If you or someone you love is battling an alcohol use disorder (AUD) and wish to overcome it, the first and most important step is to seek professional help and guidance. The decision to overcome your AUD is commendable. It is not an easy journey to embark on, but it is a necessary step if you wish to improve your quality of life.
The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA) defines alcohol use disorder as a chronic relapsing brain disorder characterized by an impaired ability to stop or control drinking despite adverse social, occupational, or health consequences. It is estimated that around 15 million people in the United States suffer from AUD.
Regardless of how severe your addiction may seem or how hopeless you may feel, it is important to remember that there is hope. Thanks to the advancements made in addiction treatment over the last few decades, patients now stand a better chance of long-term recovery than ever before.
While there is no one size fits all solution to treat AUD, effective treatment for alcohol dependence requires the use of medically assisted detox programs, inpatient or outpatient rehabilitation, and aftercare programs.
At Futures Recovery Healthcare, we provide our patients with individualized, evidence-based treatment programs that address the unique needs of each and every patient. Our compassionate and dedicated team of professionals are highly committed to helping you on your journey to recovery.
WHAT IS ALCOHOL DETOX?
The first stage of alcohol addiction treatment is the alcohol detoxification process. The National Institutes of Health (NIH) defines alcohol detoxification as a period of medical treatment that usually includes counseling, during which a person is helped to overcome physical and psychological dependence on alcohol. Alcohol detox is a serious and complicated process that requires the support, guidance, and medical care of physicians or addiction specialists. Alcohol detox should never be carried out on your own as it can lead to severe or fatal complications.
The detox process is considered the most difficult part of the recovery process. Most people avoid seeking help for their alcohol use disorder in fear of having to experience alcohol withdrawal syndrome (AWS). Alcohol withdrawal symptoms can vary in intensity from one patient to another. It’s caused during the cessation of alcohol consumption or during the gradual reduction of alcohol.
The detox process usually lasts seven to 10 days, and alcohol withdrawal symptoms typically subside within one to two weeks after you start to detox. However, some patients may experience it for much longer, depending on the severity of their dependence.
Symptoms of withdrawal can change quickly and aggressively, which is why it’s important to detox under the care of medical professionals. Treatment professionals at a rehab facility can help you manage withdrawals with the assistance of medications. Your doctor will determine the best level of monitoring and medical intervention you will require to keep you safe and stable during your treatment for alcohol dependence.
WHAT TO EXPECT DURING DETOX?
Detox programs provide people with a secure and encouraging environment to overcome withdrawals. Medical staff carefully assess the patient for any physical and psychiatric issues at the beginning of the detox process. During this assessment, an addiction specialist will gather information on a patient’s medical history, the severity of their addiction, and signs of any co-occurring disorder to help create a personalized detox plan for each patient. Patients will be carefully monitored throughout the process to ensure that symptoms of withdrawals don’t progress and the patient’s health isn’t compromised.
WITHDRAWAL SYMPTOMS DURING DETOX
The goal of a detox program is to help patients safely and effectively overcome alcohol withdrawal syndrome. The American Academy of Family Physicians outlines three potential stages of acute alcohol withdrawals.
- Stage one (mild withdrawals): symptoms include headache, insomnia, anxiety, hand tremor, gastrointestinal disturbances, alcohol cravings, and heart palpitations.
- Stage two (moderate withdrawals): symptoms include stage one mild symptoms in addition to increased blood pressure or heart rate, confusion, mild hyperthermia, and rapid breathing.
- Stage three (severe withdrawals): symptoms include stage two moderate symptoms in addition to visual or auditory hallucinations, seizures, disorientation, and impaired attention. Severe symptoms of acute alcohol withdrawal may require medical attention and treatment in a hospital setting.
Without medical treatment and supervision by a healthcare professional, these symptoms can progress rapidly.
Although uncommon, the most severe side effect of withdrawals is Delirium Tremens (DTs). DTs is a life-threatening condition that generally develops within two to five days after the last drink. However, this condition only affects around five percent of withdrawal patients. If left untreated, delirium tremens can cause a heart attack, stroke, or even death.
Symptoms of alcohol withdrawal typically subside within one to two weeks after abstinence from alcohol. However, some patients may experience it for much longer, depending on the severity of their dependence. Symptoms of alcohol withdrawal can change quickly and aggressively, which is why it’s important to detox under the care of medical professionals.
Treatment professionals at a rehab facility can help you manage alcohol withdrawal syndrome with the assistance of medication. Your doctor will determine the best level of care and medical intervention required for proper withdrawal management so that you are safe and stable throughout this process.
Withdrawing from alcohol symptoms is never easy. At Futures Recovery Healthcare, we understand just how difficult and complex this step of recovery is. Our goal at Futures is to help you achieve a long-lasting recovery through our medically assisted detox programs and comprehensive treatment plans.
FACTORS THAT INFLUENCE A DETOX TIMELINE
There are many factors that determine the duration of your detox process, including:
- The severity of your dependence
- The duration of alcohol abuse
- History of relapses
- Patient’s medical history
- Patient’s age and weight
- Polydrug abuse
- Nutritional deficiencies caused by AUD
- Symptoms of a co-occurring disorder
MEDICALLY ASSISTED DETOXIFICATION
In order to help patients cope with withdrawals, doctors may prescribe medications as and when necessary as part of the detox process. Medications such as benzodiazepines, anticonvulsant medications, and barbiturates help manage AWS so patients can effectively and safely overcome the detox process. Benzodiazepines that are specifically approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to treat AWS include:
Benzodiazepines can significantly reduce the risk of seizures, anxiety, and panic attacks.
Besides benzodiazepines, doctors sometimes prescribe anticonvulsant medications to help manage withdrawals. Some of these medications may include:
- Valproic Acid
Depending on the severity of withdrawals, anticonvulsant medications may either be used as a replacement for benzodiazepines or together with benzodiazepines. However, these medications don’t necessarily prevent DTs or grand-mal seizures. Barbiturates, on the other hand, are typically used in patients who are resistant to benzodiazepines.
Some of the benefits of medical detox include:
- Medical stabilization
- Peer support
- A safe and structured environment
- Relapse prevention
- Therapeutic intervention
- Family support
- Long-term treatment
WHAT IS THE RIGHT DETOX PROGRAM FOR ME?
This question is best answered by an addiction specialist or your doctor. A medical professional is better equipped to help you make the right choice depending on the severity of your AUD and other factors that can hinder your recovery process.
Inpatient care with a medically assisted detox program is an ideal choice for patients who are:
- Diagnosed with moderate to severe AUD
- Have a history of relapse
- Experiencing signs of a co-occurring disorder
- Lacks a strong support structure
- Living in an environment that does not support recovery
Patients who are diagnosed with a mild form of dependence are able to detox from their homes. This form of detox is known as self-detox. Self-detox does not mean you can go at it alone. People who chose to self-detox are highly advised to detox under the care and supervision of a loved one due to the unpredictable nature of withdrawals. Patients who are detoxing at home will be required to make regular visits to their physician or outpatient clinic so their progress can be closely monitored. If withdrawals become severe while self detoxing, patients must seek immediate medical attention.
LIFE AFTER DETOX
Once you overcome your withdrawals, you will be advised to seek further treatment through an inpatient or outpatient program. These treatment programs will help patients address the psychological aspect of their addiction through behavioral therapies, counseling, and support groups.
If you or someone you love wish to seek treatment for AUD, reach out to our staff at Futures. We are here to help.