Alcohol Detox

Alcohol Detoxification Defined

Detoxification is the process of returning a heavy drinker’s system to normal after extended abuse of alcohol.

Detoxification is a period of medical treatment, usually including counseling, during which a person is helped to overcome physical and psychological dependence on alcohol.

– National Institutes on Health

People who have been drinking heavily for a long time are more likely to experience negative side effects, some of which can be dangerous.

Prolonged alcohol abuse can lead to tolerance and biological changes that create a false homeostasis. Disrupting this balance and restoring the user to a healthy state is a process as essential as it is delicate.

The Process of Detoxification

Alcohol detoxification is the preparatory step before a longer treatment program. Detoxification can be safely performed at both inpatient and outpatient facilities, but round-the-clock medical monitoring is recommended for heavy users. In most cases, the detox process involves three steps:

  1. Intake. The medical team will do a comprehensive review of drug, medical and psychiatric histories of incoming patients to fully understand each situation.
  2. Stabilization. The patient undergoes medical and psychological therapies to help them reach a balance of mind and body.
  3. Medication. Many detoxification programs include medications that mimic the effects of alcohol to mitigate withdrawal symptoms. Medications may also target co-occurring disorders or general discomfort.

Although medically assisted detox limits some of the negative side effects the user experiences, some are unavoidable. Some of these unpleasant side effects may include:

  • Nervousness or anxiety
  • Insomnia
  • Nausea
  • Muscle weakness
  • Mood swings

Drugs Used in Alcohol Detox

Part of the detox process includes keeping the patient’s system in balance and avoiding major physiological upsets. Sometimes medications are necessary to do this. Benzodiazepines are commonly used for alcohol treatment because they reduce alcohol withdrawal symptoms and also prevent alcohol withdrawal seizures. Seizures are one of the most common causes of fatality in alcohol withdrawal.

While benzodiazepines have been proven effective in treating or preventing certain symptoms of alcohol withdrawal, it is imperative that a recovering alcoholic only use medically recommended amounts of the drugs. Benzodiazepines are addictive substances in their own right, and use should be closely monitored.

Dangers of Detoxing Alone

Especially in the cases of long-term alcohol abusers, detoxing cold turkey can be dangerous and even fatal. Although rare, some of the severe side effects of alcohol detox include:

  • Seizures
  • Aspiration pneumonia
  • Heart arrhythmias
  • Kidney or liver dysfunction
  • Fever
  • Extreme nausea
  • Hallucinations

It is always recommended to seek medical attention for an alcohol detox to mitigate these side effects.

Life After Alcohol Detox

Detox is merely the first step of treatment for people trying to overcome their alcohol addiction. Ridding the body of alcohol will not cure alcoholism, but rather clears the mind and heals the body so the addict may pursue full treatment.