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Alcohol Detox – What You Need to Know

Alcohol Detox is an important first step to recovering from alcoholism and though it is never easy, with the right support system the physical and emotional trauma to the patient can be significantly reduced.

It is important to connect with and enlist the help of medical professionals who specialize in working with alcohol addiction as withdrawal symptoms can be dangerous depending on the severity of the addiction.  The higher the quantity and the more frequent the consumption, the more likely that withdrawal symptoms will be intense so it is imperative that the patient be transparent with their health care team about their alcohol consumption habits.

Alcohol addiction and the required treatment is as individual as the people who suffer from it.  There are different options available for patients to assist them through their alcohol detox; in-patient and out-patient programs are available.  Choosing the program that best suits the needs of the individual is the key to success in recovery.  A patient must be completely comfortable with the team they are working with and trust needs to be established as alcohol detox is really only the first step on the long road to recovery.

Mild to moderate symptoms of alcohol detox can include: anxiety, depression, insomnia, irritability, and confusion, an increase in heart rate, nausea and loss of appetite. Withdrawal symptoms can begin as early as six hours after the patient’s last drink and tend to reach peak intensity between 24-72 hours after the last drink.

Severe symptoms can include fever, increased heart rate and blood pressure, extreme confusion, extreme agitation and seizures.  Some of these symptoms can become life-threatening if left untreated.  5% of recovering addicts can experience a condition known as delirium tremens (severe alcohol withdrawal) during alcohol detox.  Onset can happen anywhere between 48 to 72 hours after the patient has had their last drink and can include vivid hallucinations, delusions and well as an increase in heart rate and blood pressure.

Symptoms like changes in mood and sleeplessness can remain with the patient for months after the initial detox so it is important that the patient continue to be monitored in the long term. Ongoing access to counselors, mentors and peers can considerably reduce the risk of relapse during this time.

In many cases, patients need nothing more than a safe supportive environment to get them through the process.  This includes soft lighting, a quiet space, good food and plenty of water.  For those suffering from moderate to severe symptoms of alcohol detox, thankfully there are medications that are available that can ease the physical burden of withdrawal.  Sedatives such as Ativan, Valium and Xanax can be prescribed to assist the patient through the early stages of withdrawal.

Withdrawal happens because alcohol works as a depressant that has a relaxing effect on the central nervous system, to compensate the nervous system amps up its activity in an attempt to keep the individual awake.  Over time the nervous system adapts to having to contend regularly with the consummation of alcohol and it gets stuck in the ‘on’ position.

During alcohol detox the depressant is removed from the system but the nervous system continues to overreact and this is what causes the feelings of heightened anxiety and irritability.

While alcohol detox is not the only aspect of recovery from alcoholism, it is the basis of a successful healing journey and should not be entered into lightly.  The process can be exceptionally hard on the mind and body and it requires immense will power from the patient. Recovery is possible, and sobriety is attainable for those who have the desire to break free from their addiction.