Most people who want to overcome their alcohol use disorder will need to take alcohol detox as the first step of their treatment. There are three steps to detox:
- Intake – A licensed and trained medical professional will perform a comprehensive interview to know more about a client’s alcohol use history and medical history. A psychiatric exam will also be conducted to assess the person’s mental health status.
- Detoxification – A period of around 48 hours where all traces of alcohol will be flushed out of the client’s body. This is typically when alcohol withdrawal symptoms will manifest.
- Post-detoxification – a stabilization period when the client may need to undergo further medical or psychological therapy to recover from alcohol withdrawal symptoms.
Whether the client is doing their detox at home or in a facility, the first 48 hours are the most crucial. Here is a timeline of what to expect during this period:
The first 48 hours is known as the acute withdrawal phase. This is usually when the most severe alcohol withdrawal symptoms occur, such as:
- Whole body tremors
- Auditory and visual hallucinations
- Profuse sweating
- Inability to regulate body temperature
After 48 hours, the client enters the early abstinence phase of their detox. The brain slowly readjusts to the loss of alcohol, and the body begins to regulate itself. Some of the symptoms include:
- Diminished appetite
- Mood swings
After early abstinence, people who have severe alcohol withdrawal symptoms can experience post-acute alcohol withdrawal syndrome (PAWS). This period includes prolonged side effects such as:
Consuming excessive amounts of alcohol regularly rewires a person’s brain. One of the things that can happen is that the connections between the neurons are disrupted, resulting in slurred speech.
Slurred speech can manifest in difficulty forming coherent sentences, or speaking in a slow and affected manner. This side effect can last for days or month during PAWS.
Impaired Brain Function
As the brain and body are trying to return to normal, various health issues can manifest. The person can have difficulty maintaining balance while walking, as well as lose their train of thought. Cognitive functions can also be impaired, which can make doing daily tasks difficult.
Other common psychological side effects include short-term memory loss and fugue.
Can Alcohol Withdrawal Kill You?
The short answer is yes, alcohol withdrawal can kill you. People who experience severe alcohol withdrawal symptoms can experience life-threatening conditions such as cardiac arrest and stroke. This is why medically-assisted detox in a facility is recommended for people who are heavily addicted to alcohol.
Types of Alcohol Detox
There are two types of alcohol detox: inpatient and outpatient. Inpatient detox and outpatient detox.
Who is Inpatient Detox For?
Inpatient alcohol detox involves staying at a detox facility throughout the duration of the process. Patients will be given medical supervision 24 hours a day, as well as a strict daily schedule. A patient will undergo various therapies that will help them during their detox, as well as counseling sessions to create new coping strategies. Most facilities also offer outdoor physical activities to help a patient regain their physical health.
During a patient’s intake assessment, a licensed professional will recommend inpatient treatment if they feel that detox can be too dangerous or difficult for a patient to do on their own. Typically, inpatient detox can take 7 to 14 days to complete.
Who is Outpatient Detox For?
Outpatient detox is for people who can manage their alcohol withdrawal symptoms at home. This is generally for those who have mild alcohol use disorder. Patients who undergo outpatient detox only need to travel to the facility to receive therapy, counseling, or medication. Afterwards, they will be allowed to leave so that they can rest and recover at home.
Outpatient detox is usually shorter than inpatient detox, with the average treatment lasting around seven days. However, it is not uncommon for treatments to last up to 14 days depending on the needs of the patient.
Medically-Assisted Alcohol Detox
When a person is experiencing severe and life-threatening alcohol withdrawal symptoms, medication can help ease these symptoms. Some of the medications used to treat alcohol withdrawal symptoms include:
- Benzodiazepines – these are the most commonly used drugs to help treat alcohol withdrawal symptoms. They are used to lessen the severity of the symptoms.
- Anticonvulsants – used to treat seizures and tremors caused by withdrawal. Includes divalproex sodium (Depakote).
- Barbiturates – used in cases of severe convulsions. Phenobarbital is the most common drug used, typically in addition to benzodiazepines.
- Beta blockers – helps regulate the patient’s heart rate and blood pressure if they are too high.
Medically-assisted detox is only done in inpatient settings under the supervision of a medical professional.
Finding the Right Alcohol Detox Facility for You
Recovering from alcohol addiction is never easy, but you don’t have to do it alone. Remember that there are people who will be with you every step of the day. Admitting that you need help is the first step in taking back control over your life.
If you or a loved one is struggling with alcohol use disorder, you can find help at the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism resource page.