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How Important is Alcohol Detox?

Long-term drinking and excessive drinking can lead to a lot of harmful effects including health problems, mental health disorders, strained relationships, and problems with the law.

Navigation: Alcohol Detoxification, The Process of Detoxification, Side Effects of Alcohol Detox, Medications Used in Alcohol Detox, Dangers of Detoxing Alone, Rehab Is Your Best Chance


Detoxification is the process of eliminating a harmful substance from a person’s body and system after they have developed tolerance and dependence. This is a crucial step to overcoming an addiction. This includes alcohol addiction.

Understanding how the process works can help alcoholic individuals realize just how important it is to their recovery journey.

Alcohol detox is defined as the natural process that occurs in the body as it attempts to get rid of the waste products and toxins left by excessive, long-term consumption of alcohol. Alcohol detox is usually accompanied by medication, therapy, medical observation, and counselling.


Alcohol Detoxification

The National Institutes of Health or NIH defines alcohol detox as “a period of medical treatment, usually including counselling, during which a person is helped to overcome physical and psychological dependence on alcohol.”

Long-term drinking and excessive drinking can lead to a lot of harmful effects including health problems, mental health disorders, strained relationships, and problems with the law. People who have been drinking heavily for a long time will go through withdrawal if they attempt to quit. Some of these withdrawal symptoms can be dangerous.

Prolonged alcohol abuse can lead to tolerance and biological changes that create a false homeostasis. This means that the body adjusts to the presence of alcohol, which is why it goes into withdrawal when the person suddenly stops drinking. An imbalance is caused within the person’s system, and the body reacts harshly. Disrupting this false balance and restoring the user’s original healthy state can be tricky, and it’s a delicate process that needs to be handled with care.


The Process of Detoxification

While withdrawal symptoms and intense cravings can feel overwhelming, it is possible to recover from an alcohol addiction. Alcohol detoxification deals with the physical effects of substance abuse. It prepares the individual for a more intensive treatment: therapy and counselling.

After detox, the person needs to address some mental and emotional concerns that factored into their abuse of alcohol. But they can only focus on this internal healing if they are not distracted by severe health problems. This is why detox is done first.

Medical detox can be safely done in an inpatient or outpatient facility. However, round-the-clock monitoring is recommended for those with severe alcohol addiction because their withdrawal symptoms can be life-threatening.

In most cases, the detox process involves three main steps: intake, medication, and stabilization. During intake, the medical team assesses the patient through a comprehensive review of their drug, medical, and psychiatric histories. This helps them fully understand the situation and how severe it is. This allows them to create a proper treatment plan that caters to that individual’s needs.

Medication often supports the gradual reduction of the patient’s alcohol intake. This is so that the withdrawal symptoms are easier to manage. Medications can also prevent some life-threatening withdrawal symptoms such as seizures. With medical professionals providing their support, the person can gradually limit their alcohol intake until their body no longer needs it.

Medications may also target co-occurring disorders such as depression, anxiety, and general discomfort.

Afterwards, the patient goes through the stage of stabilization. The body starts to readjust to being alcohol-free, and the patient begins medical and behavioral therapies to help them address the root cause of their addictive behaviour. The combination of detox and therapy helps them reach a balance of mind and body.

Side Effects of Alcohol Detox

Medically-assisted detox limits some of the negative side effects that the user experiences during the withdrawal period. But it is important to keep in mind that side effects cab still occur as some of them are unavoidable. Different side effects generally occur during the two phases of alcohol detox.

The first phase happens within hours of quitting alcohol. It may continue for days or weeks, depending on the person’s drinking habits. This is called acute withdrawal. During acute withdrawal, potential side effects include anxiety, convulsions, tremors, nausea, vomiting, insomnia, excessive sweating, shakiness, hypertension, hallucinations, and heart failure.

The second phase is longer as it occurs over months as the brain slowly regulates the absence of alcohol and returns to its normal functioning. The symptoms of post-acute withdrawal are anxiety, restlessness, insomnia, mood swings, and depression.

Medications Used in Alcohol Detox

Medications may be used by medical professionals to help regulate the body and keep withdrawal symptoms under control. A major part of medical detox is taking care of the patient while they are going through withdrawal. Medications can help avoid some major physiological upsets, but they are only used when absolutely necessary.

Benzodiazepines including Librium, Valium, and Ativan, are commonly used for the treatment of alcohol use disorder. These medications reduce withdrawal symptoms caused by alcohol abuse. They may also prevent alcohol withdrawal seizures. Seizures are actually one of the most common causes of fatality in alcohol withdrawal. Anticonvulsant drugs are sometimes used as well.

While benzodiazepines have been proven effective in treating or preventing certain symptoms of alcohol withdrawal, they need to be taken under medical supervision because these drugs are addictive substances in their own right.

Dangers of Detoxing Alone

It is highly recommended that people struggling with alcohol use disorder seek out medical treatment and avoid detoxing on their own, because as we have mentioned previously, some severe withdrawal effects are life-threatening. Detoxing cold turkey can be dangerous and even fatal.

Severe side effects of alcohol detox include seizures, heart arrhythmias, fever, depression, extreme nausea, kidney dysfunction, liver dysfunction, and hallucinations.

Detox works best when done by medical professionals. They have the skills and the equipment necessary to safely guide a person through the detox process.

If someone in the family is struggling with drug or alcohol addiction, it is important to seek help. A combination of medical detox and behavioral therapy can go a long way in the fight against substance abuse. But because every individual is affected by addiction differently, a comprehensive program tailored to their specific needs is necessary. Look for a nearby addiction treatment facility today and find out how drug treatment programs work.

Rehab is Your Best Chance

Treatment is an addicted individualʼs best option if they want to recover. Beating an addiction not only requires eliminating the physical dependence, but also addressing the behavioral factors that prevent them from wanting to get better. Simply quitting may not change the psychological aspect of addiction. Some people quit for a while, and then take drugs or alcohol again, only to overdose because they did not detox properly. Recovery involves changing the way the patient feels, thinks, and behaves.


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Fel Clinical Director of Content
Felisa Laboro has been working with addiction and substance abuse businesses since early 2014. She has authored and published over 1,000 articles in the space. As a result of her work, over 1,500 people have been able to find treatment. She is passionate about helping people break free from alcohol or drug addiction and living a healthy life.

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