What Does an Alcohol Detox Look Like?

in Alcohol
Published Nov 19, 2020
what does an alcohol detox look like

Detox from alcohol is often the first step in the journey to recovery. Alcohol use left unmanaged may lead to uncomfortable and potentially fatal alcohol withdrawal symptoms. However, there are ways to safely detox from alcohol, and withdrawing from alcohol should always be managed in the presence of medical professionals.

What Is Alcohol Dependence and Addiction?

Excessive alcohol use can lead to dependency or addiction. Addiction to alcohol, or alcohol use disorder (AUD), is characterized by an inability to stop or control drinking despite harmful social, health, job-related, or legal consequences. People who have become dependent on alcohol may exhibit the following characteristics:

● Alcohol tolerance. Developing an alcohol tolerance causes the need to drink increased amounts of alcohol over time to reach previous effects.

● Withdrawal symptoms. Withdrawal symptoms occur after going a short period without drinking.

● Drinking to relieve or avoid withdrawal symptoms. This may involve drinking to stop the “shakes” associated with alcohol withdrawal or “cure” a hangover.

However, many people may become dependent on alcohol without developing an alcohol use disorder. The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA) outlines the diagnostic standards of alcohol addiction as:

● Drinking more alcohol than intended

● Unsuccessful efforts to reduce alcohol drinking

● Giving up other activities in favor of drinking alcohol

● Spending excessive amounts of time obtaining and drinking alcohol

● Continuing to drink despite adverse physical and social effects

● Development of alcohol tolerance

Alcohol use disorder is a severe medical condition affecting an estimated 14.8 million Americans. About 88,000 people (approximately 62,000 men and 26,000 women) die from alcohol-related causes each year. This makes alcohol the third leading preventable cause of death in the United States. However, 95% of people do not see their alcohol use as problematic. For those that do, only one in nine seek the treatment and care they need.

The effects of alcohol use disorder are wide-ranging and potentially fatal. They may include:

● Liver disease

● Kidney disease

● Nerve damage

● Gout

● High blood pressure

● Cardiovascular disease

● Dementia

● Seizures

What Causes Alcohol Withdrawal?

Alcohol disrupts normal levels of neurotransmitters in the brain. The more accustomed the brain gets to alcohol use, the more it relies on alcohol to keep levels stable. With excessive alcohol use, dopamine, and gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA) activity are altered. This alteration leads to uncomfortable and dangerous withdrawal symptoms when drinking is stopped.

What Are the Signs and Risks of Alcohol Withdrawal?

When alcohol consumption is abruptly stopped or reduced, withdrawal symptoms occur. The NIAAA states that typical physical features of alcohol withdrawal include:

● Signs of heightening autonomic nervous system activation, which may result in rapid heartbeat, elevated blood pressure, excessive sweating, and shaking. The autonomic nervous system is responsible for regulating internal organs’ functions and controls essential involuntary bodily functions, such as respiration, blood pressure, heart rate, and digestion.

● Excessive activity of the central nervous system, which may lead to seizures

● Hallucinations and delirium tremens (DTs)

Along with physical withdrawal symptoms, alcohol cessation may cause emotional withdrawal symptoms, including anxiety, irritation, agitation, dysphoria, or inability to experience pleasure.

Withdrawal symptoms range from mild to severe, categorized as:

● Mild

○ Anxiety

○ Headache

○ Insomnia

○ Tremors

○ Palpitations

○ Gastrointestinal disturbances

● Moderate

○ Elevated body temperature

○ Excessive sweating

○ Rapid heartbeat

○ Increased blood pressure

○ Rapid breathing

○ Confusion

● Severe

○ Delirium tremens (DTs)

○ Impaired attention

○ Visual or auditory hallucinations

○ Seizures

Mild withdrawal symptoms may appear as soon as eight hours after the last drink is consumed. Excessive alcohol use can cause symptoms to continue to arise after 24 hours, with severe effects emerging two to four days after quitting.

Alcohol Withdrawal Syndrome (AWS) is a dangerous series of withdrawal symptoms. Without medical intervention, these symptoms may be intense and painful. Symptoms can begin between six hours and three days after the last drink. Severe and life-threatening symptoms of AWS can lead to delirium tremens (DTs). DTs includes:

● Sudden, severe confusion (delirium)

● Tremors all over the body

● Changes in cognition and mental function

● Extreme agitation and mood swings

● Fear or paranoia

● Appearing conscious with no response

● Hallucinations

● Seizure

People with a history of extensive alcohol use over an extended time are at a greater risk of DTs. Seizures, hallucinations, and paranoia are incredibly dangerous and require immediate medical attention. Complications associated with DTs may include over-sedation, coma, respiratory depression, cardiac arrhythmias, and pneumonia due to aspiration.

How Long Does Alcohol Detox Take?

Alcohol withdrawal symptoms may last for a few hours up to several weeks after the detox process has begun. The alcohol withdrawal timeline of symptoms includes:

● The first 6-12 hours after drinking has stopped may cause anxiety, cravings, extreme sweating, headaches, insomnia, nausea, vomiting, and alcohol shakes.

● 12-24 hours after drinking may bring on dehydration, hallucinations, or malnutrition.

● After someone has not had a drink in 24-48 hours, they may experience irritability, low blood sugar levels, alcohol seizures, or DTs.

In most cases, symptoms resolve after five to seven days. At Gallus Medical Detox Center, our alcohol-dependent patients usually stay three to five days in our care.

Alcohol use can be life-threatening. Addiction or dependence on alcohol causes several wide-ranging physical effects that can be fatal. Stopping alcohol use may cause mild or severe withdrawal symptoms ranging from anxiety and headache to rapid heartbeat and seizures. Excessive alcohol use may lead to delirium tremens, which can be life-threatening.

You should not attempt to detox from alcohol alone. At Gallus Medical Detox Centers, we provide practical, evidence-based treatment to ensure your safety. Our alcohol detox typically lasts three to five days. We provide the comfort of a residential facility with clinical expertise superior to most other detox facilities. Our board-certified physicians have extensive critical care and addiction experience, unique knowledge of how drugs move within the body, and expertise in managing other co-occurring disorders and physical illnesses. Our use of The Gallus Method ensures clinical expertise to make sure you get the best care possible. Detox is essential to the recovery journey and Gallus Medical Detox Centers provides you an individual recovery plan to identify resources and the next steps towards long-term recovery. For more information on how to stop using alcohol, call us at (866) 296-5242.