In general, drinking alcohol is considered socially acceptable. It is not uncommon to see a person have a drink to relax, celebrate, or simply just because. When drinking becomes an addiction, a person will benefit from detox and substance abuse treatment to overcome the disease.
Approximately 141 million Americans reported consuming alcohol in the last month. Of those, over 65 million are binge drinkers, meaning they consume excessive amounts of alcohol over a short period of time, several times a month.
Drinking excessively over long periods of time can result in physical dependence and changes in the brain. These changes are key indicators of addiction and at that point, detox may be necessary to ease withdrawal symptoms should they choose to stop drinking.
Some people may not consider entering a detox or treatment facility, for a number of reasons. They may not be able to afford it, are not fully aware of the dangers associated with alcohol withdrawal, or are attempting to keep their alcohol abuse a secret.
Quitting ‘cold-turkey’, or all at once, can result in alcohol withdrawal. The most severe withdrawal symptoms can be fatal, which is why it is important to seek medical advice when trying to stop drinking alcohol after long-term or heavy use.
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Alcohol Withdrawal Symptoms
In most cases, the initial signs of alcohol withdrawal begin six to twelve hours after the last drink. The symptoms of alcohol withdrawal have been combined and are commonly referred to by professionals as alcohol withdrawal syndrome, or AWS.
Some of the more common symptoms of AWS include:
- vomiting or nausea
- clammy skin
- dilated pupils
- decreased appetite
These alcohol withdrawal symptoms are similar to those of a hangover, and often manageable. The problem occurs when a person does not understand the severity of their alcohol addiction, and more complicated withdrawal symptoms arise. Many people do not know that the more serious symptoms arise the further they go into withdrawal.
Alcohol Withdrawal Complications
More intense withdrawal symptoms can begin to emerge twelve to 24 hours after a person last consumes alcohol. Seizures and hallucinations are indicative of intense withdrawal at this stage of the process.
These symptoms can lead to an individual experiencing things that are not actually there. They may see, hear or feel something that is not real, however, it may seem very real to them.
A person who experiences these intense withdrawal symptoms are at an even higher risk for severe alcohol withdrawal symptoms, referred to as delirium tremens or DTs. Severe alcohol withdrawal can be fatal
Delirium Tremens (DTs) is a term to describe the sudden and severe changes in the mental status and nervous system of a person detoxing from alcohol. DTs can also occur when a person who has a history of heavy alcohol use experiences a head injury, illness or infection.
Symptoms of delirium tremens usually begin two to four days after a person has stopped drinking, but there have been cases that the onset started a week or more after the last drink.
Delirium tremens can result in the following symptoms:
- sudden severe confusion
- agitation and irritability
- bouts of sleep lasting a day or more
- sensitivity to outside stimuli
- intense shifts of mood
- body tremors
Seizures may also occur with delirium tremens and can occur without other symptoms. Individuals who have past issues with alcohol withdrawal are more likely to experience seizures. Usually, a generalized tonic-clonic seizure is typical with DTs.
DTs is considered a medical emergency. A person requires medical attention if they are experiencing symptoms of delirium tremens or severe alcohol withdrawal.
Nelsan Ellis, the actor who played Lafayette on “True Blood” died due to heart failure as a result of complications from alcohol withdrawal at age 39. He was attempting to detox from alcohol at home, which resulted in a blood infection, kidney and liver problems, and finally, his heart stopped.
Having access to a medically supervised detox program can help alleviate symptoms of alcohol withdrawal and may even save a life.
Risks Of Detoxing At Home
An individual who attempts to detox at home is at risk for a number of problems related to alcohol withdrawal. Every person is different and there is no way to tell how a person will experience withdrawal before it happens.
Detox programs typically use a number of prescription medications to decrease the severity and lessen the damage that alcohol withdrawal causes. When a person experiences severe withdrawal without medical assistance they run the risk of seizures, hallucinations and heart failure.
Medications such as lorazepam (Ativan), clonazepam (Klonopin), alprazolam (Xanax), or diazepam (Valium) are used to calm the system and prevent seizures, lower heart rate, and ease muscle spasms and tremors. Supplements are also used to restore any mineral or vitamin depletion due to alcohol abuse.
Detoxing at home restricts access to prescription medications and medical professionals, which increase risk factors for complications from alcohol withdrawal.
If a person is also dealing with a mental illness, such as anxiety, depression, PTSD, or other mood disorders, they may experience a flood of symptoms once alcohol is removed. Some people may not even know they have been self-medicating for their disorder until they stop.
Detoxing from alcohol at home is dangerous, and is not recommended. Alcohol detox is unpredictable and can quickly become fatal. It is strongly suggested that a person seek the assistance of a medically-supervised detox when they are attempting to stop drinking alcohol.
Medically Supervised Detox Treatment Benefits
Substance abuse treatment options that include a medically-supervised detox option are much safer options than detoxing at home. These detox units provide a structured environment that helps stabilize the residents with continual supervision by medical professionals.
Being continually monitored ensures that any changes that occur that need treatment will be addressed immediately, reducing the risk of severe symptoms of alcohol withdrawal.
Helping someone struggling with addiction to see that rehab includes compassionate care by experienced professionals is just part of the process. Detox can provide a starting point to prepare the person for a substance abuse treatment program.
Once detox is complete, moving on to a treatment program should be considered. Rehab can provide therapy, reduce stressors, address individual and family issues, restructure relationships and address concerns about relapse in a safe and comfortable environment.