Alcohol addiction is one of the most worrisome forms of chemical dependency, and those seeking relief from the symptoms of alcohol withdrawal often require detoxification. The alcohol detox process is safe, but several factors influence the process. In some cases, alcohol detox can be life threatening if caregivers do not assess the patient’s condition accurately or if the detox takes place in an unsuitable setting.
The Detox Process Differs Case by Case
People considering alcohol detox for themselves or loved ones with alcohol abuse issues need to understand how the process works and know the importance of medical supervision. Alcohol has intense withdrawal symptoms, including shakes and tremors, nausea and vomiting, sweating, irritability, anxiety, and difficulty eating and sleeping. In some cases, patients can become delirious and experience hallucinations and sensory confusion. The intensity of these symptoms varies greatly from person to person, and the factors that influence symptoms include:
The person’s physical characteristics, such as height, weight, age, genetic factors, and other medical conditions may be a factor for detox.
Withdrawal symptoms depend on the nature of the person’s addiction. Withdrawal is going to be much harder for heavier users, and the symptoms of withdrawal can be life threating in some situations.
A person’s environment can make detoxification more challenging or easier, depending on his or her system of support.
Mild to moderate alcohol dependency can sometimes be treated in an outpatient setting, but more-severe cases are going to necessitate medical supervision. Additionally, certain prescription medications can offer relief for some patients, but whether the patient should use these drugs will vary by case. It’s always best to consult a medical professional and err on the side of caution when dealing with potentially severe withdrawal symptoms.
Stages of Detox
The detoxification process is going to be different for every patient, but the timeline is mostly consistent for everyone. Patients and their loved ones have a difficult road ahead, and it’s important to have some idea of what to expect and how the different phases of detox treatment should play out.
Preparation for Detox
The patient and his or her support system should take some crucial steps before the detoxification process starts. Obtaining medical supervision is highly recommended, even if the patient’s case doesn’t immediately seem severe enough to warrant it. The symptoms and severity of withdrawal vary, and no two patients are the same. It can be impossible to predict how a patient will react to detoxification, so take every possible precaution to ensure the patient’s safety and an easier recovery.
Detox is just the first step in a long and challenging process to overcoming alcohol addiction. Again, it’s best for patients to prepare for the challenge ahead by making healthy choices before detox and before withdrawal symptoms manifest. For example, the patient should avoid sedatives or opiates that may delay the onset of detox. Additionally, proper nutrition and vitamin supplements are invaluable throughout the recovery process, although administering these things can be quite difficult. This is another reason medical supervision is essential.
The First Days of Alcohol Withdrawal
The initial withdrawal symptoms are going to set in shortly after the patient’s body has processed his or her last dose of alcohol. The first 72 hours are going to be the most painful and arduous for most patients, and the most serious withdrawal symptoms are most likely to appear in this time.
For severe cases, medical supervision is imperative at this stage, because the symptoms can include fluctuation in blood pressure, breathing, pulse, and body temperature. Additionally, it is not uncommon for patients to experience convulsions, seizures, tremors, profuse sweating, dehydration, and bouts of unconsciousness. For these reasons, medical supervision is highly advised for patients who are severely alcohol dependent.
Severe Response to Alcohol Detox
Assessing the patient’s medical state is crucial before beginning detox. Unknown health factors can cause some symptoms to arise more violently or acutely than others can, and patients should take the time to visit with a specialist who can accurately determine the best course of treatment for dealing with the symptoms of withdrawal. Some health concerns, including heart disease, pancreatic disease, infections, and problems in the nervous system, will impact the patient’s recovery.
For patients with extreme dependency, the symptoms of withdrawal can be fatal. The initial onset of symptoms after the last drink has been processed can be extreme, and a medical professional needs to stabilize the patient to prevent life-threatening scenarios.
The First Week of Detoxification
The first onset of withdrawal symptoms can be painful and potentially violent. For those severely dependent, medical supervision may still be necessary after the first few days have passed. One of the most common withdrawal symptoms seen in highly dependent patients is delirium tremens (the DTs). Delirium tremens is the most severe and medically dangerous form of alcohol detox syndrome, and medical supervision is necessary for DT cases. Most cases of the DTs manifest two to five days after ceasing or drastically reducing alcohol consumption. The symptoms include:
- Extreme Agitation and Restlessness
- Gross Tremors
- Autonomic Instability
- Disorientation and Confusion
- Mood Swings
The most acute symptoms of alcohol withdrawal appear in the first week and can last for several weeks. Other withdrawal symptoms can last for months or longer, but the most life-threatening ones come after the initial shock to the body’s systems once alcohol consumption has stopped. Doctors can assess a patient’s level of withdrawal and the severity of his or her symptoms and adapt the treatment plan accordingly. Depending on the situation, some medications can help a patient cope with intense or potentially life-threatening symptoms.
Steps to Take Before Detox
Professionals recommend gradually reducing alcohol intake in preparation for total cessation. When patients take the time to reduce their alcohol consumption, the shock of withdrawal is usually less severe and easier to manage. Again, dependence and the intensity of withdrawal symptoms hinge on various factors – from length and severity of dependence to overall patient health, so it’s imperative to visit with a medical professional and develop a comprehensive detox treatment program tailored to the patient’s individual needs and medical concerns.
One of the most important things for patients to keep in mind is that trust plays a significant role in recovery. Patients need to feel safe with their doctors and understand that detox treatment, although painful and unpleasant in even mild cases, its necessary to approach safely. Patients’ anxiety can have a far more detrimental effect on the detox and severity of withdrawal symptoms than most people realize, so it’s vital to be well informed about the medically-assisted detox process. Done correctly, medically assisted detox can allow a patient to start on the road to full recovery with well-managed withdrawal symptoms and less physical strain.