More than 15 million Americans have serious problems related to the use of alcohol. In any given person, these problems can include alcohol addiction (i.e., alcohol dependence or alcoholism) or non-addicted alcohol abuse. Symptoms of addiction and abuse often overlap. For this reason, doctors view them as part of a single condition called alcohol use disorder. Whether present on its own or in combination with non-addicted abuse, alcoholism can lead to serious negative health outcomes unless you or your loved one receive treatment.
What is Detox?
Detoxification (detox) is the process that happens when substance use comes to a halt and any remaining amount of drugs or alcohol gradually leaves the body. This process forms an essential first step for anyone seeking to recover from alcohol addiction. A period of detox is required because a physical dependence on alcohol produces lasting alterations in normal brain function. In order to correct these alterations and begin the path to sobriety, you must first break the active cycle of dependence. To achieve this important goal, you must stop consuming alcohol.
When the brain of a dependent person no longer receives the accustomed amount of alcohol, that individual will begin to develop symptoms of withdrawal. The most common of these symptoms include:
- An inability to think clearly
- A depressed or anxious state of mind
- An irritable state of mind
- Nervousness or jitteriness
- Rapid mood changes
- Unpleasant dreams
- Lack of energy
Other possible hallmarks of alcohol withdrawal include:
- Declining appetite
- Pupil dilation
- Nausea accompanied by vomiting
- A racing heartbeat
- Uncontrolled shaking
- Unusually pale and clammy skin
- Excessive sweating
Heavy drinkers going through withdrawal are also susceptible to seizures or convulsions. Doctors use both these terms to describe disorganized bursts of electricity that circulate throughout parts of the brain and disrupt normal function. In people addicted to alcohol, convulsions usually take the form of major, full-body events called generalized tonic-clonic (i.e., grand mal) seizures, which can trigger symptoms such as incontinence, breathing difficulties and unconsciousness.
Furthermore, roughly one in every 20 people detoxing from alcohol will experience a potentially lethal complication known as delirium tremens or the DTs. Prominent symptoms of the DTs include such things as:
- A delirious mental state marked by extreme confusion and/or hallucinations
- Heartbeat irregularities
- Intense agitation
- Unexplained fear or dread
- Rapid changes in mood
- Prolonged periods of deep sleep
Most people who develop delirium tremens have a history of long-term, daily heavy drinking. They also tend to have poor dietary habits linked to the presence of alcohol addiction.
The Importance of Medically Supervised Detox
It’s common for people affected by alcohol dependence to attempt to go through detox on their own. However, this approach to quitting has serious drawbacks, and public health officials and addiction experts do not recommend it. First and foremost on the list of potential problems is the sheer unpredictability of what will happen to a person going through alcohol withdrawal. If seizures, delirium tremens or other unforeseen complications arise, they can quickly lead to dangerous changes in your health and mental well-being. A doctor who knows what to look for can identify problems at an early stage and help prevent them from getting worse. If you or your loved one detox on your own, however, you will not have access to this crucial medical oversight.
Lack of medical supervision during alcohol detox also increases the odds of experiencing a relapse back into active drinking. This increased risk is largely the result of the unpleasant feelings generated by the withdrawal process. In order to escape these feelings, a significant number of people break off their attempt to achieve sobriety and return to alcohol use. At the same time, detox is often accompanied by intense alcohol cravings. These cravings add even more weight to relapse risks.
There is a third risk of detoxing without medical oversight: alcohol poisoning (i.e. alcohol overdose). When active drinking comes to an end, tolerance to the effects of alcohol will naturally decline. If a relapse occurs and you return to drinking, you may find that a level of intake that once did not overwhelm your system may now trigger the onset of a potentially fatal overdose event. The odds of this happening rise as detoxification runs its natural course.
Enrollment in a reputable medically supervised detox program provides a safer alternative for coping with the effects of alcohol withdrawal. When help is available from doctors, therapists and other medical professionals, the risks for complications, relapses and overdoses decline. While nothing can completely eliminate these risks, supervised detoxification provides the best possible scenario for positive results.
Summit’s Alcohol Program
Summit Detox’s alcohol detoxification program is based on the guiding principles established by the foremost experts in addiction medicine. These principles outline three basic steps in the detox process:
- A detailed, personalized evaluation of each person who enters the program
- Stabilization of each client’s physical and emotional/psychological health in order to maximize the benefits of detoxification
- Preparation of each client for follow-up enrollment in an alcohol treatment program once detox comes to a successful conclusion
Sedation is well-recognized by addiction specialists as the most effective method of easing some of the worst symptoms of alcohol withdrawal. Summit provides this gold standard treatment with benzodiazepines and barbiturates, two classes of prescription sedative/tranquilizers only available to people under proper medical supervision. We also provide crucial support in the form of basic medical monitoring, IV fluids and nutritional supplementation. Additional core program resources include counseling and psychotherapy.
Several factors can influence the exact course of detoxification. These include:
- The severity of your alcohol addiction
- The length of time for which addiction has been present
- Your general level of physical well-being
- Your general level of mental well-being
No matter which specific steps are taken, our ultimate goal is effective care that sets the stage for long-term alcohol addiction recovery.