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Alcohol is among the most commonly abused substances in society today - particularly because it is legal. In fact, statistics released by NIAAA (the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism) shows that 43 percent of all American men have binge drunk at one point or the other. This is despite the fact that the longer you abuse alcohol, the easier it will be for you to suffer severe and prolonged alcoholism which could lead to various devastating consequences in your life and work.
In most cases, in fact, dependency on and tolerance to alcohol can create health problems encompassing both the psychological and physical aspects of your life. Therefore, the earlier you decide to end your addiction to alcohol, the easier it will get in the long run.
This will typically involve undergoing alcohol detox to overcome alcohol withdrawal symptoms as well as get rid of all the toxins and chemical traces drinking has left behind in your body. Read on to find out more:
Understanding Alcohol Detox
Otherwise known as alcohol detoxification, detox is usually the first stage in recovering from alcohol abuse and alcoholism. As such, you will have to spend some time after your last intake of the substance to dedicate yourself to get rid of all the toxins and alcohol from your body before you start treatment and rehabilitation on a clean slate.
Thus, detox has the primary goal of comfortably and safely ensuring that you embark on a period of full abstinence and sobriety at the very start of your recovery process. After you get clean, the real work of recovery can commence.
Importance Of Alcohol Detox
Today, alcohol is one of the most dangerous intoxicating substances you can detox from. With the progress of your alcohol detox, therefore, it is possible that the withdrawal symptoms you end up experiencing can actually become life-threatening or fatal. Therefore, you should ensure that you receive professional medical monitoring and care.
However, even though detox stresses on the importance of getting rid of the alcohol from your body, you might also want to ensure that you get evaluated for any psychological factors that might accompany your severe alcohol dependence. These factors might later complicate your evaluation and treatment plans.
Therefore, some detox facilities - particularly high end luxury programs - are designed to provide care on a one to one basis. As such, they might assess your individual psychopathology when you undergo alcohol detox to ensure that all psychological problems you have are properly managed.
Detox is usually the most difficult aspect of the treatment and rehabilitation process because your body will struggle due to the lack of the alcohol it has become accustomed to. It may also react by creating painful withdrawal symptoms.
Withdrawal Symptoms Of Alcohol Detox
All alcoholics and individuals who abuse alcohol experience detox different. In most cases, however, it is likely that you will experience the withdrawal symptoms listed below - either some, a few, or all of them:
- Increased blood pressure
- Mood swings
- Racing heart beat
Seizures are usually the most dangerous of all the acute withdrawal symptoms arising from alcohol detox. They tend to happen because your brain (as well as the cells inside it) will start changing and growing more accustomed to having alcohol (and its resultant sedative effects) all through your system.
Consequently, when you abruptly remove alcohol from your system, your brain may struggle as it rebounds to find balance. As a direct result, this can cause seizures in some cases.
To a large extent, the risk of experiencing seizures is still high - especially for the first few days after your last drink. This is why it is so important to undergo detox at a professional substance abuse detox center where you will have close medical supervision.
In fact, the best way to ensure you maintain your sobriety and abstinence in the long run is by starting treatment for alcoholism and alcohol abuse after you've safely completed the detox process. In this way, the most uncomfortable and disconcerting part of your rehabilitation will be over and done with so you are better able to focus all your efforts and energy on full rehabilitation and recovery.
How Alcohol Detox Works
It is highly recommended that you only undergo alcohol detox under the care and management of a team of medical professionals. In most cases, you will find that the severity of your withdrawal when you detox will be related closely to the severity of your addiction and how long you have been abusing alcohol.
Generally speaking, however, the duration and severity of withdrawal while detoxing from alcohol will vary from one person to the next. In fact, the exact progress of your detox will be affected by a variety of factors. As such, it might be difficult to accurately determine the exact course your detox will take.
Still, it might be possible to understand the general time frame that the detox process occurs - complete with the progress of withdrawal symptoms. Consider the following:
a) The First Few Hours
During the first few hours of detox, you might experience intense cravings for alcohol. These comprise the first withdrawal symptoms, and are a clear sign that your body has started the alcohol detox process.
You will, therefore, have cravings within hours of your last drink - which might continue far into your recovery. Other withdrawal symptoms you are likely to experience during the first hours include:
- Physical sickness
- Physical tremors
- Spikes in blood pressure and heart rate
If your addiction was extensive, it is also highly likely that these symptoms will persist and become worse all through the alcohol detox process.
b) The First Two Days
After the first few hours of alcohol detox, your withdrawal might become more severe and be symptomized by hallucinations and seizures. Thus, the first 2 days of detox are usually the most dangerous - and when you will require the most intensive care and monitoring. In fact, these withdrawal symptoms can become life threatening because your brain will start reacting to not having alcohol and the toxins already inside your body leaving the system.
Therefore, in extreme cases you may experience hallucinations as well as seizures - which mostly show up in the first 12-48 hours after your last drink and persist for a few days after your detox starts.
Additionally, your heart rate might continue being rapid and you may experience chest pain - both of which are indications of blood pressure and heart problems. In some cases, you may get delirium tremens, which is a severe and often dangerous effect arising from acute alcohol withdrawal.
Either way, for most alcoholics this detox process will not end after 48 hours. In fact, if your case of alcoholism and alcohol abuse was long standing and/or severe, it is highly likely that you might require close monitoring over the first few days of detox.
c) The Remaining Time
Over the rest of the period of undergoing alcohol detox, it is highly likely that you will experience physical discomfort and your cravings will continue growing. Any seizure activity that isn't closely managed might also continue and increase in severity.
In many cases, however, the risk of seizure will begin to lessen after the first 2 to 3 days of alcohol detox. Still, you will require continued medical observations because the risk of cardiovascular events (such as a heart attack), extreme confusion, and stroke will still be elevated.
All these symptoms tend to occur in the first 48 to 96 hours after your last drink. However, they might also have delayed onset starting 7 to 10 days after your last drink.
Alcohol Detox And Delirium Tremens
As you undergo alcohol detox, there is the risk of experiencing delirium tremens particularly in the second stage of your withdrawal. Some of the signs and symptoms of this severe condition include, but are not necessarily limited to:
- Body tremors
- Extreme confusion
- Extreme disorientation
- Rapid mood changes
Since the rates of mortality in cases of unmanaged delirium tremens tend to be so high, it is vital that you receive supportive care, diligent round the clock supervision, and sedating medications. These will continue until your health risks start subsiding over the course of a couple of days.
Additionally, the severity and rapid onset of the typical symptoms of delirium tremens among people who are undergoing alcohol detox will often depend on how often and how much you drank.
Some of the risk factors for delirium tremens while undergoing alcohol withdrawal may include:
- A history of previous experiences with alcohol withdrawal
- Cessation of alcohol intake after a long period of heavy drinking
- Drinking often (or a lot) for over 10 years
- Failure to eat enough food during the period of heavy or chronic drinking
- Head injuries, infections, and illnesses in people who used to drink heavily
Since alcohol withdrawal and detox can be both psychologically and physically taxing, you can be sure that mood swings, cravings, and other health complications are not entirely uncommon.
Although this might sound like scary information, you should keep in mind that it is vital for you to understand how alcohol detox works and know the entire process inside and out particularly if you are severely dependent on drinking.
However, through the medical monitoring and care you will receive as you undergo withdrawal, you can be sure that it is possible to manage your alcohol detox in a safe and comfortable way.
Alcohol Detox Timeline
Since the levels and severity of alcohol abuse and alcoholism vary from one client to another, there is no concrete and specific timeline for withdrawing from alcohol. However, withdrawal might follow a general timeline. According to the NLM (National Library of Medicine), you are likely to experience the following:
- 8 or so hours after your last drink: This is the first stage of withdrawal and some symptoms will make themselves manifest
- 24 to 72 hours: Here, the withdrawal symptoms might peak and you will experience stage 2 and 3 withdrawal symptoms
- 5 to 6 days: During this period, your alcohol withdrawal symptoms might begin decreasing in intensity and tapering off
- Beyond week one: In most cases, you may still continue experiencing some side effects (particularly the psychological ones) for several weeks unless you check into an alcohol rehabilitation and treatment facility
While undergoing alcohol detox, your physical symptoms will be monitored closely and controlled until they stabilize. This is best accomplished by undergoing medical detox - which might use several different medications to treat such symptoms as insomnia, seizures, dehydration, and nausea.
In most cases, the alcohol detox experts might use benzodiazepines to reduce the over activity in your central nervous system as it attempts to restore the natural order it was used to before your chronic alcoholism and alcohol dependence began.
In the same way, medical detox centers will also closely monitor your body temperature, respiration, heart rate, and blood pressure. They may also take precautionary steps to make sure that these symptoms are stabilized and remain at relatively safe levels.
Overall, undergoing alcohol detox in the right facility is of extreme importance. Although you may be tempted to try and quit on your own, addiction experts caution against this move because some of the withdrawal symptoms arising from alcoholism might be dangerous and potentially life threatening.
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