Having a drink is something a lot of people do after a long day of stressful work or errands. That’s not a problem, usually, but the constant need for alcohol to fuel you, to take care of your responsibilities, or to get through the day is another story. When your system needs alcohol to function, it is time to consider alcohol detox. It may seem like a drastic measure, but once you have lost control over drinking, its time to do something about it.
Detox is not a treatment, only a prelude or first step toward getting better. In detox, you just stop drinking alcohol. As your body uses up the traces left in your system, it goes through withdrawal. This is a sign that you are dependent on alcohol, maybe addicted. The withdrawal pains cause some to resume drinking, to abuse alcohol, but that will only make quitting harder later on.
Withdrawal is psychologically and physically uncomfortable. Alcohol is so addictive that stopping abruptly without professional help can even turn deadly. To move forward with your recovery and live a healthy life, a medically monitored detox might be necessary.
Do I Need an Alcohol Detox Program?
Alcohol detoxification is only possible once individuals recognize they have a problem and want to get better. If they can’t or won’t, then intervention by friends and family may be needed.
If you need alcohol to feel normal, you should seek help. If you can’t go a day without several alcoholic beverages, you should seek help. If waking up with a hangover or experiencing blackouts is common, you should seek help.
You may think you can detox at home, that all you need is willpower, but that is not always a safe option with alcohol. Suddenly stopping your alcohol consumption (cold turkey) is not recommended. The sudden shock to the system can be fatal. Enrolling in an alcohol detox program provides you with needed medical support as you go through withdrawal.
What Happens During Detox?
Here’s what you can expect during alcohol detox.
Alcohol Detox and Withdrawal
Staying away from alcohol is good for your health but stopping abruptly after drinking heavily for years is not safe. Tolerance for alcohol increases over time, requiring larger quantities just to stave off withdrawal, and even larger ones to feel alcohol’s desired effects. They no longer have the option to stop; they do need to have a drink to function.
Most of the alcohol you take in is broken down in the liver, metabolized, and leaves your body through urine, sweat, and saliva. If you drink about one standard drink per hour, you will feel happy and relaxed because some neurotransmitters in the brain are suppressed. This causes the good feeling.
More than one drink per hour, however, is more than your body can metabolize. More enters the bloodstream and goes to the heart, the brain, and other organs, causing symptoms of drunkenness such as difficulty walking, slurred speech, and memory gaps.
Alcohol Withdrawal Timeline
The withdrawal process begins when a person stops drinking. When the liver metabolizes ethanol, and the substance moves through the individual’s systems, the symptoms will start to show. It only takes 30 minutes to two hours for the body to ingest a serving of alcohol into the bloodstream. Between 12 to 24 hours after consumption, the alcohol can still be detected in the urine.
The alcohol withdrawal timeline begins eight hours after the last intake. Symptoms like shaking may be evident. Between 24 to 72 hours, the symptoms peak. People can experience hallucinations. Cardiac arrest is a possibility. Delirium can also take place.
Symptoms may start to get better after five to seven days, but psychological effects may continue without treatment.
Signs of Alcohol Withdrawal
Signs of Alcohol Withdrawal
Alcohol withdrawal symptoms begin once alcohol is out of the system. The symptoms can be psychological, physical, or both.
Withdrawal from alcohol disrupts the neurotransmitter gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA) that is related to the production of feelings. The GABA helps in the production of endorphins that cause a sense of well-being. Taking too much alcohol can cause GABA imbalance, resulting in:
- Heart palpitations
Alcohol also affects dopamine, which is linked to the body’s reward system. When the body develops a high tolerance to the substance, the brain is more dependent on alcohol to get feel-good neurotransmitters. When the person stops drinking, dopamine production also stops, causing withdrawal symptoms such as:
- Loss of appetite
- Mood Swings
Alcohol Detox Process
Detoxification aims to make sure that the person’s system returns to normal following extended use and abuse of alcohol. Individuals who have been drinking heavily for a long time can experience intense, even life-threatening side effects during detox.
This makes it crucial to have a medical professional carefully monitor and supervise your journey to sobriety to determine if medications or other life-saving interventions are needed.
Here’s what to expect when entering an alcohol detox center:
- An intake examination to ascertain the kind of support you will need. This includes blood work, taking your medical and drinking history, and tests of your mental and physical health.
- Detox support, including medication to keep you mentally and physically stable. There are approved medications for withdrawal symptoms — cravings, seizures — and to treat co-occurring mental disorders — benzodiazepines for anxiety.
- A nutritious, balanced diet with vitamins, minerals, and lots of water to stay hydrated.
- Encouragement to enter rehab after detox.