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Alcohol Detox

Alcohol detox involves purging all alcohol from your system to address the physical component of dependence in those with alcohol use disorder (alcoholism). 

Research indicates that roughly half of those diagnosed with alcohol use disorder experience acute withdrawal symptoms during the detox phase of rehab. 

The optimum pathway to detox is a medically supervised detox. It is neither safe nor advisable to detox from alcohol at home.

Table of Contents

What is an Alcohol Detox?

Detoxing alcohol is a process associated with the presentation of adverse withdrawal symptoms.

AWS (alcohol withdrawal syndrome) refers to the withdrawal symptoms that manifest when a heavy drinker moderates or discontinues the use of alcohol. These physical and emotional symptoms occur on a spectrum.

Article at a Glance:

Any sustained abuse of alcohol can bring about pronounced changes to the CNS (central nervous system). Alcohol has a sedative effect. If you drink heavily or long-term, this continuously exposes you to these depressant effects. Your brain responds by producing chemicals to counteract this emotional imbalance and physical sluggishness.

Consuming alcohol long-term causes the brain to produce the chemical messengers norepinephrine and serotonin at increased levels. If you suddenly remove alcohol from the equation, this leaves your brain feeling overstimulated. When you quit drinking, your brain is running in overdrive and your CNS struggles to cope in the absence of alcohol. The presentation of alcohol withdrawal symptoms is your brain’s response to these changes.

How to Detox From Alcohol

In almost all cases, supervised detoxification in a licensed medical detox center is the ideal approach. Around-the-clock clinical and emotional care is available, minimizing the likelihood of any complications during detox. The treatment team can also administer various medications to reduce the intensity of alcohol withdrawal. 

While disulfiram, naltrexone, and acamprosate are approved by the FDA for the treatment of alcohol use disorder, these medications are ineffective during alcohol detox. 

Instead, benzodiazepines are often prescribed to alleviate the symptoms of alcohol withdrawal. Like alcohol, benzos act as a depressant of the central nervous system, inducing drowsiness and sleepiness. Benzos can address these withdrawal symptoms: 

  • Insomnia
  • Pain
  • Headaches
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Panic
  • Anxiety
  • Restlessness
  • Irritability
  • Tremors
  • Sweats and chills 

The FDA approves Valium, Librium, Tranxene, and Serax for treating acute alcohol withdrawal. All these medications are only suitable for short-term use due to their strong potential for abuse and addiction. 

If benzos are ineffective, barbiturates may be beneficial. 

Additionally, the following anticonvulsants can mitigate the chance of seizure during alcohol detox: 

  • Depakene
  • Neurontin
  • Tegretol
  • Trileptal

After detoxing from alcohol, MAT (medication-assisted treatment) with disulfiram, naltrexone, or Acamprosate can help promote abstinence, improve treatment retention, and minimize the likelihood of relapse. Access these medications and more here at California Detox.

You can transition directly from detox into residential rehab or transition to outpatient treatment for alcoholism. Inpatient or outpatient therapy involves evidence-based treatment with MAT and psychotherapy, allowing you to address the psychological aspect of alcohol addiction.

Why You Should Never Detox from Alcohol at Home

Quitting alcohol abruptly and without medical guidance has significant risks, especially for those with severe alcohol use disorder. 

Many of the more common alcohol withdrawal symptoms can be reduced in a medical setting. At home, you will not have access to medications that streamline the detoxification process. 

If you have been using prescription medications or illicit drugs in combination with alcohol, this can inflame withdrawal symptoms and make the presentation of symptoms much less predictable. Attempting a home detox from alcohol could trigger side effects so unpleasant that you immediately relapse in order to relieve unmanageable symptoms. 

Those with co-occurring mental health disorders are also at heightened risk of experiencing acutely unpleasant withdrawal symptoms and should never attempt a home detox. 

If you engage with a supervised medical detox, you will place yourself in an environment free of triggers and distractions. You can also access medications proven to reduce discomfort during alcohol detox. Additionally, you will have continuous emotional and clinical care, minimizing the chance of complications.

Alcohol Detox Symptoms

The symptoms of alcohol detox vary depending on the severity of withdrawal. Symptoms present over three stages:

Many factors influence the scope and severity of alcohol withdrawal symptoms, including:

  • Duration of alcohol abuse
  • Extent of alcohol abuse
  • Medical history
  • Co-occurring mental health conditions
  • Family history of alcohol use disorder

Mild withdrawal

These symptoms are associated with mild alcohol withdrawal:

  • Depression
  • Anxiety
  • Appetite loss
  • Vomiting
  • Insomnia
  • Headaches
  • Tremors
  • Gastrointestinal issues
  • Abdominal pain

Moderate withdrawal

The above symptoms present during moderate alcohol withdrawal, as well as:

  • Heavy sweating
  • Shallow breathing
  • Rapid heartbeat
  • Raised body temperature
  • Increased blood pressure levels
  • Confusion
  • Irritability
  • Mood swings

Severe withdrawal

5% of those detoxing from alcohol experience severe alcohol withdrawal, otherwise known as delirium tremens. This can be life-threatening if not medically managed, with symptoms including:

  • Hallucinations
  • Fainting
  • Agitation
  • Confusion
  • Tremors
  • Nightmares
  • Nausea
  • Sweating
  • Vomiting
  • Seizure

Reduce the chance of complications during alcohol detox by engaging with professional treatment here at California Detox.

Get Help Today at California Detox

If you need to detox from alcohol and initiate your recovery, we offer treatment programs all at levels on ASAM’s continuum of care here at California Detox in Orange County. Choose from the following programs:

  • Supervised medical detox
  • Inpatient rehab
  • Virtual rehab
  • Outpatient rehab
  • IOPs (intensive outpatient programs)
  • PHPs (partial hospitalization programs)
  • Dual diagnosis (alcoholism with co-occurring mental health condition)

All the above treatment programs give you access to the same services and therapies, including MAT, counseling, psychotherapy like CBT, family therapy, and holistic therapies.

When you are ready to commit to alcohol detox and rehab, we can help you from detox to discharge and beyond. Call 844.427.6002 today for immediate assistance.

FAQs

How long to detox from alcohol varies depending on the severity of the addiction. In most cases, acute withdrawal symptoms present within a few hours of the last alcoholic drink and persist for five to seven days. PAWS (post-acute withdrawal symptoms) may linger for longer in some people with severe alcohol use disorder.

AAFP (American Academy of Family Physicians) lists three stages of alcohol withdrawal. You will not necessarily experience all these stages. Mild alcohol withdrawal is characterized by symptoms like insomnia, anxiety, GI disturbances, headaches, and heart palpitations. The same symptoms present in the case of moderate alcohol withdrawal in addition to increased blood pressure levels and heart rate, rapid breathing, and mild hyperthermia. Severe alcohol withdrawal involves the presentation of the above symptoms in addition to disorientation, hallucinations, and seizure.

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