Alcohol Detox Guide
Most alcoholics don’t really see the need for any type of alcohol treatment because they don’t see alcoholism as an addiction, necessarily. While they may notice the various changes that have occurred in their lives, and while many of them actually do believe that they need to stop drinking, they rarely see a need for treatment. This is partially due to the fact that alcohol is readily available and relatively easy to obtain. The only requirement is that the person who is purchasing is able to prove that he or she is old enough to buy it.
Alcoholism is a very serious problem in the United States. In fact, the National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence states that it is the most commonly abused substance in the country. One in every twelve adults suffers from alcohol abuse or addiction, and there are millions of people who regularly participate in binge drinking behaviors. Over seven million children also currently live in a home where at least one parent has either an alcohol addiction or an alcohol abuse problem.
Although there aren’t many people who are willing to admit that they need to get help for alcoholism, the fact remains that this is a dangerous addiction, and getting the right kind of help is critical for recovery. Alcohol detox is the best place to begin recovering from an alcohol addiction.
Alcohol Detox Overview
Detoxification involves a process by which toxins are removed from the body. There are a number of different methods that are used during alcohol detox, but it should always be performed in a medical setting. Sometimes medications are given during the detox process as a way to help remove toxins faster, or cope with withdrawal symptoms that are difficult to handle.
It must be stated that the temptation to detox from alcohol at home does exist, and because alcohol is thought to be much safer than illegal street drugs, many people assume that the best way to stop using it is to simply quit drinking. Doing so can be very dangerous. A number of things can go wrong, and medical complications are very likely when alcohol is stopped suddenly outside of medical supervision and treatment. For that reason, alcohol detox should only be done in a medical setting where qualified personnel can intervene as quickly as possible, if need be.
Signs of Alcoholism and Addiction
Because alcohol is often viewed as being relatively safe, people frequently fail to recognize alcoholism within themselves. In fact, they may live in denial for years, even though friends and family members are encouraging them to get professional help. For those who are wondering whether or not their alcohol consumption would be considered alcoholism, or alcohol abuse, it can be helpful to look at the characteristics of alcoholism, or even to take an online alcohol addiction quiz that can help them recognize the signs and symptoms of alcoholism.
For example, answering “yes” to many of the following questions may indicate that an individual has alcoholism and would benefit from detox and treatment.
- Do you ever have times when you feel ashamed or guilty because of how much or how often you drink?
- Have you ever lied to others about your drinking?
- Have you ever tried to hide how much you drink from the people who love you most?
- Have loved ones expressed to you that they are concerned about how much or how often you drink alcohol?
- Do you ever feel the need to drink because you want to relax or feel better?
- Have you ever had times when you blacked out after you had been drinking?
- Do you often drink larger amounts of alcohol than you intended to drink?
- Are you finding that you’re neglecting your responsibilities at work, home or school because of your alcohol consumption?
- Have you ever consumed alcohol in a situation when it was dangerous to do so?
- Do you have legal problems that have occurred because of your drinking?
- Do you continue to drink even though you know you’re going to have consequences for it later on?
It may also help to look at the warning signs of alcoholism when trying to make a decision regarding the need for alcohol addiction treatment. Forming a tolerance to alcohol is often referred to as the very first warning sign of alcoholism. When an individual finds that he or she needs to drink increasingly larger amounts of alcohol in order to experience the same feeling, that is a sign that a tolerance is forming. Additional warning signs might include going through withdrawal symptoms when not drinking, losing control over how much alcohol is being consumed, and wanting to stop drinking, but being unable to follow through.
The Alcohol Detox Process
For someone who has never gone through alcohol detox, the idea of what it might be like can be a little bit scary. It can be very helpful to understand more about the alcohol detox process and what might occur.
What to Expect During Alcohol Detox
Quite often, people who are given a recommendation for alcohol detox tend to believe that they’re just spending time waiting for toxins to leave their bodies. Because of this belief, they are tempted to forgo the process of detoxification, which can end up doing them a great deal of harm in the long run.
Alcohol detox is actually a very dynamic progression of activities that all work together to remove toxins quickly and safely from the body. While it is true that patients are carefully observed during alcohol detox, there is a lot of work to be done by the patient to ensure that the process is able to be completed successfully.
The typical alcohol detox program may involve:
- Nutritional therapy to ensure that the right vitamins, minerals and nutrients are being consumed daily.
- Increased water consumption to make sure the patient stays hydrated throughout the day.
- Physical exercise to promote the removal of toxins through perspiration.
- Medication therapy, as needed.
- Time spent with support staff to get adequate help, counseling and encouragement.
Getting any type of addiction treatment for the first time can cause anxiety in someone who has an addiction. It helps to know what to expect, and to realize that every part of alcohol detox was designed to provide the best possible outcome for recovery.
Types of Detox Programs
There are a few different methods of alcohol detox, and various types of detox programs that may be offered to someone who wants to recover from an alcohol addiction.
Outpatient Alcohol Detox – Because alcohol is such a dangerous substance to detox from, outpatient alcohol detox is generally not recommended for most people. However, there are times when it is appropriate under the right conditions. During outpatient alcohol detox, patients are still monitored very closely to ensure compliance, and to ensure their safety. They frequently need to check in with detox staff, and they have to follow certain protocol in order to remain in the program.
Long-term Medicated Detox – In a medical setting, long-term medicated detox involves giving patients alcohol withdrawal medications to aid in the removal of toxins from the body. Additional medications can be given to help ease the discomfort that is associated with withdrawal symptoms.
Short-term Medicated Detox – This type of alcohol detox is generally not recommended because of the risks involved. During short-term medicated detox, patients are given general anesthesia during the process. Medications are given to cleanse the body of toxins very quickly; in some cases, the entire procedure is over in thirty minutes. This type of detox is risky, and it definitely is not recommended for patients with certain medical conditions. It can also be very painful, even under general anesthesia.
Holistic Detox – Holistic detox involves the use of diet, exercise and other life changes to facilitate the removal of toxins from the body. There has been a tremendous amount of research done that has shown that holistic detox is often much more effective for long-term recovery than other detox methods. By utilizing holistic detox, the body is able to purify itself in a way that’s natural, eliminating the risk of addiction to medications that might be given in other types of detox settings.
While some alcohol detox methods may be preferred over others, the fact remains that there is no one right detox method that’s best for everyone. Each patient needs to be assessed separately, according to his or her own personal needs. The treatment team will then be able to take multiple factors into account – including the length of time the individual has been using alcohol and his or her medical history – before making the decision about the best alcohol detox for that patient.
How Long Does it Take to Detox from Alcohol?
Detoxing from alcohol is not a fast process. It is actually a life-threatening condition that should be treated with great care. Even so, it makes sense to want to know how long it will take to get through the alcohol detox process. The answer is going to be different for every patient who goes through alcohol detox.
The symptoms of withdrawal may begin as soon as two hours after the last drink has been consumed. However, some people feel fine for as long as twenty-four hours before their withdrawal symptoms begin. Generally, most people find that their symptoms begin to peak at about the third day after detoxification has started, and then they start to decline in severity. However, this is not the case for everyone, and many factors need to be considered when trying to figure out how long it will take each individual patient to go through the detox process. The length of alcohol detox will vary from person to person.
It is possible for some symptoms to persist for weeks, and there are always cases when rebound symptoms occur further down the road in the patient’s recovery.
How Long Does Alcohol Stay in Your System?
The answer to this question depends on how much an individual has to drink during a specific period of time. However, the fact is that the human body can process alcohol at the rate of one ounce per hour. The more that person has to drink in one session, the longer it will take before the alcohol leaves the body completely. The liver is responsible for doing most of the work to rid the body of alcohol.
Of course, for someone who is an alcoholic, the answer to this question is going to be a bit different. Alcohol can be detected within the body in a variety of different methods for various lengths of time. For example:
- Alcohol is able to be detected in the breath through a breathalyzer test for as long as 24 hours.
- Alcohol can be detected in urine for three to five days after consumption using some methods.
- Alcohol will show up in blood tests for up to 12 hours.
- Alcohol will show up in saliva tests for as long as five days.
- Alcohol can be detected in hair follicles for as long as 90 days.
What is the Typical Length of Stay in a Detox Program when You’re an Alcoholic?
Again, the length of stay in an alcohol detox program is going to be different for everyone who gets treatment. The duration of the program relies upon a couple of different factors, and these include:
- The person’s genetics and family history of alcoholism
- How long the individual has been drinking alcohol excessively
- How much alcohol is usually consumed
- The strength of the alcohol addiction
- The individual’s tolerance level to alcohol
Most patients who go to an alcohol detox program will be able to complete it within one week’s time. However, this is assuming there are no medical complications that occur, and everything goes according to the treatment plan. When medical complications come into play, or when there are other issues that arise during detox, this may lengthen the amount of time it takes to get through the process.
Alcohol Withdrawal Symptoms
Alcohol affects the central nervous system in the body, and this becomes a serious problem when it is consumed in high amounts. The body can quickly become dependent on alcohol in order to function properly, and without it, withdrawal symptoms begin to set in. Alcohol withdrawal symptoms usually begin relatively mildly, and then they increase in their severity.
Some of the most common alcohol withdrawal symptoms include:
- Becoming anxious or jumpy
- Experiencing shakiness in the hands
- Profuse sweating
- Onset of depression symptoms
- A loss of appetite
- Becoming very fatigued
- Sleep problems, including nightmares and insomnia
- Chronic headaches
- Nausea and vomiting
Alcohol withdrawal syndrome is the most severe form of withdrawal that an alcoholic may experience when stopping the use of alcohol abruptly. These symptoms can appear as soon as six hours after the last drink, and they include a combination of both physical and emotional symptoms. These include:
- A high blood pressure
- An increased heart rate
- A sense of confusion
- Becoming increasingly irritable
- Experiencing tremors
These symptoms can persist for weeks at a time, and are usually worse first thing in the morning, upon waking up.
In severe cases of alcohol withdrawal syndrome, delirium tremens, or DTs can result, and these are potentially life-threatening. If signs of DTs are noted, it is vital to get immediate medical attention. These signs include:
- Becoming extremely agitated
- Intense confusion
- A high or low grade fever
- The onset of seizures
- Tactile hallucinations, such as burning or itching skin
- Auditory hallucinations
- Visual hallucinations
- Heart complications, such as tachycardia
Statistics indicate that DTs are fatal for as many as 5% of people who receive medical treatment. For those who don’t seek medical treatment for DTs, they result in death for as many as 20%. DTs are a medical emergency that often require a stay in the intensive care unit of a hospital for IV fluids and other types of medical care.
Clearly, alcohol withdrawal symptoms can become dangerous very quickly, and even if someone has successfully stopped drinking without medical supervision in the past, every experience is going to be different.
Alcohol Detox Options
There are many different options to choose from when making the decision to detox from alcohol. Of course, not everyone is appropriate for every option, and it is important to choose correctly, based on each patient’s individual needs.
Medically Managed Detox From Alcohol
The safest way to detox from alcohol is in a medical setting through a medical detox program. These supervised programs allow time for the body to eliminate the alcohol while withdrawal symptoms are monitored and treated appropriately. The goals of medical alcohol detox are to evaluate patients for their current symptoms and drinking histories, stabilize patients and immediately treat any life-threatening conditions that may present, and prepare them to be transitioned into some type of treatment program.
In medically managed alcohol detox programs, patients are often given certain medications to help them get through the withdrawal phase with as much comfort as possible. These medications specifically address various withdrawal symptoms, such as anxiety and physical pain or discomfort. Also, benzodiazepines may be prescribed for patients who are deemed to be at risk for developing seizures during the detox period. Barbiturates are also effective at treating withdrawal symptoms and decreasing their severity. Finally, beta blockers are often used to help manage heart rate and high blood pressure.
It is important to note that some medications that are used during medical detox can be addictive themselves. For this reason, many in the addiction treatment field believe that they should be avoided whenever possible. The appropriate way to use them is by assessing each patient for the right medication, and then administering the medication in decreasing dosages to help prevent a cross addiction from occurring.
Can You Safely Detox From Alcohol at Home?
This is a question people often ask for any number of reasons. Sometimes they just don’t see the purpose in going away to an alcohol detox program because they don’t view alcohol as a dangerous drug. Other times, people work full time jobs, or they have responsibilities at home that may prevent them from getting adequate professional treatment.
Regardless of the reasons, alcohol detox should never be attempted at home. The risks are too great, and the probability of death because of DTs is high.
Even so, there are practitioners who will prescribe medications to patients to use to detox from alcohol in their own homes. Some examples of supplements that can help include:
- Vitamin B Complex
- Vitamin B1 (thiamine)
- Vitamin C
Some people will even use alcohol as a way to detox from alcohol at home. This has been done for years, but more often than not, it leads to a relapse. This defeats the purpose of attempting the detox. For example, instead of drinking their usual drinks, individuals will use beer, or another type of weaker alcohol, and then drink one per hour. Slowly, they will decrease how much they consume, or they will decrease the amount of time between each drink.
Those who attempt this method are instructed to drink plenty of water, and food only when they’re ready to try to eat. A reduction in appetite is something that occurs during alcohol withdrawal, and proponents of attempting to detox at home encourage people who want to try it to not eat if they don’t feel hungry. They claim that their bodies have a lot to cope with, as it is, without putting digestion on the list.
The Risks and Dangers of Detoxing from Alcohol at Home
There are so many dangers involved with attempting to detox in the home, without constant medical supervision. These risks include:
- The mental anguish involved with withdrawal
- The pain that withdrawal symptoms can cause
- The risk of dehydration during detox
- The risk of alcohol poisoning after a relapse has occurred
- The high risk of death because of DTs
Anyone who is considering attempting an alcohol detox in the home should be advised against it. It’s simply not a safe idea, and more often than not, many withdrawal symptoms can be treated and almost eliminated completely, which makes detoxing from alcohol in a professional setting much more comfortable than detoxing at home.
Typical Costs Involved with Detox Programs
It is difficult to say how much it will cost to go to an alcohol detox program for a number of reasons. Every facility has its own set prices, but these prices often vary, based on individual patient’s needs during treatment, length of stay, and the methods of treatment that are found to be appropriate for them. Even so, while the cost of going to an alcohol detox program can be expensive, there is usually no need to be concerned. There are many different ways to get these costs covered, or at least almost covered.
Will Insurance Cover Alcohol Detox Programs?
Now more than ever, insurance companies are realizing the importance of alcohol detox as a critical part of the recovery process when it comes to alcoholism. Even so, The Affordable Care Act requires insurance companies to offer coverage and benefits to help people afford to get addiction treatment. Alcohol detox is included in that. Any individual who has health insurance also has benefits for addiction treatment, although many people are not aware of this fact.
Alcohol detox is considered to be the first step in a successful recovery from alcohol addiction. Representatives from alcohol recovery centers are always willing to talk with potential patients about their options for treatment and provide suitable recommendations. Afterwards, they will work with health insurance companies themselves to maximize that patient’s benefits. This process works very well, and it usually leaves patients with very little, if anything, to pay out of pocket toward their treatment.
What Happens Once I Detox From Alcohol? Do I Need to Attend Treatment After?
Quite often, people believe that going through alcohol detox is all they need and then they will be “cured” from their alcoholism. Unfortunately, this is untrue. So many people end up relapsing back into their addictions because their treatment stopped with detoxification.
Detox – while it is an excellent form of alcohol addiction treatment – was never intended to be a standalone service. It is absolutely essential for patients to go on to complete some type of alcohol addiction treatment in a professional setting once they have completed alcohol detox. There are many different options for alcohol rehab to choose from, and patients will generally be told by admitting staff what type would be best for them. These options might be:
- Sober living
- Inpatient alcohol rehab
- Outpatient alcohol rehab
- Intensive outpatient alcohol rehab
- 12 Step programs
Online Support and Free Resources for Alcoholics and Their Families
Fortunately, in this digital age, the Internet is filled with some wonderful resources for alcoholics who wish to recover, and there are many different resources available for families as well. Some of these resources include:
Women For Sobriety, Inc. – This is a non-profit organization that is dedicated to helping women recover from alcoholism, as well as from other types of addictions. This program is the very first national self-help program that was developed for women. They have an online platform that helps women achieve sobriety, and it also offers them support during their ongoing recoveries. They offer message boards and chat rooms for women to converse with each other regularly and get the support they need.
SMART Recovery – This is an online organization that offers help to members who wish to recover from alcoholism. They offer many tools and consistent support to help them reach their goals. Their online support group is available at all hours of the day and night, and they focus on bringing balance, controlling urges to drink, and managing destructive thoughts, feelings and behaviors.
AAOnline – This is a website that is dedicated to helping alcoholics overcome their addictions. They offer 38 meetings during the course of the week, and they have plans to add many more in the near future. Recovering alcoholics are welcome to join in with the online meetings and converse with other members whenever they feel comfortable enough to do so. Their services are free, and the service has helped many people continue in recovery.
Online Al-Anon – Al-Anon is an organization that was started as a way to offer support and help to family members who have loved ones suffering from addiction. Quite often, the families of alcoholics don’t know where they can turn for help, and they often have questions that need answers. Al-Anon is a place for them, and Online Al-Anon offers that support on the Internet.
If I’m Not Ready to Attend an Alcohol Detox Program, What are My Other Options?
It’s normal to feel unsure about attending an alcohol detox program, even when all of the information has been presented. Not everyone is ready to go through alcohol detox immediately, but fortunately, they don’t have to be. There are many other options available to those who want to get help for an alcohol addiction, but who aren’t quite prepared to enter into alcohol detox.
Professional counselors are specially trained in the area of addiction, and many of them deal specifically with alcohol addiction. Quite often people don’t consider counseling as being an option that’s available to them, but it can actually be quite helpful. Also, counselors are able to talk with patients about the issues that led to their addictions in the first place, which is one of the reasons why stopping the use of alcohol cold turkey rarely works well for most people. Once those root issues are recognized and dealt with, true healing is able to take place.
For those interested in finding a counselor near their home, there are many online directories available that can help make the process much smoother.
Alcoholics Anonymous is an organization that was started in the 1930s. They are often referred to as AA, and they follow the 12 Step program. This plan leads participants through a series of 12 different steps as they continue along in their recovery journeys. AA has been so beneficial for so many people who wished to recover from alcoholism. The support group setting provides the accountability that is often needed when recovering from addictions, and it also allows participants the opportunity to talk with one another and share about the various struggles that they face. AA meetings are free of charge, and the only requirement for participation is that members have agreed to stop drinking.
Outpatient Alcohol Rehab
Outpatient alcohol rehab is an option that is often quite attractive to those who are not able or ready to enter into an inpatient facility for a number of reasons. Traditional outpatient alcohol rehab usually requires patients to be seen weekly at first, and then eventually, appointments may become less frequent. Intensive outpatient alcohol rehab offers a higher level of care for those with alcoholism, and patients may attend the program several times a week for a few hours at a time.
Even though outpatient alcohol rehab is an option for many people, it still may be required to go through some form of medical detox prior to beginning the program. Talking with staff members can help individuals decide the method of detox that will work the best for them.
Alcohol detox options abound in the United States, and the most important thing someone suffering from alcoholism can do is to get professional help. By starting with alcohol detox, patients give themselves the best possible chance of successfully recovering from their addictions.
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