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Alcohol Detoxification

Important Information About Alcohol Detoxification

It is important to note that withdrawal from alcohol should always be done under medical supervision.  In some cases, withdrawal can result in fatalities.  Following withdrawal from alcohol, a dependent person may experience several alcohol detoxification symptoms, including:

  • eating and sleep disturbances.
  • tremors (involuntary trembling motion of the body).
  • sweats.
  • clouding of the sensorium
  • hallucinations.
  • agitation.
  • elevated temperature.
  • change in pulse rate.
  • convulsions.

Some of these symptoms can be life-threatening. In addition, the potential for suicide must be considered. Because of the possibility of these extreme consequences, there should be clearly defined procedures to follow when an individual is experiencing alcohol detoxification. These should be implemented in a variety of settings, including jails, shelters, and other congregate living situations. Alcohol detoxification is usually provided in a hospital setting for five days or less. Medical supervision is needed to provide medications, vitamin therapy, and, in some cases, measures to correct water and electrolyte imbalances. Alcohol detoxification also may be provided in non-hospital settings, but the rates of successful completion have been much lower. Patients who need medical or psychiatric care, have no housing, have coexisting chemical dependencies, are unemployed, or come to the initial visit intoxicated are less likely to succeed in outpatient treatment and are more likely to need hospitalization.  Medications that can be useful in the treatment of alcohol withdrawal include benzodiazepines and other CNS depressants such as barbiturates. Clonidine and beta-blocking chemicals may help decrease symptoms of tremor, fast heart rate, and hypertension.

Alcohol Detox

Approximately 7 percent of all adult Americans fit the criteria for alcohol abuse or dependency, according to statistics referenced in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders. It’s estimated that roughly 2 million Americans suffer alcohol-related withdrawal symptoms each year. When you factor in the detox process that accompanies the initial withdrawal symptoms most patients experience, it’s clear that an inpatient program can offer more support when going through these difficult steps in the recovery process.

Withdrawal and Detox

It’s important to understand that withdrawal and detox and two very different processes. Withdrawal refers to the physical symptoms a patient experiences when they are not consuming alcohol. This is due to the fact that the body has developed a dependency on alcohol. Detox refers to the process of ridding the body of toxic or harmful substances over a period of time. Withdrawal symptoms may include:

• Anxiety and irritability
• Extreme sweating
• Heart palpitations
• Nausea and vomiting
• Delirium tremens (DTs)
• Hallucinations

What to Expect During the Detox Process

The withdrawal and detoxification processes can be extremely intense, especially when it comes to treating an addiction to alcohol. Understand that detox marks the abrupt ending of the intake of alcohol. The entire process typically takes a week to ten days to complete. Regardless of the severity of the initial withdrawal symptoms, the detox process generally falls within that time frame. A safe detox process gets the alcohol out of an individual’s system while minimizing discomfort and risk.

First 24 Hours of Detox

The most dangerous period for a patient going through the detoxification process is the first 24 hours. After that period, the patient still needs to be monitored and tested for the presence of alcohol in their system. While the initial danger may pass within a 24 hour period, patients are still very susceptible to returning to their previous drinking habits if other issues aren’t addressed during the initial recovery process. Inpatient programs provide continued monitoring while dealing with the physical and psychological causes of the addiction in a safe, supportive environment.

Continued Supervision

Without medical intervention, initial withdrawal symptoms can go from mild to life-threatening very quickly. During inpatient alcohol detox, the patient is carefully supervised. Medical supervision is especially important for patients with other conditions such as diabetes, kidney infections or other potentially serious medical issues. During the detox process at an inpatient facility, doctor’s will perform an examination and get as much of the patient’s medical history as possible. Medications are often administered to help with the initial withdrawal symptoms. The patient is carefully monitored throughout the process, with convenient access to medical assistance as necessary.

Medical Evaluation

Somebody addicted to alcohol is consuming much more alcohol than the body can naturally process, often resulting in damage to the body’s internal organs, especially the liver and kidneys. While in an inpatient program, a patient will undergo a thorough medical evaluation to determine how much damage was done within the body. Patients may require additional medications and treatments for any medical conditions that are discovered during an examination and subsequent testing.

Why Detox Should Be an Inpatient Process

Inpatient programs treat more than the initial withdrawal symptoms. For this reason, such programs tend to be more successful. Patients are under constant supervision for more than just the detox period. Most inpatient programs treat both the physical and psychological causes of alcohol dependency, with the goal of identifying and treating the underlying causes of the addiction. Additional benefits of inpatient treatments for alcohol detox include:

Structure and Support

Inpatient programs tend to be highly structured. Patients are given one-on-one support to address individual issues that caused the addiction to develop and group support. Patients are also introduced to other activities that can provide a new focus. After the initial detox process, support continues with inpatient programs. Patients benefit from knowing that doctors, psychologists and counselors are on hand to deal with often complex issues associated with alcohol addiction.

No Negative Influences

Another benefit of inpatient treatment is cutting off access to negative influences, such as friends and certain family members who may have supported the addiction or looked the other way and ignored signs of a problem. This isn’t to say that there is no contact with the outside world. If possible, patients are encouraged to have the support of their family members and loved ones throughout the recovery process.

No treatment program, inpatient or otherwise, is going to be successful unless the patient is willing to admit that they need help. Take comfort in knowing that the recovery process is not a solitary experience. Inpatient treatment programs typically provide additional support through counseling and access to additional resources once the initial treatment has been completed.

Alcohol Detoxification Withdrawal Syndrome

Withdrawal from is potentially life-threatening. Persons need to be medically monitored during this process. Within 3-4 hours of the last dose, a person who is dependent on alcohol will begin to experience:

 First Phase of Alcohol Detoxification Withdrawal
  • Vital signs elevated–increased blood pressure, pulse, and temperature.
  • Diaphoresis.
  • Nausea and vomiting.
  • Diuretic effects.
  • Slurred speech.
  • Tremors, hands shake, poor coordination (drop cigarettes, spill water).
  • Unsteady gait.
  • Anxiousness.
  • Insomnia.
  • Short attention span.
 Second Phase of Alcohol Detoxification Withdrawal
  • Hallucinations–will show this by being distracted, frightened, and disoriented.
  • Grand Mai Seizure is always a possibility.
  • DTs (delirium tremens)–develop anytime. Severe psychomotor activity, extremely agitated state (may act like brushing away crawling insects), incontinence, uncooperative, confused, talking and having a conversation when no one is there, diaphoretic, won’t know where they are. Once in DTs it takes 3-5 days to get out of it (21% die if they go into DTs and are not medically treated).
Intervention Services can guide, educate or be a resource to you, the one who is reaching out.  Essentially, Intervention Services is on hand 24 hours a day to help you to help your loved one who may be abusing drugs or alcohol.  If you have questions or need to speak with someone, understand that most of our employees are recovering professionals who can speak with you as someone who once abused drugs themselves.

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