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Alcohol Withdrawal and Detoxification

Alcohol Withdrawal and Detoxification

Alcohol abuse is associated with serious health and social issues. However, addicts may continue abusing alcohol to avoid painful withdrawal symptoms. To ensure a successful withdrawal from alcohol, an alcohol detoxification program at a specialized facility should be availed. An attempt to go through detox at home can not only be highly painful but can even be deadly. Addiction Rehab Centers offer detox programs keeping the individual needs in mind. Detoxification is the first step towards recovery and it is important to go through it to ensure a successful treatment.

Withdrawal symptoms for alcohol:

The term ‘withdrawal symptoms’ is used to refer to a number of symptoms that appear when an alcoholic stop consuming alcohol. They can appear as soon as the system runs out of alcohol. The addicts may experience a number of unpleasant symptoms throughout detoxification process.

Withdrawal symptoms can be mental as well as physical. They can be so uncomfortable that the addict sometimes ends up going back to alcohol to avoid pain. As alcohol alters brain structure, it is no more able to function normally in the absence of drug.

Some of the common symptoms associated with alcohol withdrawal include:

  • Frequent headaches
  • Restlessness
  • Anxiety
  • Confusion
  • Seizures
  • Involuntary tremors
  • Nausea/ vomiting
  • Excessive mood swings
  • Loss of appetite
  • Irritability
  • Excessive sweating
  • Fever

Apart from these common symptoms, some patients may experience a number of rare withdrawal symptoms termed as ‘delirium tremens’. These symptoms only occur in the users who were heavy drinkers with a history of long term abuse spanning over 10 years or more.

Delirium tremens symptoms may include:

  • Altered brain functions
  • Deep and excessive sleep
  • Sudden changes in mood
  • Fear
  • Overexcitement

Although the above mentioned symptoms appear in most of the patients, their severity may vary greatly. Some users may experience a particularly difficult withdrawal depending upon a number of factors such as:

  • Duration of alcohol abuse
  • Amount of alcohol consumed
  • Genetic makeup
  • Polydrug abuse
  • Addiction to other substances
  • Gender, weight and age

If the symptoms become excessively painful, it is important to consult a specialist to avoid harmful consequences.

Alcohol withdrawal timeline:

The time taken for alcohol withdrawal and detoxification is highly variable from person to person. Although most of the users tend to go through a withdrawal period spanning over a week, the others can take months to fully remove alcohol from their system.

The process starts as soon as alcohol consumption is stopped. The liver detoxifies ethanol to excrete it out of user’s system. Most of the detox programs last for a few days to a week since withdrawal symptoms usually subside within a week. However, cravings for alcohol and some minor withdrawal symptoms can persist even for months.

  • First 7-9 hours:Withdrawal symptoms such as minor tremors, sweating, nausea, vomiting, anxiety, loss of appetite, headache, mood swings and heart palpitations start to appear.
  • First 1-3 days:The withdrawal symptoms become intense. Next stage withdrawal symptoms like mental confusion, hallucinations, irritability, seizures, elevated blood pressure and increased heart rate are experienced by the user. Delirium tremens is also experienced by long term users. It may not start until two days after alcohol leaves the system. The symptoms may prove to be fatal if left untreated.
  • 5-7 days:The symptoms start to get better by this time. Most of the physical withdrawal symptoms disappear. However, mental symptoms and cravings may still persist. They may last even for months.

Is it possible to die from alcohol withdrawal?

Yes, it is possible to die from alcohol withdrawal. It is not actually the absence of alcohol that causes death but death can be an indirect result of quitting alcohol since some withdrawal symptoms may become so bad. This is the reason why it is important to opt for a medically assisted, supervised detox program. A person going through withdrawal should not be left unattended at any time. It is particularly important for long term and heavy users. Availing a specialized detox program can not only reduce the risk of deadly consequences but it also greatly increases the success rate.

Some withdrawal symptoms that can be fatal include:

  • Hallucinations
  • Elevated blood pressure
  • Increased heart rate
  • Liver dysfunction
  • Kidney dysfunction
  • Cardiac arrhythmia
  • Delirium
  • Seizures
  • Seizure related injuries

Since the body uses all the possible ways to remove toxins –such as vomiting and diarrhea- there is a high risk of the patient becoming dehydrated. Dehydration can be another reason for death.

Detox process for alcohol:

Detoxification is a natural process by which the body gets rid of harmful toxins accumulated due to alcohol abuse. As soon as the alcohol consumption is stopped, the body starts to remove any leftover alcohol in the system. The regular users never really get rid of alcohol since they keep adding more to their system. It is only completely removed when alcohol consumption is completely stopped. Detox process can be carried out at a number of places such as home, a medical clinical, a hospital, a specialized detox center or rehab center.

Alcohol can be quit in two ways: by quitting all at once, also known as going cold turkey, or by gradually decreasing the amount over time called tapering off. Going cold turkey is particularly dangerous due to appearance of deadly withdrawal symptoms. It is not at all recommended to quit alcohol at home. Most of the people end up relapsing midway through the process putting them at a risk of alcohol poisoning.

Medications used to ease alcohol withdrawal:

At Addiction Rehab Centers, a patient is provided 24/7 medical care and expert supervision. Different medications can be prescribed by Addiction Rehab Centers experts to make the process less painful for the patient.

The medications approved by FDA for the treatment of alcohol withdrawal include:

  • Naltrexone– It can help to reduce alcohol cravings and as a result, a risk of relapsing.
  • Disulfiram– It works by making the alcohol consumption an unpleasant experience for the addict. Hang over symptoms are experienced by the user as soon as he consumes alcohol.
  • Acamprosate– It can help to manage long term withdrawal symptoms like anxiety, restlessness and insomnia.

These medications should not be consumed unless prescribed by a doctor. After detox, further treatment is offered at Addiction Rehab Centers depending upon the condition of the patient.