After depression, alcoholism is the most common psychiatric disorder in America. It affects almost 18 million Americans every year, though only a small number of those people seek help. Alcohol has become part of our society, forming social bonds and a sign of a good time. Unfortunately for many people, something that starts out innocent spirals out of control when it is used to manage other symptoms that someone may be experiencing in their lives. Often those suffering from mental health problems and high levels of stress will turn to alcohol to cope with the symptoms they find themselves experiencing.
The first step in recovering from an alcohol addiction is detox. Many people with this struggle wonder how they can overcome the dependency, and consider the cold turkey approach. However, if you have a serious dependency, cold turkey on your own is not advised.
For regular, heavy drinkers the body produces excess brain chemicals to counteract the depressive effect that alcohol has. When a heavy drinker then stops drinking cold turkey, the body is flooded with dopamine, serotonin, and epinephrine. This results in the brain undergoing rapid changes, as it attempts to adapt and maintain normal function. There are severe complications which follow, including an abnormal heart rhythm, dehydration, vomiting, and the DTs. Delirium tremens is a medical emergency and tend to occur between 24 and 48 hours following the final drink of alcohol. DTs are characterized by seizures, delirium, and confusion. If people are left unattended, then they can suffer from stroke, heart attack, head injuries, choking on vomit, and lethal dehydration. DTs result in death in around 15 percent of cases.
Around half of people who are dependent on alcohol will experience symptoms of withdrawal. Severe withdrawal tends to require more aggressive treatment, as its resistant to the standard medication doses. The extent and severity of the symptoms of withdrawal will depend on the person’s history of alcohol abuse, as well as their overall health. It can exacerbate current psychological disorders or other medical conditions someone is living with.
Alcohol withdrawal syndrome describes a cluster of symptoms that the body experiences during detox from alcohol. They start as early as just six hours following the final drink.
Clinical diagnosis is made using the following criteria:
You can divide alcohol withdrawal symptoms into four categories: minor, major, seizures, and DTs. Seizures are the first sign of withdrawal, and in many cases, once the seizure subsides, no other signs will be present. When people detox without treatment, around 60 percent of people will experience seizures. On average, there are six hours between the first seizure and the last.
Phase 1 is the most dangerous part of the process and occurs in the first few days of cutting alcohol out. You are at the greatest risk of severe withdrawals in the first 72 hours. The signs include convulsions, anxiety, insomnia, body tremors, hypertension, DTs, profuse sweating, auditory and visual hallucinations, convulsions, and heart failure.
Phase 2 occurs over a period of months. The brain starts to resume its normal functioning, regulating brain chemicals accurately. During this phase, there could be lingering symptoms. However, they are not life-threatening.
Phase 3 is challenging. While dysphoria and anxiety may not be obvious, it is common for normal challenges to provoke a negative response, resulting in alcohol craving and possible relapse.
When a detox is medically supervised, benzodiazepines are administered. This is a drug that is considered the standard for managing alcohol withdrawal. Prompt treatment should be administered in all alcohol withdrawal symptom cases. Failure to seek professional treatment, or inadequate treatment, can be fatal. This is why you should never attempt to undergo detox without professional supervision.
According to the American Society of Addiction Medicine, there are three goals of detoxification:
If you feel that it’s time to disembark from the roller coaster of addiction and enter recovery then you first must understand: you can do it. The key factor that you must remember is that it is not safe to go cold turkey or detox from alcohol on your own.
People who drink most days of the week and do so excessively are at the greatest risk of complications relating to alcohol withdrawal, especially when they have attempted to manage their own detox.
You may believe that friends and family can assist you in the process of detox. However, you should only rely on the help of trained professionals. They have the medication and the skills necessary to safely see you through the process of what could be a dangerous detox. Detoxing at home and on your own is potentially fatal.
There are residential and inpatient treatment facilities that provide detox programs for those dependent on alcohol. If you have a less severe problem, an outpatient facility may be better suited to you. You should find a reputable treatment facility that provides a safe environment and a medically supervised detox. You will find trained professionals on hand to manage your detox, and these are the people that have dedicated their lives to helping people through their addictions.