Understanding Alcohol Detox and Treatment
Alcohol detox is defined as a medical intervention that helps a patient to navigate safely through the process of withdrawal after the cessation of drinking, according to a study published in the Joint Commission Journal on Quality Improvement by The Washington Circle Group convened by the Center for Substance Abuse Treatment Office of Managed Care. Patients who are living with chronic alcohol abuse or alcoholism should begin their treatment with an alcohol detox as part of a comprehensive alcohol treatment program.
Alcohol detoxification can take place in one of two locations: on site at an alcohol rehab facility or off site at a stand-alone detox center (or hospital). Most comprehensive alcohol treatment centers offer alcohol detox as part of their core program. In these cases, the individual begins detox as soon as he or she is done with the admissions process. However, some facilities are not equipped to handle alcohol detox on site. In these cases, the alcohol rehab administrators will recommend a facility in the area that is equipped to provide medical services. Once the patient has completed the detox process, he or she will be free to begin addiction treatment and therapy to address the psychological aspect of alcohol dependence.
It is never recommended that patients who are living with an active addiction begin the withdrawal process without the supervision of medical professionals trained in the treatment of substance abuse and addiction. An inpatient alcohol detox facility is recommended for optimum safety and effectiveness.
Alcoholism is a deadly disease, taking the lives of more than 37,500 Americans due to alcoholic liver disease and other alcohol-related causes, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. If you would like to find an alcohol detox that can help you or someone you care about to break free from a dysfunctional relationship with alcohol, contact us at Rehabs.com today. We can assist you in locating a top-notch alcohol rehab that will provide you with everything you need to begin a new life without alcohol.
Alcohol Detox & Withdrawal Symptoms
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During the first few days without alcohol, an alcoholic is likely to experience a number of different physical and mental withdrawal symptoms. Because the brain and body adjusted to functioning with a large amount of alcohol present, when the individual stops drinking, these functions need to readjust without alcohol. Unfortunately, this is not a simple process; throughout the course of alcohol abuse and addiction, significant and often permanent changes occurred in the brain, and the adjustment process can mean a slew of withdrawal symptoms. These will vary in effect and intensity depending upon the person’s experience with alcohol, but according to the American Academy of Family Physicians, the most common of them include:
Most Common Withdrawal Symptoms:
- Weight loss or weight gain
- Strong alcohol cravings
- Sweats and chills
- Hallucinations (known as the “DTs” and found in the most serious cases of alcoholism)
- Headaches, stomachaches and nausea
If you or someone you love suffers from alcoholism, you should know that the disease fosters a serious physical dependence in the body. Regular abuse of alcohol actually alters the way the body’s nervous system works, shifting how certain receptors function. When an alcoholic stops drinking suddenly, it shocks the body, causing a variety of withdrawal symptoms that can be incredibly uncomfortable and even life threatening. As a result, one should never attempt alcohol detox at home. It should always be done under the supervision of medical professionals who can intervene if necessary.
Can’t I Just Slowly Reduce My Drinking?
You may think that you can slowly reduce the amount that you drink over time, until you are eventually no longer drinking alcohol. While this sounds great in theory, it is incredibly difficult, if not impossible, for most alcoholics to do. An addiction to alcohol changes the way your brain and body function. Even though you may have the best intentions to reduce your drinking, it’s unlikely to happen without professional help.
Why Is Detoxing at Home So Dangerous?
During the alcohol detox process, you’ll experience a variety of withdrawal symptoms, such as:
- Muscle weakness
- Mood swings
In some instances, those in alcohol detox experience more serious side effects, such as hallucinations. Those who experience hallucinations may be a threat to their own safety and the safety of those around them.
If you detox in a medical setting, staff members are supervising you 24/7 to ensure you are safe. If necessary, medications can be administered to mitigate the severity of the withdrawal symptoms, helping you to get through the detox period safely and without relapsing.
Up until the 1970s, alcohol abuse and alcohol addiction were classified as criminal acts. According to a study published in American Journal of Drug and Alcohol Abuse, 1995 Nov;21(4):549-63, patients were often arrested for nothing more than being under the influence and held in the “drunk tanks” of county jails until they sobered up.
Today, alcohol abuse and addiction are understood to be medical disorders that require medical care and intervention. This started in 1958 when the American Medical Association (AMA) first classified alcoholism as a disease and continued in 1971 when the National Conference of Commissioners on Uniform State Laws adopted the Uniform Alcoholism and Intoxication Treatment Act, according to Alcohol and Health: Report from the Secretary of Health, Education, and Welfare by Keller and Rosenberg 1973. This Act said that alcoholics should be given a continuum of treatment that leads to healing.
Models of Care
According to the National Center for Biotechnology Information, there are a few different models of alcohol detox that have held favor in the medical community over the years.
- Medical model. Medication is provided to patients as they stop drinking with round-the-clock medical monitoring by doctors and nurses.
- Social model. This model cuts out the use of medications and medical care and depends instead upon psychosocial support of counselors and therapists.
- Pure model. This term refers to any alcohol detox model that relies solely upon medication or solely upon therapeutic support to aid patients as they go through withdrawal symptoms during detox.
- Integrated model. Most alcohol detox programs at high-end rehab programs combine medication and psychotherapy to create a personalized program that meets each patient’s personal needs.
What to Expect at Detoxification
According to An Overview of Outpatient and Inpatient Detoxification by Motoi Hayashida, M.D., Sc.D., patients can expect their experience with alcohol detox to include:
- Inpatient care. Because those who require alcohol detox experience serious withdrawal symptoms, medical complications can be an issue and medication may be necessary. For this reason, 24-hour medical monitoring is recommended at a residential treatment facility.
- Intake. When patients arrive, the intake process is undertaken to help the medical team better understand the needs of the individual. A full drug history, medical history, and psychiatric history are done. This is usually completed in the first one or two hours of care.
- Stabilization. A key component of alcohol detox, stabilization is a broad term that encompasses all the medical and psychological interventions that take place in an effort to help the patient to come to a place of balance physically and mentally.
- Medication. In some cases, pharmacological assistance may be necessary when there are co-occurring mental health disorders or underlying medical ailments that are complicated by withdrawal symptoms. Sedatives may be necessary to help the patient calm down if he or she is experiencing a psychotic break and/or other medications may be prescribed to help diminish the withdrawal symptoms associated with detox.
Today, alcohol abuse and addiction are still classified as diseases by the American Medical Association. This distinction is important to patients because it opens doors of opportunity for alcohol detox and treatment that include legal support in the form of court mandated alcohol rehab and financial support in the form of insurance coverage as well as a decrease in stigma that is often one of the most debilitating obstacles to those in recovery.
Duration of a Program
The length of time spent in an alcohol detox program will vary based on the personal experience of the patient due to both alcohol dependence and other coexisting issues, like:
- How long the patient abused alcohol
- When physical alcohol dependence began
- The amount of alcohol ingested each day
- Co-occurring medical disorders
- Co-occurring mental disorders
- Prior trauma or alcohol-induced trauma
In most cases, alcohol withdrawal symptoms will begin within 48 to 72 hours after the patient has his or her last drink and reach their height within a few days, according to Medline Plus. Overcoming the withdrawal symptoms can take between five and 14 days, depending upon the treatments utilized. As long as medical care is available in the unlikely event of emergency, it is a safe and effective process.
It’s a Necessary First Step
When a patient stops drinking and experiences withdrawal symptoms, alcohol detox becomes necessary. No progress will be made in alcohol addiction treatment without first addressing the physical withdrawal symptoms that begin in the first couple days of recovery. Because so much of alcoholism and alcohol abuse is a psychological disorder, the most crucial part of treatment happens in therapy.
Find an Alcohol Detox Program for You
Your goal in finding an alcohol detox should not necessarily be proximity but the best fit. Your medical and psychological needs based on your experience with alcohol and other substances as well as co-occurring disorders and trauma should guide you in choosing a program. If you’re not sure which type of alcohol detox or associated alcohol rehab services you should choose, contact us at the number listed above. Our counselors are available 24 hours a day to answer your questions and discuss your personal issues with alcohol and goals for treatment. Call today.
According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, a number of care options have been proven effective in the treatment of alcohol abuse and addiction, including:
- Personal Therapy. One-on-one sessions with a counselor allow patients to feel safe about opening up and discussing the different issues that may have informed the beginning stages of their alcohol abuse or addiction.
- Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT). The goal of CBT is to help patients identify situations, people and events that trigger in them the desire to drink and learn positive coping skills to better deal with these stressors that don’t include alcohol.
- Family Therapy. When patients include key family members in their private therapy sessions, they can make progress toward healing after the pain of alcohol abuse and learn how to better communicate what they need in a productive way in the future.
- Motivational Interviewing. A multi-step process, this type of therapy addresses the current emotional readiness of the patient to move forward in treatment and helps them to maximize their stage of willingness to heal and progress.
- Motivational Incentives. Also known as contingency management, motivational incentives use rewards to positively reinforce continued abstinence in recovery.