What to Expect in Alcohol Detox

More and more, Americans are experiencing the harmful effects of alcoholism, be it through a loved one, an acquaintance, or through their own drinking. The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism estimates that more than 80,000 people die every year due to alcohol-related deaths. Despite that fact, alcohol continues to be one of the most profitable markets around the world. Alcohol detox is one of the top reasons for those seeking treatment, and it affects people of all walks of life and all ages.

Although the direct and long-term effects of alcohol have killed millions of people over the last 100 years alone, it is still sold over the counter to anyone over the age of 21. However, alcohol has profoundly detrimental effects on the body, the spirit, and the mind of those who partake regularly or excessively.

For anyone who is thinking about stopping drinking, there is a safe and an unsafe way to do it. Most people are familiar with the fact that alcohol detox actually has the potential to kill, but not everyone knows why. Here is what to expect from an alcohol detox, and how to keep you or your loved one safe.

The Last Drink

For people who drink regularly and excessively, they are very well aware of how fast their body will go into withdrawal. For some, it is within a span of two hours, and for others, it could be up to 8 hours. This timeframe depends on factors such as:

  • How often they drink
  • How much they drink
  • How often and how healthy they eat
  • Other medications or drugs they are taking

Although the specific parameters can vary from person to person, the general symptoms of alcohol withdrawal within the first few hours after the last drink are all relatively the same.

Within the first 8 hours after the last drink, many hard drinkers will begin to experience “the shakes”. This is the first stage of the alcohol detox process and is often accompanied by:

  • Sweating and Headaches
  • Nausea or Vomiting
  • Mood Swings, Anxiety, Irritability
  • Difficulty Sleeping
  • Loss of Appetite
  • Difficulty Concentrating

This stage can last anywhere from 8 hours to 2 days, depending on the severity of the drinker.

Stage 2

When people mention Delirium Tremens, they are usually referring to this phase of the alcohol detox process. Although the phenomenon is relatively uncommon, it occurs more in people who try to detox from alcohol on their own or cold turkey. These symptoms usually present within 24-48 hours after the last drink. They can look like intensified symptoms from phase 1, but if left unattended, people can also experience:

  • Visual, auditory, or tactile hallucinations
  • Seizures
  • Increased heart rate and blood pressure
  • Extreme gastrointestinal distress

The Delirium Tremens refers to the hallucinations and the inability to differentiate reality from fantasy or delusion. Again, not everyone who goes through alcohol detox experiences this medical emergency, however, the onset of seizures are much more common.

alcoholic man

Stage 3

This stage of the alcohol withdrawal process usually begins anywhere from 72 hours to 5 days after the last drink. This phase usually only occurs if the person is attempting to detox cold turkey, or outside of a medical detox setting. This is because the initial symptoms of the detox process were not treated properly and have led to inflammation, infection, dehydration, and shock.

When an individual does experience phase 3 of the alcohol detox process, the symptoms again can resemble those from the stage before it, however, they will be greatly intensified. For example, if Delirium Tremens are left untreated, they can develop into what is often called Wet Brain, where a person suffers from the long-term or chronic effects of untreated delirium tremens. People who suffer from Wet Brain will often experience:

  • Difficulty communicating
  • Trouble with memory
  • Some loss of basic motor functioning
  • Rapid and Erratic Mood swings
  • Extreme Anxiety or Depression
  • Body Tremors

Again, this phase does not happen for everyone who chooses to stop drinking. This phase occurs in those who drink excessive amounts often, and for long periods of time. This phase can also be found in people who regularly take benzodiazepine medications along with their alcohol consumption.

How to Detox Safely

If the time has come for you or your loved one to put the bottle down, there is a safe way to do it. The best bet will always be to check into a medical detox facility rather than go it alone. This is especially true if you or your loved one abuse other drugs or medications as well, or if the person leads a sedentary lifestyle.

Making the decision to detox in a professional medical setting will offer a smoother and much more comfortable alcohol detox process for you or your loved one.

First, the person will be cared for by a trained and experienced medical staff, 24-7. This ensures that the person’s blood pressure, heart rate, oxygen supply, and overall functioning is being monitored at all times. Any sudden changes or lack of improvement will be acted upon immediately and accordingly. This will help prevent the person from sliding deeper into the differing severity of stages of the detox process.

Second, on-site doctors will be able to provide medications that can help soothe and alleviate a majority of the uncomfortable side effects of the alcohol detox process including:

  • Difficulty sleeping
  • Body aches
  • Flu-like symptoms
  • Nausea and abdominal cramping
  • Anxiety and depression
  • Cravings

These medications are intended to be used short term to alleviate the immediate withdrawal symptoms and are intended to be non-habit forming.

The doctors will also be able to safely treat any co-occurring addictions to other substances such as opiates, cocaine, MDMA, marijuana, stimulants, and sedatives.

Medical detox and inpatient alcohol treatment also provides professional therapy, an introduction to the program of Alcoholics Anonymous, and a healthy nutrition program to bring the person back to whole body, whole mind health.

The Addiction Blog