Alcohol detox is the first stage toward recovery from alcohol abuse and addiction, and it is a necessary step that must be taken with caution and due diligence. People who drink heavily and then decide to quit or stop drinking, can experience alcohol withdrawal symptoms. These range from mild symptoms to more serious symptoms, depending on the severity of their alcohol use.
Though the process can be complex, it’s essential to remember that detoxing from alcohol is the first step on a long journey to sobriety and health. For many people, it requires the help of medical professionals and a commitment to making significant changes in their lives. However, with proper guidance and support, detoxing can be a successful experience that leads to better health and overall well-being.
Turning Point of Tampa offers a full continuum of care and our doctors and medical staff can safely treat detox from alcohol.
In this blog post, we’ll discuss the right way to safely detox from alcohol, including what it entails and how to approach the process.
Facts and Figures About Alcoholism
Before diving into the details of an alcohol detox, let’s explore some facts and figures about alcoholism.
- Alcohol is a drug classified as a depressant, meaning it slows down the body’s systems and functions, mainly the central nervous system. It is widely available in many forms, including beer, wine, and spirits, which can make it easier to drink more.
- According to a report by the Center for Behavioral Health Statistics and Quality, alcohol was the primary abused substance by male and female participants, followed by marijuana, heroin, and prescription pain relievers in different orders.
- The National Center for Drug Abuse Statistics states that most Americans will drink at least once in their lifetime, with 6.7 percent developing alcohol use disorder (AUD). High levels of alcohol consumption can also lead to AUD, characterized by an intense craving for alcohol, an inability to control drinking habits, and withdrawal symptoms when trying to quit.
- The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism defines a standard drink as half an ounce of alcohol, equal to about 12 ounces of beer, five ounces of wine, or 1.5 ounces of distilled spirits. Binge drinking brings the blood alcohol concentration (BAC) to 0.08 percent, which can cause reduced muscle coordination and impaired judgment or reasoning.
- The Dietary Guidelines for Americans by the US Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) and the Department of Agriculture (USDA) recommend that adults drink less or in moderation and limit their daily alcohol intake. Men should consume no more than two drinks daily, while women should have no more than one drink daily.
- A study in Alcohol Health Res World reports that over one and a half million Americans have alcohol use disorder treatment or get admitted to the hospital for medical complications caused by alcohol dependence.
- The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) cites excessive alcohol use as one of the country’s leading preventable causes of death. Excessive alcohol use includes binge drinking, heavy drinking, alcohol use by pregnant women, and alcohol use by people under the legal drinking age of 21.
- According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), binge drinking is excessively drinking on the same occasion on at least one day for the past 30 days, typically four or more drinks for women and five or more drinks for men. Meanwhile, the CDC defines heavy drinking as having eight or more drinks per week for women and fifteen or more for men.
What Are the Causes of Alcohol Abuse?
The causes of alcohol and substance abuse can range from physical and mental health issues to socioeconomic and environmental factors. Some of the common causes include:
- Genetic predisposition: A person’s genetic makeup can influence how they respond to alcohol, leading them to drink more than usual or drink excessively.
- Family history of AUD: Family members can pass down the tendency to abuse alcohol, increasing a person’s likelihood of developing AUD.
- Parental drinking patterns: Children who grow up in a household where alcohol is abused are at an increased risk of developing AUD.
- Mental illness: People suffering from mental health issues such as depression, anxiety, bipolar disorder, and personality disorders may be more likely to abuse alcohol or other drugs.
- Peer pressure: Social pressures to fit in with peers can lead people to drink excessively.
- Stressful life events: Stressful life events such as the death of a loved one, job loss, divorce, and so on, can lead people to turn to drinking as a way of coping.
- Traumatic experiences: Experiences such as sexual assault, physical abuse, and emotional abuse, especially in early childhood, can lead to self-medication with drugs or alcohol.
- Drinking at an early age: People who begin drinking earlier may be more likely to develop AUD. Additionally, the risk for females is higher than it is for males.
What Are the Potential Consequences of Abusing Alcohol?
Alcohol affects the gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA) neurotransmitter, which slows down the central nervous system. Alcohol also influences serotonin and dopamine levels in the brain, which are linked to feelings of happiness and pleasure.
Alcohol consumption can cause short-term effects, including:
- Slurred speech
- Poor coordination
- Impaired judgment
- Lowered inhibitions
- Memory problems
- Loss of consciousness
While these effects may be short-term and can disappear soon after the alcohol is metabolized, they can still be dangerous, especially when you have to drive a car or operate heavy machinery.
Prolonged alcohol abuse can cause severe deterioration in your mental and physical health. Long-term effects of serious alcohol dependence and abuse include:
Long-term alcohol addiction can lead to various cardiovascular diseases, as the alcohol intake has been linked to various heart problems. These include arrhythmia or irregular heartbeat, high blood pressure, heart failure, stroke, and coronary artery disease. This is mainly due to the increased levels of cholesterol and triglycerides in your blood and the reduced ability of your heart muscle to pump blood efficiently.
Abnormal Liver Function
Heavy alcohol use may also affect the liver’s ability to produce enzymes necessary for proper functioning. It can cause fatty liver, liver damage, alcoholic hepatitis, and cirrhosis, a severe condition that involves the degradation of the liver cells. Cirrhosis can eventually cause permanent damage to the organ if left untreated and lead to liver failure.
Weakened Immune System
Chronic alcohol abuse can cause nutritional deficiencies and sleep disturbances that weaken your immune system, making it difficult for your body to fight infections and diseases. It can also make it more difficult for wounds or injuries to heal quickly. This increases the risk of developing serious illnesses such as pneumonia and tuberculosis.
Cognitive and Neurological Decline
Excessive drinking can damage brain cells and decrease cognitive performance. It can also lead to memory problems, difficulty focusing, poor coordination, mood swings, learning disabilities, and reduced coordination and alertness. In extreme cases, it can even lead to delusions and hallucinations or cause permanent damage to the brain cells.
Development of Certain Cancer Types
Alcohol abuse increases the risk of certain types of cancer, such as mouth, throat, esophageal, breast, liver, and colorectal cancers. People who drink excessively have a higher risk of developing these types of cancers than those who drink moderately or do not at all. This increases further if you smoke or do drugs aside from drinking alcohol.
Mental Health Issues
Heavy drinking can lead to mental health problems such as panic attacks, depression, anxiety, and suicidal thoughts. It can also increase the risk of developing mental disorders like paranoia, schizophrenia, and bipolar disorder. Additionally, it can create a cycle of addiction by making you more likely to turn to alcohol or other substances to cope with uncomfortable emotions and situations.
Alcohol affects the hormones and neurotransmitters that play a role in sexual arousal. This can lead to decreased libido, inability to maintain an erection, difficulty achieving orgasm, fertility problems, and premature ejaculation. It can also cause fetal alcohol syndrome in unborn babies if the mother drinks during pregnancy.
Development of Social Problems
Alcohol abuse can also lead to social problems such as family conflict, relationship issues, financial difficulties, work-related issues, and legal problems. These may include losing your job or getting into fights with friends or family members due to behaviors related to alcohol use. Unfortunately, these problems can be compounded by the fact that alcohol use disorders are also linked to higher rates of suicide and homicide.
What Are the Signs and Symptoms of Alcohol Use Disorder?
The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition (DSM-5) lists several criteria for diagnosing an alcohol use disorder. The severity of the condition can be mild, moderate, or severe and is determined by how many of these criteria you meet:
- Consuming alcohol more often or in higher amounts
- Having difficulty stopping or controlling alcohol consumption despite attempts
- Spending prolonged periods drinking or recovering from it
- Feeling a strong urge or craving for alcohol
- Failing to meet responsibilities or obligations at home, work, or school because of alcohol use
- Continuing to drink even though it is causing or exacerbating social or relationship issues
- Reducing the amount of time spent or giving up on activities previously enjoyed to drink
- Drinking during inappropriate and dangerous situations, such as driving and operating machinery
- Persisting in drinking despite physical or psychological issues caused by or exacerbated by it
- Developing a tolerance to alcohol, meaning you need to consume more of it to achieve the same effects
- Experiencing withdrawal symptoms when not drinking, trying to stop, or reducing consumption
If you meet two or three of the criteria, you may have a mild alcohol use disorder. If four or five criteria are met, you may have a moderate alcohol use disorder. And if you meet six or more criteria within 12 months, the diagnosis may be severe alcohol abuse disorder.
If you struggle with these signs or symptoms, seeking medical help is crucial. A healthcare professional will be able to assess your situation and provide an appropriate treatment plan to help you detox safely and effectively.
What Is Alcohol Detox?
Alcohol detox is the process of abstaining from consuming any alcoholic beverage for an extended time to allow your body time to rid itself of any toxins or chemicals present due to excessive drinking. It is a necessary step in the recovery process for those struggling with alcohol addiction as it helps to reset the body’s chemistry and begin healing.
While it is possible to do an alcohol detox by yourself, it may not be the best option. Detoxing from alcohol is a complicated process that can be dangerous if not done correctly. There’s an increased risk of relapse due to uncomfortable and severe withdrawal symptoms, and you may not be able to adequately address life-threatening symptoms and complications that arise during the detoxification process.
It’s generally recommended that you seek medical care for a safe and successful experience. A medical detox program provides support and monitoring by medical staff, such as doctors, nurses, counselors, therapists, and nutritionists, to ensure you are as safe and comfortable as possible. The goal is to help the patient safely overcome withdrawal symptoms and reduce the risk of relapse.
What Is the Process of Alcohol Detox?
The alcohol detox process begins with an assessment by a medical expert. This can include physical and psychological evaluations to determine the severity of the addiction. This is important to assess the risk of alcohol withdrawal symptoms.
The physician may also order lab tests to assess your current health status. This will help determine which course of action is best for you and will help to develop a personalized treatment plan to meet your needs. The goal is to minimize alcohol withdrawal symptoms further, reduce alcohol cravings, and support the patient throughout the process.
Once the assessment is complete, you will be placed in a detox program. The duration of this program can range from days to weeks and typically includes close medical monitoring and treatments such as fluids, medications, vitamins, supplements, and a proper diet.
During an alcohol detox, your body will undergo a series of changes as it begins to heal. Note that alcohol detox can be an uncomfortable experience as you may experience mild withdrawal symptoms to more severe withdrawal symptoms. However, medical professionals can provide support and treatment throughout this process.
Remember that alcohol detox is just the first step in recovery from alcohol addiction. After completing the medical detox, it’s recommended that you seek the next phase in a continuum of care such as residential treatment or day treatment program also know as a partial hospitalization program (PHP). Most facilities include treatment modalities such as therapy, counseling, and 12-step programing for an increased chance of success in achieving and maintaining long-term sobriety.
What Is the Timeline for Alcohol Detox?
There is no universal timeline for alcohol detox, and the duration of the detox process varies from person to person and depends on several factors and circumstances. Generally, the alcohol withdrawal timeline can be broken down into four stages:
- Stage 1 begins six to 12 hours after your last drink. You may experience mild symptoms, including anxiety, agitation, nausea, headache, insomnia, body tremors, upset stomach, profuse sweating, irregular heart rate, and loss of appetite.
- Stage 2 usually occurs 12 to 24 hours after your last drink. Withdrawal symptoms, including visual, auditory, or tactile hallucinations, typically peak during this stage. This means you may experience seeing, hearing, or feeling things that are not there.
- Stage 3 happens within 24 to 72 hours after your last drink. Symptoms may include withdrawal seizures during the 24 to 48-hour window and delirium tremens (DTs) during the 48 to 72-hour window.
- Stage 4 generally comes 72 hours after your last drink, and alcohol cravings become less intense. During this stage, symptoms start to decline, and you may feel more relaxed with fewer physical withdrawal symptoms.
It is critical to note that these stages and accompanying symptoms of alcohol withdrawal can vary depending on the individual’s overall health and alcohol consumption habits. Additionally, you may experience prolonged symptoms for weeks or even months after your last drink. The best way to ensure a safe and successful detox is to seek professional medical assistance.
Who Is at Risk for Alcohol Withdrawal Syndrome?
Alcohol withdrawal syndrome (AWS) is a condition that can occur when a person abruptly stops drinking after long-term or heavy alcohol use. This can be a severe medical issue and requires medical intervention to ensure safety and comfort throughout detox.
Anyone who continuously abuses alcohol or has become physically dependent upon it is at risk of developing alcohol withdrawal syndrome. The various withdrawal symptoms’ severity and duration depend on several factors, such as the amount of time you’ve been drinking and the amount of alcohol consumed each day. Other contributing factors include age, sex, weight, height, medical and family history, and overall health.
Alcohol Withdrawal Symptoms
It’s crucial to be aware of the common symptoms of alcohol withdrawal to help ensure your safety and well-being. Knowing the alcohol withdrawal symptoms can help you recognize when to seek professional medical assistance for detoxification.
Mild symptoms associated with alcohol withdrawal include:
- Mood swings
- Intense sweating
- Body tremors
- Abdominal pain
- Light and sound sensitivity
Severe alcohol withdrawal symptoms can include:
- Rapid heart rate
- High blood pressure
- Delirium tremens
What Is Delirium Tremens?
Delirium tremens is a severe and potentially life-threatening form of alcohol withdrawal syndrome. It often occurs 48 to 72 hours after the last drink and can cause confusion, agitation, fever, seizures, hallucinations, and rapid heart rate.
Delirium tremens can happen to those who are highly addicted to alcohol and have experienced alcohol withdrawal before. It is considered a medical emergency that requires immediate medical attention. According to the Cleveland Clinic Journal of Medicine, delirium tremens has a five to 10 percent mortality rate.
Treatment Options for Alcohol Addiction
Detoxing from alcohol can be dangerous, so it’s vital to seek professional treatment. According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration Treatment Improvement Protocol (TIP) 45: Detoxification and Substance Abuse Treatment states:
This guide educates substance use counselors and clinicians about detoxification and withdrawal. It addresses patient placement, detox services for specific substances, co-occurring disorders, financing issues, and screening and assessment tools.
Substance abuse treatment options typically include:
Medication-assisted treatment (MAT) is the most common form of alcohol addiction treatment. MAT involves using FDA-approved medications to reduce cravings and help manage withdrawal symptoms. The Journal of Clinical and Diagnostic Research cites benzodiazepines as the best-studied and most effective medication for alcohol withdrawal.
Inpatient Alcohol Detox
An inpatient care program may be the best option for those with severe alcohol withdrawal symptoms, multiple unsuccessful attempts at sobriety, and co-occurring medical conditions.
Inpatient rehab centers provide around-the-clock medical attention and close monitoring throughout detox. Additionally, patients receive individualized therapy and can participate in various activities to help them stay motivated and on course for long-term sobriety.
Residential treatment allows individuals to live in a community that has 24/7 staff. For those stepping down in their continuum of care, residential care follows detox. This is a safe environment to address any post acute withdrawal symptoms (PAWS) and also start facing challenges due to alcoholism and addiction.
Intensive Outpatient Treatment
Intensive outpatient treatment programs allow individuals to attend therapy sessions and receive care while living in a sober living house or at home and participating in their daily routines. Intensive outpatient treatment typically includes counseling, support groups, medication management, and relapse prevention. This is best for patients with a low risk of developing severe alcohol withdrawal syndrome to start their path to recovery or the next step down in the continuum of care..
Outpatient treatment is ongoing therapy and counseling and are essential components in the step down of the continuum of care and very important in the success of an individuals alcohol treatment plan.
Counseling focuses on the underlying psychological issues that drive addiction and teaches individuals how to cope with cravings, stress, and triggers without substance abuse. Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) can help individuals build resilience and practice healthier behaviors. You can also try family therapy to help repair relationships with loved ones.
Attending a recovery support group may be beneficial for those who need extra support after completing their formal addiction treatment program. Support groups provide peer-to-peer discussion, accountability, and mutual encouragement when navigating the journey of long-term sobriety. Common recovery support groups include Alcoholics Anonymous (AA), SMART Recovery, Secular Organizations for Sobriety (SOS), and Women for Sobriety.
Participating in activities that promote overall health and well-being is essential for a successful recovery. There are an endless number of activities to help foster physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual wellness, including exercise, meditation, yoga, writing, painting, cooking, and spending time outdoors. These activities help individuals curb alcohol cravings and create healthy habits for long-term sobriety.
Why Shouldn’t You Go Through the Detoxification Process Alone?
Alcohol detox without professional help can be risky and potentially fatal. Untreated alcohol withdrawal symptoms can cause severe dehydration, seizures, delirium tremens, or death. Clinical management of withdrawal symptoms through a supervised detox program is the safest way to ensure you are properly cared for and monitored.
Some individuals suffering from alcohol addiction may also suffer from mental health issues and health complications caused by prolonged alcohol abuse. Medical treatment is needed to help diagnose and treat any underlying problems that could make it difficult for individuals to stay sober long-term.
Additionally, detoxing from alcohol alone can make it challenging to stay motivated and on track with recovery goals, which increases the risk of relapse. Professional treatment centers provide an encouraging environment and offer evidence-based treatments and resources to help individuals succeed in their journey toward abstinence.
Contact Turning Point of Tampa Now To Start Your Alcohol Detoxification Process
If you or someone you love is struggling with alcohol addiction and would like to learn more about the detoxification process, get in touch with Turning Point of Tampa today. Our expert medical professionals can create a personalized treatment plan tailored to your unique needs and help you successfully achieve sobriety.
Contact us today for more information about alcohol detox, our rehabilitation services, and how we can help you start a new life in sobriety. With the proper support, anyone can achieve long-term abstinence from alcohol and start living a healthier, happier life.