Alcohol addiction is a serious and prevalent issue in the U.S., affecting nearly 30 million people aged 12 and older. If you are struggling with this affliction or you know someone who is, then you’ve seen firsthand how physically, emotionally, and mentally debilitating it can be. A detoxification program can help individuals with an addiction safely and effectively rid their bodies of the toxic substance it’s harboring. A medical detox program is led by licensed healthcare professionals and may include the use of prescription medications designed to alleviate related symptoms.
Through this process, addicted individuals can find the help and support they need to eliminate alcohol from their system and keep it out for good. Today, we’re taking a closer look at how it works and why it’s such an important step in the recovery process.
Understanding the Alcohol Withdrawal Process
When someone suffers from a substance abuse disorder, the withdrawal process is often the most difficult part. This is the time in which the individual stops or significantly cuts back on using the substance in question, whether that’s alcohol or illicit drugs.
While this transition can be painful in any circumstance, it’s especially hard for those addicted to alcohol. The symptoms of alcohol withdrawal can begin as early as six hours after you’ve had your last drink. At that time, they’re usually relatively mild and may include:
Around 12 to 48 hours after someone with an alcohol addiction stops drinking, the withdrawal symptoms can become progressively worse. At this time, they can include:
- Changes to sight, hearing, and touch
As your withdrawal timeline continues, you may begin to see, hear, or even feel things that aren’t there. While this can begin as early as 24 hours after you stop drinking, more serious hallucinations set in around the 48-to-72-hour timeframe. At this time, individuals may experience what’s called delirium tremens, or DTs.
These are severe withdrawal symptoms that can include vivid hallucinations and intense delusions. While only affecting around 5% of people going through the phases of withdrawal, they can be very serious in nature, causing symptoms that include:
- Racing heart
- Heavy perspiration
- High blood pressure
It’s important to note that alcohol withdrawal symptoms can vary from one person to the next, especially in terms of severity, onset, and duration. While the reactions typically peak within the first two to seven days, they can last for up to two weeks or longer, especially in people who have severe, long-term addictions.
If you drink alcohol infrequently, then you may not experience these same symptoms when you decide to stop drinking. However, for those with an alcohol addiction, the withdrawal process can be incredibly painful and drawn out. This is where a medical detox can help.
What Is a Medical Detox?
For many people, a medical detox is the first step in recovering from a drug or alcohol addiction. As with any type of detoxification process, it involves ridding the body of toxic or addictive substances. However, the difference here is that all of the steps are performed under direct medical supervision, and they usually last just five to seven days.
A few of the different medical practitioners who can perform a medical detox include:
- An addiction psychiatrist
- A nurse practitioner (NP)
- Another doctor who specializes in addiction
If you suspect that you may be vulnerable to some of the withdrawal symptoms listed above, then a medical detox can help you work through this process in a safe and secure environment. This way, if you do experience a reaction that could harm you physically, someone can step in and provide immediate medical care to treat and reverse it.
In many cases, a medical detox includes the use of prescription medications. These medications are designed to help decrease cravings, alleviate painful withdrawal symptoms, and make the overall process more comfortable for the patient to manage. Only a licensed professional, such as a psychiatrist, doctor, or NP can prescribe detox medications.
Note that if medications are used, then they are only intended to be used in the short term. They are not meant to be a long-term solution to help people manage their alcohol addictions or withdrawals.
How Does It Work?
Medical alcohol detox programs can vary from one provider to the next. However, most will follow the same general process.
Throughout the medical detoxification period, a healthcare professional will closely monitor the patient’s vitals. This helps them make sure the patient isn’t continuing to consume alcohol and also allows them to track their progress and manage their symptoms.
Typically, these programs will take place in safe, high-security settings, such as hospitals and designated drug and alcohol detox centers. However, if you’re more comfortable going through the process in the comfort of your own home, this may be an option, too. Your physician can help you determine which level of care will be the best for you.
Benefits of Going This Route
If you’re struggling to overcome an alcohol addiction, you might wonder if you really need the assistance of a medical detox. However, most medical experts will recommend against stopping this substance cold turkey, and here’s why.
When you consume alcohol, it depresses your central nervous system. It makes it more difficult for the neurons in your brain to function, mostly by reducing their ability to send or fire electrical impulses. When this happens, it can slow down your overall brain function.
As you might imagine, this effect can also have a devastating impact on your major organs, including your liver. As an individual continues to drink alcohol over time, it can affect their brains and bodies to the point that they become physically tolerant to and dependent upon the substance.
Then, when someone suddenly stops drinking, the absence of alcohol can trigger the onset of the aforementioned symptoms. Here are a few of the most important reasons why you should go this route if you’re planning to recover from this particular addiction.
It Can Ease Symptoms
If you were to stop drinking on your own, you’d be required to feel every second of the withdrawal process. This can be a severely uncomfortable process, both mentally and physically. With a medical detox, you can work one-on-one with a healthcare professional who will coach you through the process.
In addition to sharing guidance and advice to help ease your pain, they may also prescribe medications, such as naltrexone, that can minimize your reaction to the withdrawal process.
It Can Help You Get Started
Is the fear of withdrawal preventing you from moving forward on your withdrawal journey? For many people, the idea of going through this difficult process is enough to keep them stuck in the throes of their addiction for much longer than they need to be.
It’s like a roller coaster, and you’re inching closer to the top with every breath. Your fear is mounting and you know what waits on the other side. To play it safe, you stay suspended mid-air, afraid to move another inch.
If this sounds like you, then a medical detox can give you the gentle push you need to take the next step forward. When you know that the withdrawal process won’t be as intimidating or overwhelming, it’s easier to get started.
It Can Keep You On Track
Another reason to consider a medical detox? You’re less likely to stop halfway through the process and pick up your unhealthy habits again. The threat of relapse is very real during this process, which may explain why 40% to 60% of individuals who undergo treatment for addiction or alcoholism relapse within one year.
With a medical detox, it’s not only easier to stay the course. It’s also easier to see the light at the end of the tunnel.
What can you expect after completing a medical detox for alcohol addiction? Again, it’s important to understand the potential for relapse and put steps in place to prevent it from occurring. Usually, your physician or addiction specialist will work with you to create a post-detox plan that clearly outlines the steps you should follow.
Your plan will be fully customized to fit your needs, taking into account several factors that can affect your detox success rate, including:
- Your history of alcohol use
- Your prior attempts to withdraw from alcohol
- Other unique physical and behavioral qualities
After detoxing, there are a few different ways you can stay on track with your recovery journey. These include:
- Attending regular group meetings
- Attending an outpatient treatment center
- Attending an inpatient rehabilitation center
- Working one-on-one with a private addiction therapist
- Working with a recovery/sober coach
The overarching aim of all of these programs is to help you identify triggers that may lead you to drink. At the same time, you’ll also learn how to address the underlying issues that lead to your addiction, along with coping skills to help you sustain your recovery.
Find a Medical Detox Program for Alcohol Addiction
Now that you know a little more about how a medical detox program works, are you interested in finding one that can help you work through your alcohol addiction? The withdrawal process can be incredibly hard, but it’s an important part of your journey to recovery.
At Detox to Rehab, we’re here to help you discover the programs and treatment options that work for you. If you need immediate help or support, call us at (866) 578-7471. You can also contact us online to learn more!