails. It is not always an easy process, but it can be eased and guided with professional supervision.

A Background on Detox

Detoxification involves weaning the patient off the habit and physical craving for alcohol. Since their addiction has conditioned them to constantly seek out drinking, medical detox should be conducted in an environment where the temptation to drink – even at the height of withdrawal symptoms – cannot be indulged.

Withdrawal symptoms occur because of how dependent the body’s brain and central nervous system have become on alcohol. Prolonged exposure to dangerous amounts of alcohol forces the user to rely more and more on drinking to simply feel normal, let alone pleasured or relaxed by the alcohol. Suddenly taking that alcohol away throws the body’s natural chemical and hormonal systems into disarray and confusion, since those systems are the ones that are most affected by chronic alcohol consumption, per PsychCentral. The hyperactivity manifests in what we know to be withdrawal symptoms.

The Highs of Alcohol

Different levels of blood alcohol concentration (BAC) influence the type of high that a drinker experiences. As explained by Relatively Interesting, those types can be broadly broken out into:

  • Euphoria (BAC of 0.03 to 0.12): greater self-confidence, lowered inhibitions
  • Excitement (BAC of 0.09 to 0.25): slowed reflexes and reactions, lack of coordination
  • Confusion (BAC of 0.18 to 0.30): disoriented, highly emotional
  • Stupor (BAC of 0.25 to 0.40): unresponsive to stimuli, vomiting
  • Coma (BAC of 0.35 to 0.50): unconsciousness, shallow breathing, slow heart rate
  • Death (BAC more than 0.50): respiratory failure

Blood alcohol concentration is influenced by the presence of food in the user’s system, body weight, gender, other medications or drugs they may have been taking at the time they were drinking, the nature of their alcoholic beverage, and how much sleep they have had.

The Alcohol Detox Timeline

When someone makes the decision to detox, they enter into a prolonged period of an absence of alcohol. While the initial comedown symptoms are comparable to a simple hangover (when the blood alcohol concentration reaches 0.0, according to the Mayo Clinic) – headaches, muscle pain, fatigue, nausea, etc. – the more severe withdrawal effects kick in the longer the patient goes without alcohol.

After five to 10 hours from the point of the final drink, a problem drinker, for example, will experience:

  • Rapid heartbeat
  • High blood pressure
  • Sweating
  • Anxiety
  • Paranoia
  • Insomnia

Hallucinations will kick in about 12 to 24 hours after the last drink. They are more likely to develop in drinkers who combine their alcohol habit with other forms of substance abuse (like using drugs), or in long-time drinkers. Hallucinations are not very common, but they can be very unsettling for someone going through detox, and they may necessitate medical supervision to guide the patient through this stage.

Between six to 48 hours after the last drink, and into the detox stage, are when the withdrawal effects are at their worst. Seizures can affect fewer than one in 20 patients, but those who are affected require inpatient detox, according to the Journal of Neurology, Neurosurgery and Psychiatry, as there is a danger of death if the seizures are left untreated.

For the most extreme cases of alcohol detoxification, for patients who have been lifelong or heavy drinkers (only about 5 to 10 percent), they may experience delirium tremens, which is a near complete psychosis. Symptoms develop from two to three days from the point of the last drink, and they can include nightmares, night terrors, disorientation, hyperactivity, panic attacks, and loss of motor control. On average, the symptoms peak in the fourth to fifth day after the last drink. Similar to seizures, delirium tremens can lead to death if not treated.

Home Detox

Perhaps due to the stigma surrounding alcoholism (or even getting treatment for alcoholism), there exists the idea of detoxing away from medical supervision. Drinkers who opt to do this either detox in solitude, or have friends or family – but no health care professionals – on hand to help them through the process. Known as “home detox” or “DIY detox,” this is an incredibly dangerous form of pseudo-treatment. Detoxing in an uncontrolled environment puts the patient at risk for caving under the pressure to drink to relieve their withdrawal symptoms. In cases of hallucinations, vomiting, seizures, or delirium, patients may even decide to self-medicate with other drugs in an attempt to calm themselves down, thereby doing even more damage and deepening their addiction.

In fact, when English pop singer Amy Winehouse died in 2011 from suspected alcohol withdrawal, the physician doctor at the Betty Ford Clinic told The New York Times that too many people did not understand “how dangerous unsupervised alcohol withdrawal can be.” Detoxing is a far more complicated process than simply trying not to drink anymore.

Furthermore, while professional detoxification is always followed by a regimen of psychotherapy and aftercare support, patients who detox on their own will not have access to further methods of rehabilitation. In fact, the National Institutes of Health explicitly says that “detox alone, with no follow-up, is not treatment.”

Inpatient Detox

inpatient detoxOn the other hand, a patient who checks into a treatment facility for supervised detox does so with the knowledge that there will be no chance of relapsing in order to alleviate anxiety or depression of withdrawal. As the withdrawal symptoms reach the peak of severity, doctors and clinic staff may prescribe drugs to act as temporary substitutes for alcohol; they gradually wean the patient away from the physical craving for alcohol, lessening the withdrawal symptoms without resorting to poisoning the patient’s body.

The most commonly prescribed drugs for alcohol withdrawal symptoms come from the benzodiazepine family of drugs, which are known for their anti-anxiety, muscle relaxant, and sedative effects. A publication from the National Institutes of Health notes that benzodiazepines are particularly effective in treating the seizure symptoms of alcohol withdrawal.

Distributed under brand names like Valium or Ativan, benzodiazepines can be administered in the right doses and with knowledge of side effects and other drugs that might be in the patient’s systems. Psychology Today explains that benzodiazepines are usually prescribed for no more than three days, so as to ensure that the patient does not develop a dependence on those drugs. Home detoxing, on the other hand, will likely not take these provisions into consideration.

Lastly, when patients are successfully cleansed of the physical dependence and craving for alcohol, they can start working with a psychotherapist to learn how to live without the need to drink all the time. Treatment methods like cognitive behavioral therapy can teach a patient how to approach stressful and tempting situations in more positive and healthier ways than reaching for a drink. Following that, aftercare support puts patients in touch with sobriety and accountability groups to help them stay abstinent once they leave the umbrella of formalized treatment.

Home and Inpatient Detox Relapse Rates

Another significant difference between home and medical detox are the rates of relapse. Since there is no concept of accountability in home detox, the number of users who fall off the wagon is much higher compared to those who are guided through a proper detox program. In 2012, a Johns Hopkins study found that patients who committed to continuing treatment after detox were 10 times more likely to remain sober than people who left detox, who were 65 to 80 percent likely to have a relapse.

Similarly, the Partnership for Drug-Free Kids quotes a report from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration that says people who continue with treatment within 30 days of completing a detox program have improved relapse rates over people who do not follow up after detox. For people who embark on the next phase of treatment after detox, they take 40 percent longer to relapse – if they even relapse at all.

Getting More Information About Alcohol Detox

Detoxification can feel like a very long step in the journey to sobriety and health. Even done right, it can be painful and difficult, and that’s why we at Orlando Recovery Center want to make the process as smooth and as simple as possible for you. Detox is a big commitment on your journey to wellness, so we are standing by to take your call and answer all your questions about what the treatment means for you and how we can help you get through it. There is a world of health, healing, and happiness on the other side of detoxification, and we want to make it happen for you. Call us today and find out how to begin.