Alcohol is the most widely used drug in the world. Harmful drinking leads to 88,000 deaths annually in the U.S. Alcohol is the third leading risk factor globally for developing illnesses.
Medical detox for alcohol is a supervised process for alcohol withdrawal. Information about the effects of alcohol withdrawal and upcoming treatment are discussed with the individual prior to beginning the detox.
Alcohol withdrawal is one of the most dangerous detoxifications. During this process, healthcare professionals administer medications to control potentially dangerous symptoms. The client is monitored around the clock to ensure their safety and minimize discomfort, and medical care is provided when needed.
Definition of Alcohol Withdrawal
Tolerance and physical dependence develop with long-term, regular alcohol consumption. Alcohol withdrawal occurs when an individual decreases the amount or stops drinking alcohol entirely after extended use.
When alcohol intake is decreased or abruptly stopped, the brain and central nervous system—which have become dependent on alcohol to function “normally”—react and withdrawal symptoms manifest as the body attempts to recalibrate its hormone levels. Prescription medication in a supervised detoxification helps control or eliminate symptoms.
Alcohol Withdrawal Assessment
Assessing the potential intensity of alcohol withdrawal requires collecting background information regarding the client’s history of drinking, as well as knowing the physical condition of the individual.
Information that affects how a detox is handled includes:
- Quantity of alcohol consumption
- Duration of alcohol use
- When the last alcoholic beverage was consumed
- Number of previous alcohol withdrawals
- Other co-existing medical and/or psychiatric conditions
- Other co-existing substance abuse issues
Physical aspects that are considered include:
- Any medical conditions possibly leading to complications in a withdrawal
- Any medical conditions precluding the use of certain medications during detox
- Blood alcohol test administered and analyzed prior to the start of the detox
Causes of Alcohol Withdrawal
As an individual develops a pattern of regular alcohol use over a long period of time, the chemistry of the brain is altered. These changes can progress to a point where receptors in the brain stop functioning correctly. The neurochemical reactions that happen during an alcohol detox in response to cessation of alcohol consumption cause withdrawal symptoms.
Length and Symptoms of Withdrawal
In as little as two hours after the last drink, withdrawal symptoms can begin to show, making it important to have medical supervision pre-planned and scheduled.
As the withdrawal progresses, the following symptoms are possible:
- 6-12 hours: Tremors, headache, profuse sweating, anxiety, nausea, vomiting
- 12-24 hours: Confusion, hallucinations, the shakes, agitation
- 24-48 hours: Seizures, possible continuation of all prior withdrawal symptoms
- After 48 hours: Most symptoms begin to subside substantially.
In severe cases, symptoms can progress to the level of delirium tremens. Delirium tremens may last from 4 to 12 days. This level of withdrawal involves hallucinations, severe disorientation, seizures, high blood pressure and fever and can be fatal. A high-quality medically supervised detox program is the best way to safely rid the body of harmful substances and begin the lifelong journey to sobriety.