how to detox from alcohol

Detoxing from alcohol can be a difficult act. Due to the many complications that can occur from withdrawal, it is not recommended to attempt to detox alone. The need for professional assistance from a medical detox is necessary. Without medical assistance, the detoxification process is dangerous and can even become deadly. 

Although it’s not often considered to be one, alcohol is a drug. It’s classified as a depressant, which means it slows the vital functions in the body. Drinking causes an array of side effects like slurred speech or lowered inhibitions.

Even though alcohol is a depressant, it does give an initial stimulating effect. However, when a person consumes more than the body can process, it’s depressant attributes are triggered. Thus resulting in the well known physical and behavioral symptoms of intoxication. 

How Does Alcohol Affect The Body?

Alcohol has the potential to impact the entire body, especially while detoxing from alcohol. Alcohol enters the body through the mouth, enters the stomach, and then is absorbed into the bloodstream from the walls of the stomach and small intestines. It takes only minutes for alcohol to travel from the stomach to the brain; people with low tolerances may be affected quickly while others may need more alcohol before they begin to feel the effects.

When the alcohol reaches the brain, it begins to slow the reactions of the nerve cells. As alcohol continues through the body, it passes through the liver to be metabolized. At this stage, it’s converted into a non-toxic liquid. If this doesn’t happen or if the liver is too overwhelmed, it’s possible to feel drunk or eventually be poisoned if not adequately detoxed from alcohol.

If alcohol poisoning starts to take place, the body’s respiratory system slows down and can even begin to shut down. This can lead to breathing, slowing down, or stopping. When this happens, the brain can’t get oxygen, and coma or death is possible if a medical detox is not immediately sought.

There are many signs that a person is being affected by alcohol during consumption. Some common short-term side effects of alcohol include:

  • A loss of coordination
  • Feeling stupid or having trouble putting together thoughts
  • Unsteady movements
  • Slurred speech
  • Disturbed perceptions
  • The inability to react quickly
  • Bloodshot and glassy eyes
  • Rambling
  • Agitation
  • Anxiety
  • Anger
  • Blank stares

Aside from the short-term impact alcohol has on the body, with continued and consistent use, there are many long-term effects alcohol has as well. Those with an alcohol use disorder may face these symptoms while using or during alcohol detox:

  • Brain damage
  • Anxiety disorders
  • Liver problems
  • Nerve damage
  • A deficiency in Vitamin B1
  • Malnutrition
  • Gastritis
  • A lowered immune system
  • Hand tremors/ Shaky hands
  • Psoriasis
  • Depression
  • Ulcers
  • Bone loss
  • Decreased libido or other sexual problems
  • Diabetes
  • Larger risk of cancer
  • Birth defects

Severe use in alcohol comes with a price. Finding help for those struggling with an addiction to alcohol is essential and detrimental to their long term health. Treatment centers offering medically assisted detox is necessary for their recovery from the abuse of alcohol. 


Humans Have a Long History With Alcohol

As humans, we began consuming alcohol around 10,000 B.C.E. Throughout the years, we have made alcohol from many different fruits, grains, and vegetables. We have even had prohibition periods where it was illegal to consume alcohol. Due to our extended use of alcohol, we have progressively realized it’s detrimental effects on humans. 

The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) conducts an annual survey across the United States. Provided below are some of the estimates found in 2018 of people twelve and older:

  • 139.8 million people used alcohol in the past month.
  • 67.1 million had binge drank alcohol in the past month.
  • 16.6 million heavily used alcohol.
  • 2.2 million people between 12-17 years of age had used alcohol in the past month.
  • 14.8 million people were diagnosed with alcoholism.

Even though we have acknowledged it’s adverse effects, it is still mass-marketed and thought more highly of than other drugs. Today, those that suffer from a dependence on alcohol are treated as a patient with a substance use disorder.

What is Alcohol Use Disorder? 

Alcohol use disorder is a diagnosis that can range from mild to severe by medical professionals. Doctors diagnose those suffering from the disorder when alcohol consumption has led to their distress or harm, which ultimately ends in the need for alcohol withdrawal or detox.

Alcoholism is a severe form of alcohol use disorder. The diagnosis for an alcohol addiction or alcohol use disorder through a series of questions from the DSM-5. Those diagnosed with the disorder have met two or more of the following questions and/or criteria provided below by the NIAAA.

In the past year:

  • Had times when you ended up drinking more, or longer than you intended?
  • More than once wanted to cut down or stop drinking, or tried to, but couldn’t?
  • Spent a lot of time drinking? Or being sick or getting over the after-effects?
  • Experienced craving — a strong need, or urge, to drink?
  • Found that drinking — or being sick from drinking — often interfered with taking care of your home or family? Or caused job troubles? Or school problems?
  • Continued to drink even though it was causing trouble with your family or friends?
  • Given up or cut back on activities that were important or interesting to you, or gave you pleasure, in order to drink?
  • More than once, gotten into situations while or after drinking that increased your chances of getting hurt (such as driving, swimming, using machinery, walking in a dangerous area, or having unsafe sex)?
  • Continued to drink even though it was making you feel depressed or anxious or adding to another health problem? Or after having had a memory blackout?
  • Had to drink much more than you once did to get the effect you want? Or found that your usual number of drinks had much less effect than before?
  • Found that when the effects of alcohol were wearing off, you had withdrawal symptoms, such as trouble sleeping, shakiness, irritability, anxiety, depression, restlessness, nausea, or sweating? Or sensed things that were not there?

What Are Common Signs and Symptoms of Alcohol Use Disorder?

Detoxing from Alcohol

As we have touched upon previously, alcohol is fully integrated within our society. Due to this, the symptoms and signs of alcohol addiction can be more hidden than other drugs. However, there are many signs to look for in those suffering from an addiction. These signs or symptoms we have provided below to recognize the patterns of behavior more easily. 

  • The tolerance to alcohol has grown. Meaning an increase in the amount or the frequency of consumption.
  • There is a lack of typical hangover symptoms.
  • An avoidance of situations without alcohol involved.
  • Changes in relationships. Meaning a preference for friends who drink over those that don’t.
  • A loss of connection with loved ones or complete avoidance to them.
  • Hiding alcohol in strange places.
  • Hiding from others during alcohol consumption.
  • A dependence on alcohol to live day to day.
  • Becoming depressed, lethargic, withdrawn, anxious, or other emotional or mental problems. 
  • Legal issues arising like assault or drunk driving. 
  • Financial issues occurring or taking out loans.
  • More risk associated behaviors than before.

There are many other and more detailed descriptions of the signs and symptoms of alcohol abuse. These are just some that can help identify alcohol use issues and the need for detoxification from alcohol. 

What Are Some Signs Of Alcohol Withdrawal (Detox)?

The detox symptoms can range from mild to severe, depending upon the amount used and length of time those suffering have been using. Acute alcohol withdrawal (detox) can be deadly. Alcohol has enormous impacts on the mind and body. Those suffering from alcohol use disorder will experience withdrawal (detox) symptoms. Some signs that a person is in withdrawal include:

  • Agitation or aggression
  • Fever or sweating
  • Hallucinations, or feeling or seeing things that aren’t actually present
  • Severe confusion
  • Seizures
  • Irritability
  • Anxiety
  • Depression
  • Mood swings
  • Nightmares
  • Clammy skin
  • Dilated pupils
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Loss of appetite
  • Rapid heart rate
  • Delirium tremens
  • Pallor
  • Headaches

Mild symptoms occur around six hours after the last drink is consumed. Severe symptoms can begin from 12 to 72 hours after the last drink. Those that experience delirium tremens, possibly fatal form of withdrawal that requires immediate assistance, will experience them between 48 to 72 hours after consumption. Delirium tremens causes seizures, confusion, fever, and hallucinations.

Why Is It Important To Detox From Alcohol Correctly?

Detoxing from alcohol correctly is vital to the mind and body. Those that decide to stop “cold turkey” face the possibility of suffering from seizures or even face death due to the side effects of withdrawal.

Some of the symptoms that can be treated in detox include:

  • Abnormal heart rhythms
  • Dehydration
  • Fever
  • Rapid breathing
  • Rapid heart rate
  • Shaky hands
  • Night terrors
  • Headaches
  • Hallucinations
  • Insomnia

Detoxification programs focus on reducing or eliminating withdrawal symptoms. Thus preventing complications and providing the therapy needed to abstain from drinking in the future. 

The Two Types of Detox Program: Inpatient or Outpatient Programs

Inpatient Detox

An inpatient program focuses on patients with moderate-to-severe symptoms of alcohol withdrawal. Medications can be used to prevent or treat seizure activity, help maintain the person’s respiratory control, and to maintain other functions. During the inpatient treatment, the patient’s body temperature, blood pressure, blood levels of various chemicals in the body, and heart rate are monitored. Dehydration is prevented through IV, and medications may also be injected via IV. If needed, sedation medications can be used until withdrawal is complete.

Outpatient Detox

Outpatient programs are different than inpatient because they are designed for those with mild-to-moderate alcohol withdrawal symptoms. Someone must stay with the person detoxing at all times. Aside from being monitored during detox, the person suffering only has to go to the outpatient facility on a daily basis. The need for attending daily is to check the symptoms of withdrawal and the process of recovery. Some of the treatment types may include blood tests, patient and family counseling, and sedative drugs, which can help reduce withdrawal symptoms.

How Can I Get Started With Alcohol Detoxification?

If you or your loved one is ready to take on alcohol addiction, contact us today. We are able to provide information about the detoxification process and further treatment options. We have many helpful specialists that are standing by to take your call. Addiction doesn’t have to be in control. We can help with the process of moving forward.