Detoxing from alcohol may differ for all individuals. The severity of symptoms and length of time a detox program will last is dependent on the level of an individual’s dependency on alcohol. Detox is the first stage of treatment for alcoholism. Detox involves completely flushing alcohol from the body. Alcohol is a depressant, which the body will begin to rely on over the duration of months and years of consistently drinking. The brain will begin to stop the production of chemicals that it receives from alcohol, which causes dependence.
When an individual who has an alcohol dependence abruptly stops drinking alcohol, they will begin to experience withdrawal symptoms within six to 24 hours. Withdrawal symptoms can begin to appear even when an individual has alcohol still in their bloodstream. Withdrawal symptoms can range from mild to severe and life-threatening. Symptoms of alcohol withdrawal can include anxiety, depression, insomnia, hallucinations, shakiness, and changes in blood pressure. Delirium tremens can also occur, which is a life-threatening condition that causes confusion, fever, restlessness, hallucinations, and seizures. Withdrawal symptoms typically last for a few days up to a week. The symptoms will be at their most intense state after 24 up to 72 hours from your last drink.
Individuals who feel as though they need to consume alcohol to feel normal most likely need to go through an alcohol detox program. Quitting alcohol alone without medical assistance is not recommended due to the severe symptoms that are associated with alcohol withdrawal. In some cases, withdrawal from alcohol can be life threatening. A detox program will give around the clock care and support throughout the stages of alcohol withdrawal. Detox programs also prescribe medications to make withdrawal more comfortable and manageable. Further, detox programs typically provide care for any other medical or mental health conditions an individual may have.
Detox programs typically begin with an intake exam. This will allow the medical team to understand what type of support an individual needs during their detox. The medical team may also do blood work, discuss your drinking history, health history, and conduct assessments to evaluate physical and mental health. Detox support usually includes prescription medicine to ease withdrawal symptoms. Detox will also care for any other health issues or symptoms that arise during the program. The overall goal of a detox program is to make sure that a patient is physically and mentally stable. Typically, detox programs monitor vital signs around the clock, which includes temperature, heart rate, blood pressure, and breathing.
Medications used during alcohol detox programs reduce the severity of withdrawal symptoms, while also aiding the body in keeping chemical levels balanced. This will help to lower the risk of severe complications. A doctor or nurse will administer medications and monitor the effects of the medication around the clock. If a medication causes side effects or begins to interfere with the overall detox process, the medication will be replaced. Medications that are commonly prescribed during detox include benzodiazepines, naltrexone, acamprosate, and disulfiram.
Benzodiazepines are the most commonly used medication in alcohol detox programs. They are used to treat and ease alcohol withdrawal symptoms. Benzodiazepines are used to calm the central nervous system. They also help treat anxiety, muscle spasms, and insomnia. Benzodiazepines come in both short acting and long acting formulations. Long-acting benzodiazepines are typically administered for three days or they are taken as needed. Librium and Valium are the most common benzodiazepines that are prescribed in alcohol detox programs. Naltrexone is another medication that is commonly prescribed in alcohol detox.
Naltrexone reduces alcohol cravings during detox. If an individual relapses during detox, naltrexone works to inhibit the euphoria that alcohol may cause. Naltrexone is administered either in pill form or through injection. Acamprosate is another medication that is used often in alcohol detox. It helps the brain to function normally after alcohol use has ended. It also reduces alcohol cravings, insomnia, restlessness, and anxiety. Disulfiram is also commonly prescribed in alcohol detox. It works by producing a severe reaction if alcohol is consumed. If an individual drinks alcohol while taking disulfiram, they will experience nausea, headache, facial flushing, low blood pressure, and weakness. These negative effects are meant to deter individuals from consuming alcohol.
Symptoms of alcohol withdrawal can begin two hours after an individual’s last drink. The worst symptoms usually are over within a week after the last drinking. Milder symptoms can last anywhere from a month up to a year. There is not an exact timeline for how long withdrawal will last as it is unique for every person. There is a common timeline for most individuals for how detox will occur. During the first six to 12 hours, the initial symptoms occur, which are usually mild. These symptoms typically include anxiety, headaches, nausea, irritability, and shaking. After 24 hours of detox, the symptoms usually become more severe. Symptoms like disorientation, seizures, and hand tremors may begin to occur during this time. After 48 hours, hallucinations and panic attacks may occur.
These symptoms are common during this time period as the body is trying to eliminate all alcohol from its system. From the third day to the seventh day of detox the withdrawal symptoms may dissipate or worsen. During this time period, individuals may produce life-threatening conditions like delirium tremens. After the first week of alcohol detox, some symptoms will begin to disappear. Some symptoms may still remain and they are often able to be treated by medication. During this time period, individuals are at risk for developing post-acute withdrawal syndrome. Post-acute withdrawal syndrome involves prolonged symptoms of alcohol detox which can include insomnia, anxiety, lethargy, and delayed reflexes. Post-acute withdrawal syndrome can last a few months up to a year.