For people who are having issues with alcohol, there are now more ways than ever to reach out for help. Everyone has different medical needs and when treating alcohol use disorder or AUD, the care required will depend on a number of factors. There are varying degrees of AUD which range from misuse through to dependence and alcoholism, although the first step taken in treatment remains the same: detoxification.
There is a lot of misunderstanding about the detox process, which can prevent some from seeking help because of a fear of the unknown.
In this article, we want to demystify the detox process and clarify what’s involved in what is one of the most important steps towards a happy and healthy life in sobriety.
What Is Detox?
Detoxification in itself is not a form of treatment but it is an essential step forward towards getting better. Detox from alcohol is intended to rid the body of toxins that have accumulated in the body as a result of alcohol abuse, which is achieved by refraining from drinking completely. Depending on the level of alcohol dependence in each case, withdrawal symptoms are likely to vary in severity, which is why 24/7 supervision at a detox center is always recommended.
Withdrawal symptoms vary from mild to more serious and include:
- Anxiety and depression
- Delirium tremens (DTs), a psychotic condition characterized by chronic alcoholism, involving tremors, hallucinations and disorientation.
- Insomnia or irregular sleep patterns
- Uncontrollable shakiness, particularly in the hands.
- Unstable heart rate and blood pressure
Who Needs to Detox from Alcohol?
When someone craves alcohol in order for them to feel ‘normal’, it is most likely that they need help. The problem with alcoholism or alcohol dependence is that the need to drink becomes a compulsion that the sufferer no longer has control over. Willpower is not enough to help someone get through detox as it is undeniably a big challenge, however with the support of medical professionals, even the most serious withdrawal symptoms can be treated quickly and effectively.
Detoxing from alcohol in a specialist facility also offers more than a supervised detox. Structure treatment includes a great deal of evaluation and assessment so that the root causes of alcoholism can be identified in each patient. Once detoxing from alcohol has been completed, there is still much work to be done before someone can return to their daily lives. That said, detox is possibly the most unpleasant part of addiction treatment and once this obstacle has been removed, the path is clear to focus on rehab and recovery.
Alcohol treatment programs offer support to guide people through the withdrawal process. This often includes medications to ease symptoms while treating any other medical or mental health conditions that may be present.
The detox process lasts around a week, sometimes more depending on the severity of dependence in a patient. Withdrawal symptoms are likely to peak within 24-48 hours of refraining from use and patients are more likely to complete the process when there is medical support on-hand.
What Happens During Detox?
Detox generally involves the following basic steps:
- Physical examination to determine the level of support required. This may include blood work and evaluation of a patient’s health and family history and there are likely to be tests carried out to assess physical and mental condition before detox commences.
- Supervised medical support throughout detox, which may include medications to relieve the more severe alcohol detox symptoms. The ultimate goal is to help patients become mentally and physically stable before continuing with addiction treatment after detox.
Types of Detox Programs Available
There are two basic choices to be made when someone is looking into how to detox from alcohol, which should both extend beyond the first step and into a rehab program:
- Inpatient: Residential alcohol treatment which supports patients through detox, rehab and into recovery.
- Outpatient: Non-residential care that allows patients to remain at home, which is an option that is more practical for people in caregiving roles, for example.
- Partial Hospitalization: Programs usually last for at least 3 months and patients are required to spend from 4 to 8 hours in a hospital or clinic while they are living at home.
- Intensive Outpatient: This option allows patients to get elements of residential care but without having to stay in a center or facility. Patients will spend anything from 10 to 20 hours in treatment each week and suit people who have a solid home life and a low risk of relapse.
How to Choose a Program
Identifying individual needs ahead of seeking treatment is important. For example, if a patient has an underlying mental health condition, they should attend a dual-diagnosis treatment program or if they don’t have enough family support to ease their struggles, inpatient care can be extremely valuable. Everyone has different needs and also their own story to tell of their issues with alcohol. Residential treatment is particularly valuable in introducing sufferers to others in the same or similar situations, which can provide a valuable lifeline for relapse prevention in recovery.