What is alcohol detox in a hospital?

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What is alcohol detox in a hospital? 

Alcohol detox in a hospital means clinically managing the detoxification process. When someone decides to quit alcohol use, they must go through alcohol detoxification.

What makes the detox from a hospital setting different is that the hospital setting is sterile and efficient at providing you with the medication you need to safely detox.

Detox is the first phase of alcohol addiction treatment. Once you complete detox, you will be able to proceed to the next phase of treatment with a clear mind. 

There are various treatment options for detox. For instance, you can detox from home, at a rehab centre, or in a hospitalised setting.  

The only problem with detox in a hospital is that the medical team handles alcohol like any other disease. You will not get the care and support that you need to go complete addiction treatment.  

Some hospitals might offer counselling services during your detox stay at their facility. But once the detox is over, there are no after-care services. 

Incidences of recovering alcoholics showing up at the emergency room are common.

Most people who show up at the ER either attempted detox independently or an alcohol-related health issue occurred that required immediate attention.

Several studies prove local hospitals are the first point of care for alcoholics [1].  

In a study carried out by Thomas Phillips, Simon Coulton, and Colin Drummond showed that a disproportionately high number of patients who showed up in the emergency room had an alcohol use disorder or a chronic alcohol use disorder [2]. 

Read about alcohol detox treatment in this Abbeycare guide.

Do hospitals do alcohol detox? 

Yes, hospitals do alcohol detox. But you need to meet the requirements for admittance. They include: 

  • The severity of the alcohol abuse. If the alcohol addiction is not severe, you will be referred to another treatment centre. 
  • Whether or not the patient medical observation. If the patient is experiencing acute withdrawal symptoms, they will be shifted in a non-intensive care setting. 
  • A doctor's assessment if you need medical detox. 
  • A positive urinalysis and blood tests for blood and alcohol. 

These guidelines are set to ensure that only those in urgent need of alcohol detox get it in a timely manner. If you do not meet these guidelines, you should consider going to an addiction treatment facility.

The UK's treatment improvement protocol recommends that moderate alcohol abuse be treated in a community setting unless the individual risks developing seizures [3]. 

Once you are admitted, the medical care team will: 

  • Screen and assess you 
  • Manage the symptoms of alcohol. 
  • Escalate care where necessary. 
  • Offer consultation support. 

At the hospital, the medical team handles alcohol detox as just another health condition.

They offer treatment for a few days then release the patient. Hospitals also have mental health wards for patients that exhibit psychiatric issues. 

What is alcohol detox like in hospital? 

Alcohol detox in the hospital involves working with the medical team to get the alcohol toxins out of your body. You can approach the detox process as an outpatient or inpatient.

During an outpatient process, your GP will prescribe certain medications to help you manage the alcohol withdrawal symptoms. 

You get a high dose of medication on the first day you stop drinking alcohol. After that, the dose gradually reduces as the withdrawal symptoms subside.

As an outpatient, you will be required to attend the medical facility for several hours a day or week. Your GP may use a breathalyser to confirm that you are not drinking. 

If you opt for outpatient treatment, it is better to have support to help you through the process. This can be a family member or a friend. 

Alternatively, you have the inpatient option where you stay in a non-intensive care unit at the facility. The care professionals supervise the detox process. 

So the medical team will check your vital signs and intervene in case you develop dangerous symptoms such as delirium tremens (DT's). 

Some people find it easy to detox in a hospital, whereas others find it challenging. You may feel anxious during the first few days. You may have trouble getting off to sleep, and you may struggle with moderate to severe withdrawal symptoms.

The symptoms of alcohol cause discomfort and distress if the alcoholism is chronic. 

Some of the common withdrawal symptoms are: 

  • Rapid heartrate 
  • Nausea and or/vomiting 
  • Headache and insomnia 
  • Mood swings 
  • Shaky hands 'tremors.' 
  • High blood pressure 

The medicines used to detox during an outpatient are like those used during an inpatient. Once the detox is complete, you will be prescribed medicines to help you manage alcohol cravings. 

How long is alcohol detox in hospital? 

Alcohol detox generally takes about five days. The withdrawal symptoms can take about 2 to 6 hours after your last drink when you quit drinking. These withdrawal symptoms vary from one individual to another. 

Factors such as your unique physiology and the amount of alcohol you regularly consume affect the severity of the withdrawal symptoms timeline.

Therefore, once your alcohol use disorder is clinically reviewed, your GP will be able to determine how long you will be required to detox. 

When you are admitted to a hospital, the medical team will oversee the withdrawal symptoms. The serious withdrawal symptoms begin about the second day after you quit drinking.  

At this stage, one of the hospital staff will monitor your symptoms. The medical team will be checking to see if you develop any dangerous withdrawal symptoms such as delirium tremens (DTs).

Delirium tremens is uncommon and only affects 3-5% of the population.  

This alcohol withdrawal symptom can cause seizures, hallucinations, confusion, disorientation, fatigue, plus other symptoms.

Most people experience mild to moderate alcohol withdrawal symptoms. Only cases of chronic alcoholism can extend for longer than 7 days. 

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Is a hospital detox a medical detox? 

In most instances, hospital detox does entail medical detox. Medical detox refers to the use of drugs to help relieve the symptoms associated with detox.

The hospital environment provides a safe environment for the alcohol detox process as the individual is free from the temptation of alcohol. This environment is easier and safer than trying cold turkey. 

The goal of the medications provided during medical detox is to ease symptoms associated with detox. Benzodiazepines are the first line of treatment during alcohol detox.

These medications help with managing the alcohol withdrawal symptoms. Lorazepam is the main benzodiazepines choice for alcohol detox. 

You will also get anticonvulsants, such as carbamazepine, to help manage mild to moderate alcohol withdrawal symptoms. Antipsychotics may be moderately used for those struggling with delirium. 

Relapse prevention medicines like naltrexone or acamprosate may be administered after detox to alleviate alcohol cravings. Most patients experience intense cravings after detox, and acamprosate helps to prevent relapse. 

Nalmefene is another type of drug administered to people who are alcohol dependent. This medication is mainly used for people who use more than 60g alcohol per day (for men) and more than 40g per day (for women). 

When a person struggling with alcohol abuse is administered at the hospital, they may undergo a rapid alcohol detox process. With rapid alcohol detoxification, the patient is put under anaesthesia. 

Next, the medical professionals administer IV medications to complete the detox process in about 4 to 6 hours duration. 

The treatment protocol developed by the substance abuse and mental health services administration (SAMHSA) offers guidelines on the best practice for the prevention of substance abuse and mental health disorders [4].  

SAMHSA agrees that medical detoxification does not signify the end of treatment. Rather, detox prepares the individual for the next phase, which is to start therapy. 

Hospital to home detoxification 

The main difference between hospital to home detoxification is that at the hospital, you get medical attention. The hospital setting is a safe and sterile environment for you to complete alcohol detoxification process.  

You get additional benefits such as continuous monitoring and assessment. Since the withdrawal symptoms may change from mild to severe, a hospital setting provides you with frequent reassessment of the symptoms.  

The presence of the medical provider also benefits you as they help you manage the symptoms. This protects you from developing life-threatening symptoms. 

Although you can get medically assisted detox at home, the hospital setting gives you the benefit of medical supervision.  

You get 24/7 supervision at the hospital, which helps alleviate your anxiety and your loved ones.

Since detox at the hospital is medically assisted, you are likely to remain physically stable as the medical provider monitors the alcohol withdrawal process. 

Most people struggling with alcohol and substance abuse have co-occurring conditions. Most may be struggling with mental health conditions such as depression, anxiety, or other psychiatric condition.

Seeking treatment at a hospital setting provides them with the chance to get treatment for these other co-occurring conditions. 

Best treatment option: Home or Hospital detox? 

Home detoxification is suitable for people who struggle with mild to moderate alcohol abuse. This treatment option offers you the benefit of being treated within the comfort of your home.  

Some people may find the idea of going to a hospital or a rehab centre for addiction treatment a bit intimidating. To some, getting treatment from home provides the benefit of a safe and comfortable environment. 

However, before choosing between home or hospital detox, it is important to reach out to a treatment provider to determine which treatment plan is best for you.

Most treatment providers have their toll-free numbers listed on their websites. You can have an online chat with a certified addiction professional to help you assess your situation and decide whether home detox is better. 

Aside from the hospital setting, it is important to remember that there are numerous rehab centres available where you can go for alcohol addiction treatment.

Bear in mind that in a hospital setting, you do not get comprehensive care.  

The hospital does not offer other treatment services that are detrimental to your recovery journey, such as group therapy, family counselling, and other follow up services.

The follow up services are important as they offer you the necessary skills that you need to stay sober. 

If you are considering home detox, it would help to remember that the detox phase is dangerous and uncomfortable. A drug rehab or detox at a hospital facility are the safest places to safely detox.  

There are alcohol addiction organizations that provide at home rehab, for instance, Addictions UK. You can contact them to talk to a certified addiction professional for treatment advice.

Addictions UK will arrange for a medical detox for you that you can experience from home. 

When you opt for alcohol addiction services through the NHS, you face several challenges.

For starters, the hospitals are overwhelmed with patients, including patients with alcohol abuse and other alcohol related problems.  

Some studies show that the NHS is overwhelmed by the number of people seeking substance abuse treatment. 

Conclusion 

Alcohol detox is the most difficult process of addiction treatment. This phase leads to alcohol withdrawal which can cause discomfort and even pain depending on the severity and duration of alcohol use.

If you have decided to stop drinking, then you can get detox at a hospital. The issue, however, is that with hospital detox, you only get medical assisted detox.  

Yet overcoming alcohol addiction requires more than the detox process. Once you detox, you need to engage in other after-care services to help you uncover the underlying factors contributing to alcohol abuse. 

Opting for alcohol detox at a rehab centre is by far the better option. You can choose between outpatient rehab and inpatient programme. Some studies show inpatient rehab increases your chances for long term recovery.  

Therefore, if you or your loved one is struggling with chronic alcohol addiction, you can look for a local treatment centre.

You can search for a specific treatment centre listing online directories such as the Bury directory [5]. 

There are extensive treatment centres out there that offer comprehensive care for detox.

Numerous addiction organizations such as Abbeycare are willing to offer professional treatment advice to help you make an informed decision about the best treatment plan for you. 

You can still go for the detox process in a hospital setting. Once you complete the detox phase, your GP can provide medical advice on the most suitable local community group to offer you the support you need to complete the recovery process. 

Abbeycare Pricing Bot

Last Updated: February 16, 2022

About the author

Peter Szczepanski

Peter has been on the GPhC register for 29 years. He holds a Clinical Diploma in Advanced Clinical Practice and he is a Clinical Lead in Alcohol and Substance Misuse for Abbeycare Gloucester and works as the Clinical Lead in Alcohol and Substance Use in Worcestershire. Peter also co-authored the new 6th edition of Drugs In Use by Linda Dodds, writing Chapter 15 on Alcohol Related Liver Disease. Find Peter on Respiratory Academy, Aston University graduates, University of Birmingham, Q, Pharmaceutical Journal, the Dudley Pharmaceutical Committee, Dudley Council, Twitter, and LinkedIn.