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Alcohol Detox

Some alcoholics are able to stop drinking on their own without experiencing serious symptoms. Although alcohol is a legal drug, the withdrawal symptoms can be the most dangerous of any substance.

In addition to the uncomfortable side effects, alcohol withdrawal can lead to severe problems such as hallucinations, seizures and even death. This is especially true when the drinking has been long term and heavy. Depending on many factors, people respond in various ways to withdrawal, and severity can be difficult to predict prior to the cessation attempt. For this reason, the safest way to detox is in a medically supervised setting, especially for the individual who has had serious withdrawal symptoms in previous attempts to abstain from alcohol.

Individuals who have a history of multiple withdrawal episodes are also at a higher risk to develop more severe symptoms than those who have not.

Symptoms of withdrawal can include one or more of the following:

  • Increased sweating
  • Fever
  • Tachycardia, or increased heart rate
  • Headache/migraine
  • Depression
  • Derealization
  • Fear
  • Tremors
  • Insomnia
  • Nausea, vomiting and/or diarrhea
  • Psychosis
  • Hallucinations or illusions that involve sight, hearing, and/or sense of touch
  • Psychomotor agitation/restlessness
  • Anxiety
  • Grand mal seizures
How long do withdrawal symptoms typically last?
Withdrawal symptoms typically begin when blood concentrations of alcohol drop sharply. This can happen anytime between four and twelve hours after alcohol consumption has been reduced or stopped. Acute withdrawal symptoms are usually at their worst on the second day of abstinence, and in general improve noticeably by the fourth or fifth day.

Following the initial withdrawal period, symptoms of anxiety, insomnia and autonomic dysfunction may last for up to three to six months. Some people experience withdrawal symptoms for even longer periods.

Easing the pain of alcohol detox
Working with a doctor during withdrawal can help make the process as comfortable and safe as possible. Benzodiazepines are often administered to help lessen the symptoms and also to reduce the risk of the development of seizures. A doctor may also prescribe other types of drugs and recommend a regimen of vitamins that will help replenish nutrients that alcoholics are typically lacking.

It is very important that the individual work closely with and follow all instructions of a supervising doctor when using benzodiazepines and other prescribed drugs since cross addiction can easily occur.

For those who wish to attempt alcohol withdrawal outside the supervision of a medical professional, it is important to arrange to have a person nearby that can call an ambulance or transport to a medical facility should the severe symptoms begin to manifest. This individual should be educated on what warning signs to look for and emergency measures to take in the event that severe symptoms occur during alcohol withdrawal.