Alcohol is the single most abused substance on the planet. Due to its legality, many people use and abuse alcohol without a second thought. But what’s important to realize about alcohol is, despite it being legal, it is still a drug and can be highly addictive. Alcoholism impacts people worldwide. It is also ingrained in many cultures throughout the world, most particularly the United States.
Drinking culture dominates the media and pop culture, and binge drinking and alcohol addiction are on the rise. Alcohol is also one of the only drugs whose withdrawal process can actually be fatal, so understanding and recognizing alcohol addiction is important to detox safely. Undertaking the difficult process of alcohol withdrawal may be difficult, but is definitely not impossible.
What Causes Alcohol Withdrawal?
Alcohol is known to cause depressive effects on a person’s body, and it slows down brain function by changing the way nerves send messages back and forth. The central nervous system (CNS)adjusts to having alcohol in the system on a regular basis, over time.
The body works much harder to keep the brain in a heightened and awake state to keep the nerves from talking to one another. When the alcohol levels in the brain suddenly drop, your mind will continue in this heightened state. It is the cause of withdrawals.
Alcohol withdrawal is going to vary from one person to another, and most people are apprehensive when it comes to stopping the substance due to fear of withdrawal symptoms. Addiction specialists can provide prescription medications to help alleviate some of the worst withdrawals. With a reduction in these symptoms, the client can focus on getting sober. You should never let the fear of withdrawal symptoms prevent you from reaching out for help.
What are the Alcohol Withdrawal Symptoms?
During the alcohol withdrawal process, a number of physical and mental withdrawal symptoms will be experienced. Alcohol withdrawals occur if you have engaged in drinking large quantities of alcohol for weeks, months, or years at a time. These alcohol withdrawal symptoms can vary in frequency and severity depending on the length of time spent abusing alcohol as well as the quantity of alcohol that was being abused.
Consistent alcohol consumption results in full-blown alcohol addiction, even if you don’t realize that you are drinking alcoholically. Because alcohol withdrawal symptoms can prove to be fatal, identifying the symptoms can be the difference between life and death.
Some of the symptoms you may expect to experience are:
- Shaky Hands
- High blood pressure
- Racing Heart
How is Withdrawal Diagnosed?
If a physician believes you may have alcohol withdrawals, they will begin to question your drinking history, and when you abstained from the substance. They’ll want to know if you’ve ever experienced withdrawal before. They’ll discuss symptoms, and during an exam, they’ll look for other medical conditions to see if they could be to blame.
Acute Alcohol Withdrawal
Acute alcohol withdrawal occurs when you experience severe withdrawal symptoms. It is common in the first couple of weeks after you stop drinking. At this stage, you are at the highest risk of temporarily losing consciousness, having seizures, or developing delirium tremens (DTs), which is a life-threatening health complication that sometimes happens during alcohol withdrawal.
Due to the unpredictability of withdrawal, you must stay at a hospital or treatment center for tailored care. Medical professionals will examine the mental and physical health of their clients frequently throughout their stay to ensure symptoms do not worsen.
What are the Stages of the Alcohol Withdrawal Timeline?
If you begin the detox process, alcohol withdrawal symptoms may start to appear as soon as six hours after your last drink! With such a small window of time, it’s vital to seek medical care right away for your alcohol addiction. Much like other detox processes, apart from the potentially life-threatening symptoms, it can be very uncomfortable. Luckily, alcohol withdrawals last a shorter amount of time than for other substances, but again, due to the volatile nature, should not be taken lightly.
During this time, you should expect to experience more mild symptoms. Anxiety, insomnia, nausea, and vomiting are common symptoms felt during this time frame and may last throughout the detox.
At about 24 to 72 hours following the last drink, more severe symptoms will begin to manifest. A heightened body temperature, high blood pressure, racing heart, and confusion may occur. These symptoms may vary in severity, but should not be taken lightly as they are precursors to more intense withdrawal symptoms to come.
After 72 hours, the final set of withdrawal symptoms will arrive and last for the remainder of the five to seven day period. During this time, you may experience hallucinations, seizures, agitation, and fevers.
Over the remaining few days, symptoms will begin to decrease, until eventually subsiding altogether by the end of day seven following the final drink. While the detox process itself is relatively short-lived in comparison to other substances, the severity of these symptoms may prove to be too much for the body to handle and may result in permanent damage or even death!
Post-Acute Withdrawal Syndrome
Post-Acute Withdrawal Syndrome (PAWS) is a set of impairments that can drag on for weeks or months after stopping substance abuse. PAWS is similar to symptoms found in anxiety or mood disorders that include insomnia, mood swings, and increased levels of anxiety without signs of a stimulus.
After the initial alcohol withdrawal symptoms subside, many people will experience side effects for an undetermined amount of time. PAWS can occur after an acute withdrawal and make post-rehab extremely challenging for some. Depending on the severity of alcohol abuse, PAWS can last anywhere from weeks to a year.
Common Symptoms Include:
- Emotional outbursts
- Lack of energy
- Inability to sleep
- Problems with memory
- Prone to accidents
- Delayed reflexes
Why Should I Detox?
Since alcohol is one of the few detox processes that may result in long-term damage as well as even prove to be potentially life-threatening, detoxing in a medical detox facility is always advised. Detoxing yourself will not only be uncomfortable but dangerous.
By attending a medical detox facility, you’ll have access to a team of medical professionals there to monitor you 24/7. They’ll keep track of your vitals as well as provide a variety of prescription detox medications designed to prevent more severe life-threatening detox symptoms as well as decrease the discomfort experienced during the whole process.
Without the worry of life-threatening withdrawal symptoms and the potentially painful physical withdrawals, you can focus your attention and energy on the recovery portion!
What is the Next Treatment Step?
Taking the first step and going to alcohol addiction treatment is important. What’s more, it is always ensuring that you follow the full continuum of care when you do. The full continuum of care refers to following through each different level of care associated with alcohol addiction treatment from detox to outpatient. Each level lowers in the intensity of clinical intervention and allows clients to slowly regain their freedoms and responsibilities back without rushing them back into a situation where they may relapse. It is perfectly aligned to slowly progress them to a point where they can assimilate into the community at large with a solid foundation in recovery.
If you have been struggling with alcohol addiction and have made the decision to seek treatment, the first step on your journey to recovery is to attend a medical detox facility! As stated above, here, you will be assessed and monitored by a team of medical professionals. They will not only oversee your physical well-being during your stay but intervene should any life-threatening withdrawal symptoms appear.
While at the medical detox facility, apart from the surveillance provided by the medical team, access to psychiatric support will also be provided. In addition to the medical staff, therapists and other psychiatric support staff will be available to you 24/7 to help you overcome the mental symptoms and start treatment meant to help uncover the underlying causes for your alcohol addiction.
After completing the medical detox program, you will then go to an inpatient residential treatment facility. Here, more emphasis will be placed on the therapeutic aspect of treatment. You will undergo intensive full-time therapy to help you work through issues and the emotional aspect of alcohol addiction treatment. Typical stays are anywhere from 30 to 45 days but can be longer or shorter depending on your individual needs.
While here, you’ll learn different coping mechanisms and life skills that can help you later in recovery. You’ll be exposed to a variety of therapy and treatment methods designed to help you get to the root of your alcoholism and subsequent emotional issues.
You’ll live onsite at the facility with other recovering addicts and alcoholics. Together, you’ll stick to a strict schedule designed to foster an environment of recovery that will keep you focused on the task at hand. Having the separation from the community at large can help maintain an atmosphere of recovery free of outside distractions and triggers.
Following an inpatient treatment program, admittance to an intensive outpatient program (IOP) program is highly recommended. It is a therapy that takes place while you live either in a recovery house or at your own home. It provides a buffer between fully assimilating into everyday life, by providing continued therapeutic support and accountability to your continued sobriety, even after treatment ends.
IOP is only part-time but still requires fairly frequent attendance. IOP programs also require clients to submit drug tests continually to keep their patients on track. It helps allow the clients to have some freedom and responsibilities, but to make sure that emphasis is still being placed on recovery and complete sobriety is being maintained.
Outpatient is the final level of the full continuum of care. At this stage, you’ll be well past your alcohol withdrawal and into the final aspect of the alcohol addiction treatment. Recovery is a never-ending process that requires constant effort and vigilance, which is why outpatient is a great addition to the full continuum of care.
Outpatient typically takes place on an even less frequent basis than IOP. It is usually only one hour per week. However, that single hour still provides access to therapeutic and clinical support, and clients must engage in drug testing. This helps carry them through the final phase of alcohol addiction treatment and keep them on the right track as they learn to be self-sufficient in recovery.
By engaging in the entire treatment continuum, you not only avoid running into issues during the withdrawal process but greatly increase the success rate in your recovery. Continuing through all levels of treatment will help safeguard you against the ever-present potential relapse and keep you on track toward personal growth. If life-long recovery is your goal, participating in all aspects of treatment is your best bet for long-term sobriety.