Detoxing Off Alcohol And Understanding The Process

detox from alcohol

Alcohol abuse kills over 80,000 people per year in the United States. Fortunately, it is one of the nation’s most preventable causes of death. Alcohol abuse affects your entire body including the immune system, liver, brain, mouth, pancreas, and heart. More than 75% of people who die from alcohol poisoning daily are adults. Teen alcohol use kills 5,000 people each year, and over 30% of all driving fatalities are caused by alcohol impairment. Alcohol addiction can not only ruin the user’s life, but it affects their family members and loved ones. Many continue to abuse the substance to avoid symptoms of withdrawal. Detoxing from alcohol can be an extremely uncomfortable experience depending on the level of addiction. In severe instances, it can be deadly when attempted at home without a doctor’s supervision. However, detoxing is the first critical step to recovery and ridding the body of this harmful toxin.

Alcohol Withdrawal Symptoms

When one is physically addicted to alcohol, their body will experience withdrawal symptoms when the alcohol is removed from the body. During the detox process, the body removes toxins making the experience psychologically and physically uncomfortable. This is why many with severe drinking problems will continue to drink to avoid the negative consequences. Excessive alcohol abuse disrupts the neurotransmitters that send signals to the central nervous system. The main neurotransmitter that creates feelings of relaxation called gamma-aminobutyric acid becomes imbalanced when alcohol is abused. This creates the “hangover” effect as well as other physical and mental symptoms of alcohol withdrawal including:

  • Headaches
  • Anxiety
  • Confusion
  • Restlessness
  • Heart palpitations
  • Seizures

Excessive alcohol use also affects the another neurotransmitter called dopamine that is responsible for regulating mood, energy, and enjoyment. When a heavy drink quits alcohol completely the production of dopamine stops suddenly causing their own withdrawal symptoms including:

  • Loss of appetite
  • Tremors
  • Fever
  • Vomiting
  • Nausea
  • Sweating
  • Irritability
  • Mood swings

Alcohol Withdrawal Timeline

The severity of the withdrawal symptoms are dependent on how long the person has been abusing alcohol, how frequently they drink, and the amount they consume at a time. Their addiction to other drugs, gender, weight, age, and family addiction history can also come into play. You should contact a medical professional if you are experiencing any dangerous withdrawal symptoms while detoxing. For some, the withdrawal process can last days or months. Just one serving of alcohol can take an hour for the body to absorb it into the bloodstream. However, the liver can only metabolize minimal amounts of it per hour. That is why detox programs can last for over a week. Withdrawal symptoms can occur anywhere from four to 12 hours after their last drink. Usually, they are the mild side effects which are sweating, vomiting, and confusion. Heavy drinkers may experience severe withdrawal symptoms within 48-72 hours after their last drink including delirium tremens, or seizures. In serious instances, delirium tremens are potentially fatal and are responsible for up to 15% of alcoholic related deaths per year. Some symptoms of delirium tremens are:

  • Rapid heart rate
  • Disorientation
  • Agitation
  • Extreme tremors

The Alcohol Detox Process

Every time you consume alcohol, the body will naturally begin to detoxify. The liver works hard to metabolize ethanol to try and quickly remove it from your system. Heavy or frequent drinkers cannot successfully detoxify from the ethanol because they are continually adding it to their system. The alcohol abuser can either quit cold turkey or wean themselves off of the alcohol. Stopping all at once can be dangerous when done on your own. Detoxing through a professional medical facility is the safest option if you are ready to quit drinking. Nurses and physicians will be able to monitor you 24/7 to help manage your pain. During the detox process, the two main risks are delirium tremens and dehydration. Those who are severely dehydrated can increase their risk of life-threatening seizures. Delirium tremens can cause respiratory failure and cardiac arrhythmia.

A successful detox period can decrease the chance of relapse. During the process, there are three crucial steps. First, the subject will be fully evaluated to determine the right treatment plan. Blood tests, mental and physical screenings, and risk assessments are performed. You will then be stabilized to help you cope through withdrawal. Your physician may administer certain medications, prescribe a proper diet, and educate you on what to expect during the recovery process. The final step is to prepare you for entering a substance abuse treatment program and aftercare. Several detox facilities include managed drug treatment as well as holistic and alternative programs that may include:

  • Meditation and yoga
  • Acupuncture
  • Creative arts therapies

Your treatment specialist will be able to help you find the right detox program that will best suit your needs. Rapid detox helps the addict speed through the process and requires anesthesia-assisted detoxification. This is ideal for those who want a painless way to detox and essentially sleep through withdrawal. Addicts have been known to detox within hours instead of weeks completely. Rapid detox is becoming popular especially among working professionals as they can finish the process during the weekend and return to work. Once you have completely detoxed from alcohol, you will notice several health benefits that may include:

  • Weight loss
  • Clear skin
  • Increased mental focus
  • Reduce risk of disease
  • Better sleep
  • Better digestion

Following detox, the patient will begin to take on the long road to recovery. There are inpatient and outpatient rehabilitation centers that can continue to address the psychological sides of the disease. Ongoing and family therapy during treatment is highly recommended.

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