How to Detox from Alcohol Safely
Alcohol use is widespread, legal for most people, and socially acceptable. There’s a bar on every corner. Nearly every eating establishment, gas station, and grocery store sells alcohol. It’s almost impossible to get away from. We all know how to drink, but when that drinking habit becomes a problem, we may not know how to detox from alcohol safely.
Despite how prevalent alcohol use can be in society, it is still one of the most dangerous mind altering substances that human beings can consume. Alcoholism is a habit that tends to sneak up on people. They gradually increase their drinking to a point where they’ve lost sight of just how much alcohol they consume.
Heavy drinking for extended periods of time is classified as alcoholism. People who have become dependent upon alcohol are considered addicts, just like drug users. Like with any substance addictions, there is a withdrawal process when alcohol consumption stops. Alcohol withdrawal can be more dangerous than other types of withdrawal, and special considerations need to be taken to keep alcohol addicts safe throughout this process.
How Do I Know I Need to Detox From Alcohol?
If you have a problematic relationship with alcohol, you may not realize how much or how often you drink. Since alcohol is as easy to find as water, you don’t typically have to chase it down. It’s also not nearly as expensive as street drugs, so some alcohol addicts with reasonable incomes may not experience the financial strain that an opioid addict might experience when attempting to fund their habit.
Outside circumstances may not be the best way to evaluate whether or not detox is unnecessary, as problematic alcohol use typically does not involve such extreme circumstances as other addictions.
The best way to know whether or not detox will be necessary for you is by evaluating how you feel when it’s been half a day or so since your last drink. At this point, you might begin to feel anxious, irritable, or sick. Your mind tells you that you need to drink soon to make your body feel better. This is the most obvious way to self assess an alcohol dependency.
If you’re at a point where you’re eager to get rid of alcohol, you might fight your impulses and refuse to give in. While this mindset is the correct mindset for success, it may not be safe to go it alone.
A Timeline of Alcohol Withdrawal Symptoms
Detoxing from alcohol triggers a process called Alcohol Withdrawal Syndrome, or AWS. The symptoms and duration of AWS will vary from individual to individual. Usually, individuals who have partaken in regular heavy drinking for years will experience symptoms on the most extreme end of the spectrum. These symptoms may last for much longer. People who decide to take initiative to combat alcoholism soon into its beginnings may have an easier time with AWS.
Typical withdrawal will present with symptoms like depression, insomnia, tremors, chills, irritability, anxiety, nausea, and loss of appetite. Many people also report headaches, muscle aches, mood swings, and trouble concentrating.
Severe cases involve these symptoms plus other more significant systems that unfold over a longer timeline. Some people with severe alcoholism may experience a condition called delirium tremens (DTs) when they detoxify from alcohol. Delirium tremens is serious, and may involve seizures or hallucinations.
For both normal and severe cases, the same set of early symptoms will begin. They will graduate in intensity over the coming days, where the extent of the body’s dependence on alcohol will become much clearer.
Anywhere between 12 to 24 hours into the detoxing process, severe withdrawal may begin to trigger hallucinations. These hallucinations can be visual, but more often than not, they’re subtle. The sensation of uncomfortable textures on the skin even when nothing is touching it, or hearing noises that no one else hears is a sign that you’re experiencing alcohol withdrawal induced hallucinations.
Anywhere between day one and day two, seizures become a possibility. Anticonvulsant drugs or other anti seizure treatments may not work to combat these seizures. These seizures require constant medical monitoring to keep the patient safe.
At the end of day two and beyond, patients with delirium tremens may begin to experience an intense and dysphoric confusion, fevers, delusions, and intensified hallucinations. At this stage, patients may not know who they are or where they are. It is dangerous for these patients to be left alone.
Withdrawal Symptoms That Continue After Detox
Most people will completely detoxify from alcohol within a weeks’ time. Heavy users can develop a condition called Post-Acute Withdrawal Syndrome, or PWS. PWS differs from AWS because it continues long after alcohol has left the body and its immediate damage stops.
People with PWS will often experience mild withdrawal symptoms, including tremors, for an extended duration. Although rare, some people live with the side effects of PWS for up to a year without experiencing full relief from the condition. Most people find that PWS resolves within weeks or months.
Although medical monitoring can help people with PWS, it does not require the kind of constant medical supervision that AWS requires. Regular check ins with a healthcare professional are highly recommended, but daily care may not be an effective solution.
Can I Detox from Alcohol at Home?
Never, under any circumstances, attempt to detoxify from alcohol alone. If severe delirium tremens symptoms were to suddenly set in, you wouldn’t know how to get yourself help. A loved one seeking to help you may do their best or call a medical professional if you appear to be losing touch with reality or start having seizures, but any help that arrived would be late intervention.
These severe withdrawal symptoms cannot be prevented. If the body is going to react that way, that’s simply what will happen. Symptoms can only be treated as they arise, and immediate intervention requires the round the clock supervision of a medical professional who is adequately trained in caring for patients going through alcohol withdrawal.
It’s best to start detoxing with a medical care team around you. They can provide you with the things you need to safely manage your symptoms and follow the progression of their severity. If you were to have a seizure, a delusion, an episode of severe confusion, or a significant hallucination, the medical professional who has been monitoring you is already prepared to handle that situation.
Detoxing at an Inpatient Facility
Detoxing safely will never be an outpatient procedure. When most people make the brave decision to detox from alcohol and begin their recovery journey, they book a stay at a reputable inpatient facility. Many of them continue drinking up until the moment they arrive, in order to stave off the potential onset of withdrawal without medical supervision.
Rehabilitation facilities are equipped to intake patients who are under the influence or not fully “clean” when they first walk through the doors. They can and will take in patients who have begun to detox independently and found that the situation was too much to handle alone at home. You are not required to be at any particular stage of sobriety or intoxication to enter an inpatient facility. You can enter as you are in this very moment if you choose to do so.
The duration of a thorough detox will vary from patient to patient. Patients with mild PWS do not need to remain in an inpatient care setting for the duration of their PWS symptoms.
Do not be in a hurry to leave rehab as soon as you’re physically feeling better. If you don’t stay throughout the recommended duration, you may only find yourself returning.
Setting Yourself Up for Success
Once you’ve fully detoxified, the other stages of recovery need to begin. Removing the alcohol from your body does not remove the reasons why you chose to use it. It doesn’t eliminate struggles with willpower or emotional battles that make turning down a drink challenging. Withdrawal isn’t the rehabilitation – therapy is.
Inpatient rehabilitation facilities offer both group and individual therapy. Group therapy helps people to open up among their peers. Everyone in group therapy is there because they’re addicted to something. They’ve made poor choices. They’ve done things they’re embarrassed of. They face the same struggles you have faced. Sometimes, being able to speak candidly about your struggles among people who genuinely understand makes it easier to address the root of the problem.
Most people in recovery have things that they would prefer not to share in a group setting. Individual therapy provides the perfect time and place for alcohol addicts in recovery to discuss sensitive or private issues without fear of judgement or repercussion.
Your therapist can use this one on one time to create a functional plan with you. This plan will set you up for success upon your completion of inpatient rehab, and it will always involve some kind of aftercare. Even when you go back out into the world, the support and accountability doesn’t stop.
The safest way to detox from alcohol is to detox surrounded by medical professionals one time. You don’t want to have to go through detox two or three times, as the experience is intense and puts a lot of severe and unnecessary strain on the body. Detox with the full benefits of comprehensive alcohol addiction rehabilitation to prevent yourself from ever having to endure that experience again.