Detoxing from alcohol is typically the first step in the rehabilitation process for individuals with substantial levels of alcohol dependence.
Alcohol detox is important since alcohol is a depressant which your body begins to rely on over the course of months and years of drinking.
An estimated 43 percent of men have engaged in binge drinking, and the duration of abuse can lead to the accumulation of a number of devastating effects on an individual’s life, according to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism.
According to NIAAA, alcohol is the 3rd-leading preventable cause of death in the United States, as 89,500 people every year die from an alcohol-related cause.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention stated that alcohol consumed in excess was responsible for 10 percent of deaths in working-age adults from 2006-2010.
According to the International Business Times, about 33 percent visits to the emergency room are related to the consumption of alcohol.
According to the NIAAA, approximately 16 million adults in the US in 2013 had an alcohol use disorder.
Signs of Alcoholism
Signs of alcoholism can include:
- continued use of alcohol, even though it leads to problems;
- a tight focus on alcohol, leading to neglect of one’s family, friends, job, or hobbies;
- a wish to stop drinking, but an inability to follow through;
- loss of control over how often or how much alcohol is consumed;
- withdrawal symptoms between bouts of drinking;
- tolerance to the impact of alcohol.
The Effects of Alcohol Abuse
Alcohol abuse affects dopamine, one of the brain’s neurotransmitters which is linked to the body’s reward system. In addition, dopamine assists with the body’s sense of attention, cognition, motor coordination, and mood.
Alcohol releases this neurotransmitter, triggering some of the happy feelings addicts crave. When a long-term heavy drinker suddenly stops drinking alcohol, dopamine production halts, causing psychological and physical withdrawal symptoms.
Several short-term side effects of alcohol abuse include:
- slowed breathing;
- memory lapses;
- extreme shifts in mood;
- lack of coordination;
- vision impairment;
- slurred speech.
Some potential long-term effects of alcohol abuse include:
- social problems (including family issues, lost productivity, unemployment);
- mental health problems (including anxiety and depression);
- increased risk of certain cancers, like – cancer of the head, neck, and breast cancer;
- hepatic issues, like – cirrhosis, alcoholic hepatitis, and liver cancer;
- cardiovascular issues, including stroke, high blood pressure, and chronic heart disease;
- chronic and excessive consumption of alcohol can lead to alcohol use disorder or alcoholism, a progressive condition that tends to worsen without treatment.
Alcohol use can have serious consequences for breastfeeding and expecting women and their babies, including fetal alcohol syndrome (a condition in a child which results from alcohol exposure during the mother’s pregnancy).
The idea that just a little wine or beer is ok during pregnancy is an unfounded myth. If you are pregnant, any amount of alcohol intake is risky, and all types of alcohol can harm your baby.
Even light-to-moderate drinking can cause problems in a baby’s behavior and learning which can last throughout their lifetime. Basically, prenatal alcohol exposure is the main cause of birth defects.
Alcohol detox is defined as the natural process which occurs in the human body as it attempts to rid the system of toxins and waste products from excessive, long-term alcohol intake.
Alcohol detoxification symptoms include the following:
- alcoholic tremors;
- dangerous dehydration;
- rapid heart rate;
- mood swings;
- extreme fatigue.
DTs is the most severe form of alcohol withdrawal manifested by altered mental status and sympathetic overdrive.
Delirium tremens most often occurs in individuals who drink the equivalent of one pint of liquor per day for a few months. This happens because the brain and the cells of the affected individual begin to change as they grow accustomed to the persistent presence of alcohol and its effects throughout the system.
These symptoms begin to appear from 6 to 96 hours after the last drink, sometimes more. Sometimes symptoms may appear after seven days after the last drink.
Common symptoms of DTs include:
- decreased attention and focus;
- seizures or body tremors;
- unresponsiveness to touch;
- fear, anxiety, and paranoia;
- sensitivity to noise and light;
- excitement and agitation;
- rapid heartbeat;
- high blood pressure (hypertension);
- elevated body temperature;
Notes – delirium tremens highlights the need for medical oversight to safely detox from alcohol abuse. Symptoms of alcohol detox have been described at least as early as 400 BC by Hippocrates.
The length of alcohol detoxification depends on several factors, including the severity of a person’s alcoholism. Basically, the more severe the alcohol abuse is the longer detox takes.
Alcohol detox symptoms can occur as early as 2 hours after your last drink. The majority of people with mild alcohol withdrawal will experience a peak of their symptoms between 12 and 24 hours after they stop the intake of alcohol.
The most severe symptoms typically occur as many as 2 to 3 days after the last drink. The average duration of the symptoms is 24-48 hours.
The irritability, trouble sleeping, confusion, and other symptoms can persist for some time, therefore, it is recommended that these people also continue on with group therapy and 12-step programs to ensure abstinence.
Note – you do not even necessarily have to be an alcoholic to experience alcohol withdrawal.
Alcohol detoxification can be a dangerous process, that is why it is usually best handled by a healthcare professional at a rehab or detox center.
The alcohol detox stage is the first step in treating alcoholism. Ridding the body of alcohol will not cure alcoholism, however, it heals the body and clears the mind so that an individual suffering from alcohol addiction may pursue complete treatment.
Once a person is physically comfortable, treatment will begin to focus on the psychological dependency.
Individual counseling, group therapy, support group meetings, family counseling, medication treatments, and wellness activities, may be included as part of a comprehensive treatment plan for alcohol use disorders.