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Alcohol Detox

Clinically Reviewed By Dan Schimmel, LCSW, CAP
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What is Alcohol Detox?

Alcohol detox or detoxification is a medical process where an alcoholic is weaned off the potentially dangerous side effects of sudden alcohol cessation with medication and a long-term treatment plan to ensure continuing recovery of mind and body.

Putting down the last drink can lead to dangerous withdrawal symptoms for an alcoholic. Studies have shown that between 5-25% who go thru serious alcohol withdrawal die from the ordeal. Don’t be a hero and die alone. Seek professional help when detoxing.

Sudden alcohol cessation causes dangerous withdrawal symptoms like delirium tremens. In inpatient detox, medical professionals often substitute drugs like benzodiazepines that have similar effects to that of alcohol to prevent uncomfortable withdrawal symptoms. Following detox, a facility will often have other forms of treatment and therapy to guide the recovering alcoholic to maintain sobriety and avoid relapse.

Stages of Alcohol Withdrawal

Alcohol withdrawal is not limited to the first few hours after putting down the last drink. Complications can stretch days to weeks after cessation.

In the initial days or weeks, an alcoholic might suffer from acute alcohol withdrawal syndrome with side effects such as:

  • Delirium Tremens or “DTs”
  • Seizures
  • Loss of consciousness
  • Visual & auditory hallucinations
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Insomnia
  • Convulsions

The second and longer stage running weeks to as much as a year into cessation, a chronic alcoholic can experience Post-Acute Withdrawal Syndrome or PAWS marked by symptoms such as:

  • Irritability
  • Emotional outbursts
  • Anxiety
  • Low energy
  • Dizziness
  • Intense Cravings
  • Chronic nausea

Science & The Meds

Alcohol mimics neurotransmitters in the brain like gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA), slowing down neural processing that leads to relaxation, sociability and sleepiness. With a chronic drinker, the brain does not produce enough GABA and neurons misfire, causing withdrawal symptoms like shaking and a rapid heartbeat.

In detox, medical professionals administer medications that activate GABA receptors and regulate the firing of neurons in the brain. This lessons dangerous withdrawal symptoms. These medications may include benzodiazepines such as Librium, Valium and Ativan. Antiepileptic and sedative-hypnotic sleep aids are other medications that may be used in a professional detox facility.

The science is in. Alcoholism literally rewires the brain. Drinking, for some, can progress from a few buzzy beers around the barbecue to heart failure and death when attempting a detox solo. If you feel you show some of the red flags of alcoholism, seek professional help and treatment. If you would like to be the hero of your own story and need help finding a treatment facility, please contact us.


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