More than 80 percent of the U.S. adult population has consumed alcohol at some point in their lives, according to the 2015 National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH), a statistic that shows just how common it is for people to access liquor.
The legal substance is easy to buy, and its social acceptance makes it easy to hide when one has a drinking habit that has turned into an alcohol use disorder. Alcohol also isn’t as costly as other drugs, even illegal ones, which only enhances its appeal.
Many people overindulge in drinking and think they can stop whenever they are ready. But that’s not true for people whose drinking habit has turned into an alcohol use disorder, or AUD, a condition that affects at least 16 million people in the United States, according to data cited by the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA).
AUD is defined by the current Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM) as a chronic relapsing brain disease typically characterized by compulsive alcohol use, an inability to control one’s alcohol intake, and a negative emotional state when someone is not using. Someone with AUD has built up a high tolerance to alcohol over time, and often, they have a difficult time controlling their drinking. A high tolerance means more and more alcohol must be consumed for the drinker to become intoxicated.
AUD can be mild, moderate, or severe, according to the NIAAA, but even a mild AUD can lead to problems that require treatment. As tolerance grows, so does the body’s dependence on alcohol. If left untreated, AUD only worsens.
At some point, there are drinkers who realize they have a serious problem with alcohol and want to stop. They may try to stop on their own in their desire to be sober, which means they may either suddenly stop drinking altogether (quitting “cold turkey”) or attempt an at-home alcohol detox so they can clear their systems of the substance. Both of these approaches are the wrong way to end alcohol dependence. The unpredictability of alcohol withdrawal symptoms makes both of these dangerous to do.
People who are addicted to alcohol likely will experience withdrawal symptoms once they stop drinking. That’s because the body and brain have become dependent on alcohol. When alcohol intake stops, the brain tries to adjust to the chemical changes and this causes side effects for the drinker.
MedlinePlus advises that alcohol withdrawal symptoms can happen within eight hours after the last drink though they can occur as early as two hours after. Withdrawal also can happen days later, so this varied timetable illustrates how unpredictable this period can be. Symptoms can peak in 24-72 hours and ease up over time. However, while the withdrawal period decreases, symptoms can suddenly worsen without warning.
The severity of alcohol withdrawal symptoms depends on several factors, including:
Sweaty, clammy skin
Unhealthy pale appearance
Sleeping difficulties (insomnia)
Rapid heart rate
Severe alcohol withdrawal can result in Delirium tremens (DTs), which can start two to five days after the last drink. Symptoms include:
This condition, also known as “the shakes,” “the horrors,” “the bottle ache,” or “seeing pink elephants,” among others, is considered the most dangerous effect of alcohol withdrawal and affects a small percentage of the drinking population. People who are most susceptible to developing Delirium tremens are those who drink considerable amounts of alcohol for long periods and then suddenly deplete their systems of it. The U.S. Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) defines heavy drinking as 15 drinks weekly for men and eight drinks weekly for women.
When alcohol withdrawal occurs, the brain’s neurotransmitters are disrupted, which results in seizures, tremors, and other conditions. According to HealthLine, treatment for alcohol withdrawal delirium can be treated by intravenous fluids, anticonvulsant medications to prevent or stop seizures, sedatives to calm agitation and anxiety, antipsychotic medications to prevent hallucinations, medication for other related symptoms, such as fever and body aches, and rehab to help curb drinking.
The idea of an at-home alcohol detox may appeal to people who:
Attempting to detox from alcohol at home means you won’t receive the medical attention needed to address serious withdrawal symptoms. Seizures related to alcohol abuse can be fatal.
The tricky part of alcohol withdrawal is trying to determine how long symptoms will last or how severe they will be. This is not a guess that should be taken in the comforts of one’s home, especially when it is not necessary. An at-home alcohol detox almost guarantees no one with medical expertise will be around to help in the ways that are needed. This also places a burden on family members, friends, and other loved ones who may have your best interests at heart but don’t know how best to help you. Get medical help from a professional.
Alcohol addiction, like other addictions, affect more than just the physical body. Psychological dependence is harder to break once all the physical symptoms have subsided. Even if one successfully detoxes from alcohol at home, the person will not have had the therapy that gives recovering alcohol users the tools to address their addiction properly. This counseling takes place in a treatment program after a medical detox. Without tools in hand, this means the drinker who detoxed from alcohol at home is at a higher risk of going back to abusing alcohol because they are not aware of how to respond to cravings or triggers that can set off cravings. A return to using is called a relapse, and it can end in permanent injury or death as the person may drink too much and overdose.
Detoxing from alcohol without the help of a professional rehab keeps people disconnected from the programs they need to be successful in remaining sober. Professional facilities are connected to resources that are there to help people stay on the path of sobriety. No one can do this alone. Aftercare services help people in recovery find support, employment, transitional housing, supportive medical and mental health care professionals, and more. Withdrawal can be hard on the body and the mind. The health complications that can occur during alcohol withdrawal are unpredictable. Without having medical professionals on board who can help manage this period, a person really is taking their life into their own hands.
Entering a medical detoxification (detox) program at licensed alcohol or drug rehabilitation facility ensures that people in alcohol withdrawal are kept as safe as possible as alcohol and any other toxins are removed from their systems. The risks of having an alcohol-related seizure are high for two to five days after the last drink is consumed.
This process, which may involve a tapering schedule and medications, is monitored around-the-clock by medical professionals who know what people in recovery are up against when they go through this tough period, which can consist of unbearable cravings, nightmares, hallucinations, insomnia, and other conditions. It can be reassuring to know they are available to oversee the process and handle any unexpected medical emergencies that may happen during this critical time. Detox can last anywhere from three to 10 days or longer depending on the severity of the addiction.
Detox is also the first stage in enrolling alcohol-dependent clients into a treatment program that helps them address the psychological effects of addiction. The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration outlines the three steps of drug detoxification.
The first step is an evaluation that assesses the severity of the addiction and one’s physical and mental health. Once the information has been reviewed, then an individualized treatment plan is created. The second step is stabilization, which is when clients receive help for acute intoxication and withdrawal so they can become medically stable and substance-free. The third step involves giving the client the information needed to help them prepare to enter a treatment program.
An inpatient or residential program where they can focus on their addiction in a supportive, structured, and 24/7-monitored environment for 30 days or more depending on the severity of their addiction. Here, they will receive therapy to address the root of their addiction.
An intensive outpatient program (IOP) that allows them to attend a rehab-based program for weekly intensive therapy but does not require them an overnight stay at the facility. This more-affordable arrangement can last three months or more.
These programs can offer access to therapies and services such as:
When alcohol addiction treatment is completed, clients can receive additional help from aftercare services that keep them in touch with their sobriety goals and reduce their chances of having a relapse, which is a real possibility for people in recovery. Relapse happens to 40 percent to 60 percent of people in recovery, including those who have received treatment, NIDA reports.
The effects of alcohol addiction can last long after acute withdrawal has ended, so some people continue with medical care and ongoing therapies to help manage post-acute withdrawal symptoms, or PAWS.
Once alcohol abuse has reached addiction level, you likely will need professional help to fight back against it. If you or someone you know is thinking about going this dangerous route, reconsider and call us to find a medical detox program that can help you or your loved one right away. You will be in a safe environment with knowledgeable professionals who know how to help you avoid overdose and relapse.
Treatment programs at Delphi Behavioral Health Group’s facilities provide unique therapy and counseling methods for certain addictions. They are designed to allow you to receive the daily support of the facility’s staff and your loved ones when you return home. Our treatment centers provide just what’s needed for community, counseling, and support throughout the day so clients can apply the lessons they learn to their lives everyday life. Give us a call to discuss you or your loved one’s options today.
Center for Substance Abuse Treatment. (2006). “Detoxification and Substance Abuse Treatment. Rockville (MD).” Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (US) (Treatment Improvement Protocol (TIP) Series, No. 45.) 1 Overview, Essential Concepts, and Definitions in Detoxification. Retrieved June 2018 from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK64119/
National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. (n.d.). Alcohol Use Disorder. Retrieved June 25, 2018 from https://www.niaaa.nih.gov/alcohol-health/overview-alcohol-consumption/alcohol-use-disorders
National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. (June 2017). Alcohol Facts and Statistics. Retrieved June 25, 2018 from https://www.niaaa.nih.gov/alcohol-health/overview-alcohol-consumption/alcohol-facts-and-statistics
HealthLine. (n.dn.) “Alcohol Withdrawal Delirium.” Retrieved Jun 2018 from https://www.healthline.com/health/alcoholism/delirium-tremens#treatment