Why should you detox from alcohol in a safe environment?

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Alcohol detox is a dangerous and critical process of weaning off from alcohol dependence because it involves physically and mentally challenging withdrawal symptoms.

These symptoms are unpleasant, painful, and can abruptly turn into life-threatening complications that require medical intervention and a clinical approach to reduce the risks.

That's why medically assisted alcohol detox in a safe environment is highly recommended not just to prevent complications but to ensure a supportive environment and minimize the potential risk that withdrawal symptoms may pose to other people, especially to children.  

Clearing your system from alcohol is not a walk in the park. The body’s reaction towards the absence of alcohol in the system triggers you to opt for the easier way out through relapse.

Although there are cases of successful alcohol detox at home without medical intervention, the risk is too high, especially for people with chronic drinking history.

It’s also too dangerous to take the risk of detox at home for people who have built high alcohol tolerance for a long time and have abused other substances along with alcoholism because the effects can be outright fatal.

The recommended safe environment for alcohol detox is through an inpatient rehab facility where medical alcohol detox is offered.

All necessary medical intervention, equipment, a team of healthcare professionals, medications, counselling, monitoring, and support are available.

Withdrawal symptoms vary depending on the person’s scope of alcohol dependence.

As per the U.S National Library of Medicine, for people with comorbidities in addition to alcohol, the withdrawal symptoms can be severe. 

Why are Medical Detox Facilities the Safest Environment For Alcohol Detox?

Close 24/7 Round the Clock Monitoring

Medically assisted detox is performed with close round-the-clock monitoring.

A team of doctors and clinicians monitors the patient's vital signs, meticulously looking out for drop or elevation in vital signs and potential signs for complications from withdrawal symptoms. 

Medical Staff Available when Needed

Alcohol detox can be tricky, and any unexpected turn of events is possible.

So, having an on-call medical staff available to manage your needs and pain immediately renders a feeling of security that you are not alone during the most difficult journey of your life.

Withdrawal symptoms involve certain levels of risks, especially if the patient has built chronic physiological dependence.

Some life-threatening symptoms include seizures, fever, hallucinations, and Delirium Tremens; thus, having standby medical support to address the complication immediately can save lives and prevents the onset of complications.  

Quick Access to Medication

Medications are given to patients to alleviate pain, ease discomforts, and prevent medical complications.

This is one of the best advantages of choosing a medically assisted detox; someone is making things easier and tolerable for you. Here are a few of the medical intervention and medications administered during alcohol detox: 

IV Fluid is usually administered to patients to avoid dehydration caused by excessive vomiting and diarrhoea, which are common withdrawal symptoms. 

Benzodiazepines - this substance is used to stabilize the patient by extinguishing excitatory neural signals caused by the sudden absence of alcohol in the system.

It provides a gradual taper-off effect until the body copes up to the total absence of alcohol in the body. Valium and Ativan are common Benzodiazepines administered during alcohol detox. 

Barbiturates: These substances provide the same effects as benzodiazepines but are rarely used during alcohol detox because they can cause drug overdose even at low doses.

The body’s response towards these substances is unpredictable. 

Other Pharmacologic Support: Over-the-counter medications such as Tylenol and Pepto-Bismol are also administered to alcohol detox patients to manage mild symptoms.

Gabapentin may also help regain psychological homeostases such as insomnia and dysphoria.

However, only healthcare professionals should administer all the pharmacologic support under a supervised environment as they can be extremely dangerous when mixed with other substances. 

Safe, Controlled, and Structured Environment

Medical detox facilities are the safest and most conducive environment for detoxifying because it keeps you away from triggers that may tempt you to relapse.

Studies show that relapse happens to 40-60% of adults who are in the recovery phase. A close and controlled environment with no access to alcohol can help suppress cravings and manage triggers. 

Another notable advantage of enrolling in a medical detox facility is it helps you save what’s left of your relationship with your loved ones.

It keeps children from getting exposed on this difficult journey and protects your family from witnessing the effects of withdrawal symptoms which can be traumatic and emotionally painful for them. 

Therapeutic Intervention

Patients under medically assisted alcohol detox receive behavioural therapy to help them cope with withdrawal symptoms, strengthen motivation towards full recovery, create a relapse prevention plan, cope away from destructive behaviours, and develop healthy and productive decorum and improve intra and interpersonal relationships.

These behavioural therapies often include cognitive-behavioural therapy, dialectical behavioural therapy, motivational interviewing, contingency management, 12-step facilitation, and family behaviour therapy.

Enhanced Focus Towards Full Recovery

Medically assisted detox programs enhance the chances of committing to complete treatment and recovery.

The closed environment allows you to assess your life, focus on your journey, and keeps you away from distractions.

How Long Does It Take to Detox from Alcohol?

The time it takes for the body to detox from alcohol varies per person.

Contributing factors such as age, gender, weight, the scope of drinking history, substance abuse, and general health condition also affect how quickly the body flushes out toxins build-up.

The body starts detoxifying within the first eight (8) hours after your last shot of alcohol.

For people with mild and moderate drinking history, the detoxification process lasts between 4-7 days, while severe and chronic alcohol dependents may experience withdrawal symptoms for two weeks or even longer.  

There is no concrete pattern or specific answer on how long it takes for our body to detoxify all remaining traces of alcohol in the system since human anatomy is complex.

Our DNA makeup is different from one another, which explains why our body's response towards cleansing varies on a case-to-case basis. 

Defining Factors that Determines the Duration of Alcohol Detox

  • The volume of alcohol you usually consume
  • Scope of alcohol dependence
  • Drinking pattern, whether you’re a binge drinker or regularly consume at a steady rate
  • Age
  • Weight
  • Biological Gender
  • Genetics
  • Tobacco and substance abuse
  • Mental health condition
  • Overall health condition

A general timeline is available to briefly explain what happens to the human body once cleansing takes place, and it serves as a guide on what to expect during the process. 

The timeline gives you a sneak peek at the possibilities that occur during alcohol detox to prepare you physically, mentally, and emotionally. Read on to learn the general alcohol detox timeline.

The First 6-8 hours

Alcohol suppresses the normal homeostasis of the Central Nervous System (CNS).

Its continuous exposure to alcohol pushes the CNS to create a pseudo-normalcy by producing more neurotransmitters that stimulate and excite the CNS.

Now, once alcohol is removed from the equation, the extra neurotransmitters are left hanging and leads the body to overdrive, and this is where withdrawal symptoms start to manifest.  

The body starts to feel withdrawal symptoms once alcohol intoxication subsides, which occurs between 6-8 hours after your last consumption of alcohol.

This is when the “good feeling” effect of alcohol leaves the body, and sobriety starts to set it.  

The liver continuously performs its detoxification function even while you're drinking. So once you stop drinking and sleep, the liver gets the chance to process, break down, and excrete traces of alcohol.

Depending on the current state of your liver health, withdrawal symptoms may start to set in as early as 6 hours, and common symptoms include: 

  • Rapid Sweating
  • Elevated Blood Pressure
  • Shortness of Breathing
  • Insomnia
  • Nausea and Vomiting
  • Increased Pulse Rate
  • Anxiety
  • Tremors

People with a long and chronic drinking history are likely to experience seizures as early as 6-8 hours after their last drink. 

12-24 Hours

During this stage, withdrawal persists while some may come and go. But it would help if you were prepared for the possibility of experiencing hallucinations.

Don't panic. This is a common withdrawal symptom, and you’ll get through this eventually with adequate support and proper intervention.

24-48 Hours

Headache, tremors or shaking, and stomach upset commonly manifests during this stage.

People who went through mild alcoholism usually experience the peak of their withdrawal symptoms during the first 24-48 hours.

And once they get through this stage, the symptoms reduce during the 4th to 5th day, but it still varies on a case-to-case basis. 

48-72 Hours

During this stage, expect your withdrawal symptoms to reach their peak. In most cases of alcohol dependence, the symptoms aggravatingly peak about 72 hours after the last alcohol consumption.

And it starts to subside and reduces during the 5th to 7th day. 

This is the most critical stage for people with chronic alcoholism because Delirium Tremens commonly manifest during this stage.

It is a fatal withdrawal symptom accompanied by fast and uncontrolled heart rate, increased body temperature, and seizure.

This is one of the avoidable complications when detox is monitored and medically assisted, wherein all equipment, intervention, and preventive measures are available. 

Is it dangerous to detox from alcohol at home?

Detoxing from alcohol at home is dangerous and poses potentially fatal consequences.

It is far riskier than drug abuse detox because alcohol throws off the natural neurotransmitters homeostasis, which leads to life-threatening symptoms such as Delirium Tremens wherein, in worse case situations, the body may succumb to cardiac or respiratory arrest, brain damage, and death.

Aside from experiencing unmitigated withdrawal discomforts, detox at home poses a high risk for relapse, and once this happens, the chance of alcohol poisoning is relatively high. 

Immediate Dangers of Detox from Alcohol at Home

Heart Complications

Alcohol damages the Central Nervous System and ruins its normal homeostasis.

The body’s chronic exposure to alcohol leads to the overproduction of neurotransmitters and throws off the natural balance of glutamate, norepinephrine, and GABA.

This imbalance stimulates the brain to send erratic messages to the heart, which sends the heart to overdrive manifested through a series of symptoms such as palpitations, increased heart rate, and sudden spike in blood pressure.

If left without proper medical intervention, these symptoms may result in cardiac arrest and cardiac arrhythmias. 

People on alcohol detox are also at high risk of stroke due to sudden and uncontrolled increases in blood pressure.

Chronic alcoholism damages the blood vessels, and once aggravated with the sudden change in BP as a result of detox, the risk for stroke heightens.

Thus close monitoring and medical management are essential in preventing the onset of complications. 

Dehydration

Alcohol suppresses the production of antidiuretic hormones which control water reabsorption in the body. It is also a diuretic that stimulates urination.

When these factors add up to excessive sweating and vomiting from detox, the risk for heatstroke and dehydration heightens.  

In medically assisted alcohol detox, patients are supported with IV fluids and electrolyte supply to prevent dehydration and minimize complications from electrolyte imbalance. 

Seizures and Shaking

The disrupted homeostasis of neurotransmitters due to alcohol dependence leads to seizures and shaking during detox. With proper medical attention, this can be prevented and successfully managed.

But without appropriate medical intervention, it may lead to status epilepticus, an indication of brain damage. 

Delirium Tremens

It is a potentially life-threatening and severe withdrawal symptom that affects the mental and neurological condition of an alcoholic undergoing detox.

It is characterized by nightmares, hallucinations, global confusion, disorientation, agitation, elevated body temperature, increased blood pressure, profuse sweating, seizure, and irregular heart rate.

Without medically preventive intervention and management, DT has a mortality rate of 35%, which signifies that 1 out of 3 people who go through self-detox dies. 

Long Term Dangers of Detox from Alcohol at Home

Withdrawal symptoms may come and go during detox, but the problem is, the complications can lead to long-term health hazards if left untreated or, better yet, not prevented before it even gets worse.

Here are a few of the potential long-term dangers of self-detox at home. 

Brain Damage

Seizures, shaking, and Delirium Tremens may lead to hypoxic brain damage. The neurotransmitter imbalance, specifically the overproduction of GABA and glutamate, may result in glutamate excitotoxicity.

And this could result in permanent mental disorders. 

Heart Damage

Alcoholism itself damages the blood vessels. Withdrawal symptoms subject the heart to immense pressure, and along with irregular heart rate and elevated blood pressure, the heart condition may continue to weaken.

This can lead to serious and long-term heart damage and disease such as alcoholic cardiomyopathy. 

Impaired Metabolism

Alcohol brings in tons of unhealthy calories, which can lead to lifestyle-induced diabetes. It also puts the pancreas under immense stress.

And when withdrawal symptoms set in, the body’s insulin production, blood sugar levels, and brain glucose processes are affected.  

In medically assisted alcohol detox, the symptoms are closely monitored, and imbalances are managed through medications to prevent the onset of complications.

However, without proper professional help, these imbalances may put you at risk of developing lifelong metabolic disorders. 

Alcohol Poisoning

Detoxing from alcohol at home poses a high risk of relapsing because the withdrawal symptoms can be intolerably painful, and the discomforts can cloud your logical thinking.

Grabbing a bottle and getting drunk may seem like the most plausible option. Without professional intervention to help you manage the discomforts through counselling and medication, the journey can be intensely difficult. 

This is where the danger sets in. You can develop a cycle of detoxing and relapsing, which will put your body under too much stress and strain your system.

Going into this back and forth cycle may worsen your alcoholism and lead to alcohol poisoning. 

How To Detox from Alcohol Safely?

The best and recommended way to detox from alcohol safely is through supervised medical alcohol detox.

A custom-tailored detox approach is provided for you depending on your drinking history, age, weight, biological gender, substance abuse, mental state condition, overall health, and pre-existing comorbidities.

For people with mild alcoholism, we have a home detox program that could help them cleanse from alcohol without going into an inpatient rehab facility but still gets 24/7 access to detox support from physicians, nurses, therapists, counsellors, and nutritionists.

However, for chronic alcoholics with long-term heavy drinking history, the best and safest way to detox is to enter an inpatient rehab facility where you get full access to a safe and private cleansing environment, medical equipment, medications, and close monitoring from doctors, therapists, and nurses. 

There’s no failsafe plan for alcohol detox, and even with medical intervention, you will still feel the mental and neurological withdrawal symptoms.

But you will receive all the necessary help to alleviate pain and discomfort, close monitoring to prevent or manage life-threatening symptoms, and a relapse plan to help you get going on your journey towards sobriety.

With inpatient rehab, you get to save your family, especially minors, from witnessing your battles, as it can be a dramatic and emotionally painful experience for them. 

Eager to know how to detox from alcohol safely? Let's dive into our brief guide on how to start. 

Consult an Alcohol Detox Provider

Once you’ve earned the courage to stop your alcohol dependency, the first step you need to take is to contact an alcoholism treatment provider.

Remember, alcohol detox is just the first step towards sobriety. It is a prerequisite stage before going into a long-term treatment program.  

Professional treatment providers will discuss everything you need to know about the program, including the various rehab facilities, detox programs, and other support services and amenities you may need during your detox journey.

This may include counselling, meditation, psycho-education, relapse plan, various therapies, and medically assisted detox. 

The Pre-Intake Screening

During the pre-intake screening, professional treatment providers seek pertinent information that will help them decide the best facility and level of care for them.

They will seek information such as your drinking history, substance abuse, detox history, mental and emotional health state, employment arrangements, family life, medical history, underlying comorbidities, family history, and current medications. 

Insurance Coverage and Payment Plans

The next step is knowing your insurance coverage. Treatment providers will ask for insurance information so they could verify the available insurances and the facilities covered in your insurance.

Payment plans are also discussed to identify what payment option is the most convenient for you. This may include budget, self-pay plan, and mode of payments offered. 

 Determined to start the change in your lifestyle but reluctant on where to reach out? You are not alone in this journey.

Our professional, friendly, and dedicated alcohol detox and rehabilitation treatment professionals are available to hear you out.

Visit our clinics at Abbeycare Scotland or Abbeycare Gloucester, or contact us on 01603 513 091 and let’s discuss your alcohol detox plans.

We’ll help you make progress and keep going so you can create the life that you dream of.


About the author

Peter Szczepanski

Pete 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. To read more about Pete visit his LinkedIn profile.