Alcohol Detox

Alcohol Detox
Approximately 2 million people in the US experience the symptoms of alcohol withdrawal each year. 1 An alcohol detox under medical supervision eliminates dangerous withdrawal symptoms. If you’re struggling with problems from drinking, the first important step to sobriety is a medically supervised alcohol detox. Let’s take a closer look at alcohol withdrawal and detoxification.

What Causes Alcohol Withdrawal?

Alcohol withdrawal takes place when a person reduces the amount or abruptly stops drinking alcohol after drinking for a long period of time (months or years).

Tolerance and physical dependence develop when someone drinks alcohol on a regular basis over a long-term period. Tolerance is the result that occurs when more and more alcohol is needed to gain the previous effects.

Physical dependence occurs when a person progressively drinks over an extended period of time resulting in brain chemistry changes. These brain chemistry changes result in the body and brain needing alcohol on a regular basis just to feel “normal” and to keep away “feeling sick”. When alcohol intake is reduced or suddenly stopped, neurochemical reactions triggered by malfunctioning brain receptors cause withdrawal symptoms to start. 2

What Are the Symptoms of Alcohol Withdrawal?

The number and severity of alcohol withdrawal symptoms depends on how long and at what level the person has been drinking. Also, if the individual has gone through withdrawals in the past, how many times that’s happened will play a role in how severe the current withdrawal will be. In only just two hours, withdrawal symptoms can start to appear, so it’s essential to have a medical detox already scheduled.
As the withdrawal proceeds, the following symptoms can occur: 3
  • 2 to 12 hours: tremors, profuse sweating, headache, nausea, anxiety, vomiting
  • 12 to 24 hours: hallucinations, confusion, the shakes, agitation
  • 24 to 48 hours: seizures, all prior withdrawal symptoms continuing
  • After 48 hours: Most symptoms start to ease considerably.

Delirium Tremens

In more serious cases, delirium tremens (the DTs) can occur. DTs can last from 4 to 12 days and involve:
  • Severe disorientation
  • Hallucinations
  • Seizures
  • Fever
  • High blood pressure
During alcohol withdrawal, a condition called excito-neurotoxicity develops as homocysteine levels rise to abnormal levels, making withdrawal symptoms worse. As the homocysteine levels rise, brain chemicals and toxins can accumulate in the brain, which can cause seizures and tremors.

What Are the Types of Alcohol Detox?

Medical Detox:

A medical detox is essential for health and safety reasons when withdrawing from alcohol. Medical detox controls the situation, allowing seriously uncomfortable and possibly lethal symptoms to be maanged by trained medical staff. Any emergency situation can be handled by the medical team already on hand in a supervised alcohol detox.

A Note on Home Detox:

A home detox is not recommended as medical complications could be severe or become fatal. Detox should be done with supervision to address complications throughout the process.

What Is Medical Detox and How Does it Work?

Medications

A medical detox manages alcohol withdrawal symptoms and prevents the DTs through medications dispensed under medical supervision. 4
  • Benzodiazepines: reduce and/or eliminate symptoms and safely prevent seizures.
  • Anticonvulsants: prevent seizures and convulsions
  • Antipsychotics: control agitation or psychosis

Nutritional Supplementation

Proper nutrition helps the detox process. Vitamins and nutritional supplements are given to help handle withdrawal symptoms. Effectively managing alcohol withdrawal can be helped by giving thiamine, folate and pyridoxine intravenously. 4 These nutrients are typically at low levels due to excessive alcohol intake. All of these medications and treatments must be done in a medical setting to monitor reactions to the drugs and make dosage adjustments as needed.