Alcohol Withdrawal & Detox
Overcoming alcohol addiction means first ceasing alcohol intake, and taking care of physical and chemical withdrawal symptoms.
Withdrawal symptoms can begin quickly after you stop drinking, and can be dangerous in an unsupervised setting.
Detoxing from alcohol means undergoing withdrawal from alcohol, but with the assistance of a prescribed medication, to substitute in place of the alcohol itself.
The substitute medication mimics the chemical effects of alcohol, meaning fewer symptoms are experienced.
Later, once detoxification is complete, it’s important to identify and address the root cause of the addiction itself, in treatment.
After alcohol intake reaches a certain consistency over time, tolerance is likely to increase, and dependence is likely to develop.
This means the brain and body have adjusted to the level of alcohol intake, and have changed the levels of other brain chemicals and hormones accordingly.
The body becomes used to receiving an amount of certain chemicals from an external source (alcohol). To compensate for this, the brain adjusts to produce less of these on its own.
As alcohol intake continues to increase, the brain again produces less of the neurotransmitters that regulate mood, motor function, and other key functions.
In this cycle, it can feel as though the only way to improve these factors, is to drink more alcohol. This is how physical and chemical dependence occurs.
Later, when we stop drinking, the brain and body must adjust once more to the change in alcohol intake. If someone has been drinking consistently over time, this will usually result in withdrawal symptoms.
To avoid these withdrawal symptoms or alleviate them, many will return back to alcohol use again.
And, as alcohol use continues over time, the time delay between ceasing alcohol intake, and the onset of withdrawal symptoms, will reduce.
At this point, we can say that the individual is physically addicted to alcohol.
Alcohol Withdrawal Symptoms
Physical withdrawal symptoms include:
- Agitation – As the alcohol begins to be processed and released by the body, without any further intake, the brain must re-find balance in its production of chemicals such as dopamine and serotonin. Until it does so, withdrawal symptoms of agitation, anxiety, heart rate fluctuation, and restlessness are common.
- Difficulty Sleeping – Chemicals such as serotonin aid sleep patterns, however these are at a low during withdrawal, and as such alcoholics in withdrawal will initially suffer from some difficulty sleeping, until fully detoxed.
- Night Sweats – Profuse sweating, typically experienced during the night, is your body’s attempts to release some of the alcohol in other ways. The liver processes only so much of the toxins ingested. Drinkers with a stronger alcohol problem, for a longer period, will usually experience more night sweats than a younger drinker, or an occasional binge drinker, for example.
- Nausea And Vomiting – Along with increased temperature and sweating comes symptoms of nausea, and sickness.
- Tremor or Delirium Tremens – Under alcohol withdrawal, motor function suffers, usually resulting in hand tremor, to varying extremes. More severe tremor symptoms, accompanied by mental confusion and autonomic nervous system hyperactivity, are called Delirium Tremens. This often occurs around 3 days after the last drink consumed.
The mental health issues that underlie the addiction itself will often surface during withdrawal period.
Many times, alcoholics are also suffering from co-occurring complex psychological complaints such as Borderline Personality, Schizophrenia, Bipolar disorder, etc.
- Depression -If you’ve previously been attempting to suppress (e.g.) sadness, grief, or depression symptoms, these will typically surface even more strongly again during the period of physical withdrawal symptoms.
- Hallucinations – Especially prevalent in those affected with liver issues such as fatty liver or cirrhosis. visual hallucinations can be very disturbing, but appear very real.
- Anxiety – Alcohol is a depressant, and dulls our day-to-day responses and reactions. When withdrawing from alcohol, any anxiety that would have been present previously, is heightened.
Alcohol Withdrawal Syndrome (AWS)
Alcohol Withdrawal Syndrome is the term used to describe the above collection of withdrawal symptoms, but experienced more quickly when you stop drinking.
Symptoms can be the same, but more severe in nature, and are usually seen in those with advanced alcoholism, or a drink problem built up over several years.
This will often be accompanied by more advanced physical symptoms of alcoholism, such as history of seizure, fatty or decompensated liver, or cirrhosis of the liver.
Alcohol Withdrawal Timescales
- Days 0 –> 1 – Agitation or anxiety symptoms usually begin within 6-12 hours following the last drink, along with other general alcohol withdrawal symptoms such as headache or nausea, as the body attempts to begin processing the alcohol from the body.
- Days 1 –> 2 – The usual onset of tremor, jerking and trouble with motor skills, is between days 1 and 2. In more severe cases, some may experience seizure during this period. Increased blood pressure, temperature, nausea, and sickness are also common.
- Days 2–> 3+ – Shakes and the possibility of seizure continue, if hallucinations or delirium tremens are likely, they will usually start during this period. Those with pre-existing non-alcohol related neurological issues, may experience exacerbated symptoms during this period.
What Is Detox?
Completing an alcohol detox means ceasing intake, and beginning alcohol withdrawal, but doing so with a medication that substitutes the effects of alcohol, and reduces risk of severe side-effects such as seizure or liver complications.
This is usually done under medical supervision and advice.
Home detox packages are available.
An addictions specialist nurse attends and oversees your detox, including withdrawal symptoms, offering initial support in person, and later, by telephone.
Whilst home alcohol detox can be a suitable option for those drinking less alcohol, or with unavoidable practical commitments, it’s not a cure for alcoholism, and in most cases we recommend a residential stay to deal more fully with alcoholism in your life, and its causes.
In the majority of cases, treatment for alcohol addiction in a residential clinic is safer, and more comfortable.
Your alcohol withdrawal symptoms are monitored, and adjustments can be made by clinicians to ensure your detox goes smoothly.
Residential alcohol detox offers safety in being physically away from your alcoholic triggers, and the stressors in life that would previously have caused you to turn to alcohol, to cope with.
Gaining the emotional breathing space to detox is one of the biggest advantages of residential treatment, and provides a greater chance for longer term success, than attempting to detox alone or in a community setting.
Detox As Part Of A Bigger Treatment Plan
Detoxing from alcohol is usually one step of a bigger plan, to tackle the psychological and lifestyle issues that have resulted in alcoholism, and its consequences in your life.
Following detoxification, most will progress onwards into a full alcohol rehab program.
Alcohol Treatment: Detox > Rehab > Aftercare
A full recovery from alcoholism usually takes place in 3 stages:
Detoxing from alcohol in a treatment clinic setting usually takes 7-10 days and both medical and addiction specialist staff are on hand throughout to assist.
After meeting with clinic staff and the medical team, most clinics will begin your detox medication shortly thereafter, depending on specifics.
Most spend the first few days of detox, resting more than normal, to give the body and mind a chance to find equilibrium again.
Adjustments can be made to tailor the detox process to your needs and symptoms and for most, this is a relatively comfortable experience.
After 3-4 days of initial rest, you’ll normally be asked to begin to take part in the daily activities in the clinic.
Even a small understanding gained from therapeutic work undertaken, can reap sizeable long term benefits.
Beginning a rehab program for alcoholism is the first step in earnest, toward long term alcohol recovery.
It’s a statement that you’re willing, and ready, to tackle the underlying issues that have kept you trapped in using alcohol as a coping mechanism, over time.
Rehab usually starts as soon as detox ends, and means taking part in an organised program of activities in a rehab clinic.
This will usually include:
- Therapeutic help, such as Cognitive Behavioural Therapy to help you identify core beliefs, patterns, and conditionings around alcohol.
- 12 step work, building a foundation for alcohol recovery based on the historically successful work of alcoholics anonymous.
- Holistic care and therapies such as reiki, reflexology, massage etc. Most residential clinics provide a variety of holistic therapeutic work. This provides a number of options to choose from, when planning your long term recovery work, and can help you realise the other options to release stress and tension, beyond turning to a coping mechanism.
- Physical exercise – any recovery from alcohol will include finding more balance in life between physical and spiritual, and learning to adopt exercise as a means to release stress and deal with issues that may previously have acted as triggers in your life. In treatment you’ll be encouraged to take part in regular exercise to reinforce this.
Learn more about alcohol rehab.
Rehabilitation from alcohol, for good, also means planning for the future.
Alcoholism tends to foster chaos in life, and most alcoholics suffer from a lack of structure, and a strong foundation in life, to grow from.
Solid aftercare planning in a residential treatment setting helps you evaluate what you’ve learned in the clinic, and lays out a plan to provide support for the future.
You’ll collaborate with your case manager, on a practical plan – for day-to-day life in recovery, and what that will look like, in practice.
More specialist forms of support can be set up at this point, and aftercare planning in Abbeycare is tailored to your needs, including location, following treatment.
Get more info on aftercare planning at Abbeycare.
- I’ve been detoxed before at home or in a clinic, can I be detoxed again?
We can assess your suitability for treatment individually as this will depend on a number of factors, unique to you. Generally, where you’ve undergone detox before, you should strongly consider a full residential rehab program to tackle the underlying psychology behind the pattern of alcoholism in your life.
- Can I self-detox, without any help?
We strongly advise against this. Detoxing or withdrawing from alcohol can be dangerous, no matter how confident you feel. Withdrawing can result in Delirium Tremens, and in some cases, seizure. The safest option is to seek supervised, professional treatment.
- What about detoxing at home?
Abbeycare do offer a home alcohol detox service.
However, there are a few important points to note. By it’s nature, detoxing at home, even with assistance, carries less supervision than being in the fully supported environment of a residential clinic.
Your safety is our top-most priority and as such, approval and acceptance rates for our home detox service tend to be less than our residential service.
- How long does it typically take?
Detox can normally be achieved within 7-10 days, for most. However, this depends on a number of factors personal to you, including, current and past alcohol intake level, dependency developed, pre-existing mental health factors, pre-existing medical conditions, and other factors such as age, gender, weight, etc
- I’ve been detoxed previously in hospital, can I undertake the remainder of the program in the clinic?
Usually, yes. In all cases your suitability for detox is assessed by Abbeycare on an individual basis, and we can discuss the specifics when you contact us.
- Is it ok to drink again, in moderation, after being detoxed?
It’s generally acknowledged by those in alcoholism recovery, that drinking in moderation is impossible, in most cases, due to the psychological associations, triggers, and use of alcohol as a coping mechanism over time.
Making a commitment to remain abstinent from alcohol, for good, makes it much more likely you’ll achieve long term recovery.
- What happens after detox?
If you’re detoxing in a supervised treatment setting, like a clinic, their rehab program will usually begin as soon as detox completes, if not before. This means taking part in a daily agenda of recovery activities, psycho-educational learning, and therapeutic input, to learn about your personal triggers for alcohol, and the underlying psychology behind your alcohol pattern.
- How much does it cost?
In some cases, alcohol detox can actually be cheaper in the clinic than at home.
Costs vary, depending on your length of treatment, and your needs. Two individuals drinking the same amount could need entirely different programs, depending on other factors. Please ring direct for personalised advice. Or, Abbeybot below can provide guideline pricing, subject to approval from our admissions and medical teams.
- Where are your clinics located?
- What are the success rates for detox?
Success rates are generally very high for alcohol detox, it would be very unusual for someone to not complete detox successfully.
Long term recovery from alcoholism depends on undertaking the rehabilitation work thoroughly, and following through on aftercare planning.
Your long term success is likely to be proportionate to the therapeutic work you’ve completed, the depth of your understanding of your addiction, and your follow-through on supports provided.
How To Book
To book alcohol detox or treatment, contact Abbeycare direct on 01603 513 091.