The first step of all treatment for alcohol abuse and addiction is detox which is when an individual abstains from drinking. Detox from alcohol is often something people are concerned about when considering seeking help from an alcohol treatment center and not knowing enough about what’s involved can be a barrier to getting treatment. In this article, we explore the detox process and hopefully alleviate any concerns about the first and most important step on the path to recovery.
Alcohol is one of the most commonly abused substances in today’s society and that’s largely due to the fact that it is an acceptable part of daily life. Millions of people have an occasional glass of wine or beer after a stressful day at the office or in celebration of an event or occasion. However, not everyone is capable of remaining casual about alcohol and they find it difficult to stop drinking even though it is causing problems in their lives. This group of people is likely to go on to develop symptoms of alcoholism unless they seek immediate treatment.
What Is Detox?
Detox from alcohol is the process that immediately follows an individual’s abstinence and involves ridding the body of accumulated toxins from prolonged or excessive drinking. This helps to shed the influence of alcohol on a person’s physical and mental state and allows the healing process to start.
Detoxing from alcohol can be dangerous which is why it is always recommended to attend an inpatient detox program. The dangers arise from withdrawal from alcohol which can be extremely severe depending on the individual concerned and their history of alcohol abuse. As the detox process progresses some individuals may experience life-threatening symptoms and so having professionals on hand to treat them as they emerge is crucial.
Alcohol Withdrawal: Physical Symptoms of Alcohol Detox
Everyone has a different experience of detox from alcohol and it is difficult to anticipate how each individual will respond to abstinence from alcohol. However, the majority of people in alcohol detox will display the following alcohol detox symptoms:
- Rapid heartbeat
- Heightened blood pressure
- Nausea and fever
- Sweating or chills
- A headache
- Potentially violent mood swings
- Anxiety and depression
- Agitation and restlessness
Seizures carry the most risk of all withdrawal symptoms which is mostly because of the changes to the brain caused by acute alcoholism. When someone has been using alcohol for some time, their brain will have become accustomed to a regular intake and its sedating effects on the body. However, when a person abruptly stops drinking, the brain struggles to adapt to abstinence which can result in them having a seizure. This is among the many reasons why it is always recommended to under detox in the supervised environment of an alcohol treatment center.
What to Expect from Alcohol Detox
The type of withdrawal a person is likely to experience depends on how long they have been using alcohol for or how excessive their drinking has been. There are numerous factors that influence the detox process although it is possible to provide a rough guide of the timeline of withdrawal as follows:
The First Hours of Alcohol Detox
When someone stops drinking they are likely to experience cravings as the first symptom of withdrawal, which also signals the start of the detox process. These cravings get progressively worse through detox until the process is completed. Other alcohol detox symptoms experienced in the first hours after abstinence include:
- Nausea and vomiting
- Anxiety and depression
- Irritability and restlessness
The more severe a person’s addiction illness is, the more extreme withdrawal symptoms are likely to be and they will also take slightly longer in detox to fully complete the process.
The First Two Days of Alcohol Detox
More severe symptoms of withdrawal emerge within the first 48 hours of abstinence and can range from hallucinations to life-threatening seizures. The symptoms emerging in the first two days of detox carry a high risk as the brain adjusts to alcohol withdrawal and can also be life-threatening. Hallucinations are common during this phase of detox and the risk of seizures is heightened.
Individuals are likely to have a rapid heart rate and possible chest pain which is usually a sign of heart or blood pressure problems.
For many people, detox does not end after 48 hours and those with more serious issues may need to be monitored for days, sometimes weeks, after entering an alcohol treatment center. Detox can continue after initial abstinence for many people with all levels of addiction which is why rehab is an essential part of the whole recovery process.
After 48 hours of detox, the majority of patients will feel their symptoms wane although it is still advisable to be monitored by medical professionals. In many ways, detox acts as a trauma on the body which in itself needs to be healed and this is best addressed in residential or outpatient alcohol rehab.