Giving up alcohol can tough, not only do you have the battles faced with addiction, but also the withdrawal symptoms associated with alcohol detoxification.
During the pandemic, we have seen how lockdowns have impacted mental health, and addiction rates will no doubt suffer as a result of isolation, boredom and financial struggles. If you, a family member or friend are struggling with alcoholism, this guide will help you understand the process of recovery and the necessary steps.
Alcohol Withdrawal: The Stages
Regardless if you’ve chosen to detox at home or go to an inpatient detoxification clinic, your body will experience a withdrawal as part of detoxification. While going through it, you and your supervising medical personnel will observe several stages during which your system will cleanse itself from the leftover alcohol.
The first stage is called pre-withdrawal and it usually lasts for a few days. Your body will be experiencing some very unpleasant physical effects as well as emotional ones. It’s important that you don’t try to fight these feelings or they could worsen. Instead, just let them happen. They are part of the process of recovery from alcoholism.
During the second phase, which we call acute withdrawal, most people experience at least one major symptom such as tremors, sweating, anxiety, insomnia, nausea, vomiting, diarrhoea, muscle cramps, headaches, irritability, restlessness, confusion, agitation, hallucinations, seizures, delirium, depression, mood swings, panic attacks, paranoia, delusions and suicidal thoughts. This period may last anywhere between two hours and several months depending on how much alcohol was consumed before quitting and how it has affected the sufferer’s system. If someone has been drinking heavily, then their withdrawal symptoms might take longer than usual to subside. In fact, if someone hasn’t had any alcohol in over 24 hours, they won’t feel anything until after about 48 hours.
Afterwards comes what we refer to as “recovery” because during this third stage, many people report feeling better physically, emotionally and mentally. However, there’s still more work to be done.
Alcohol Dependence: Understanding the Severity
There are different types of dependency – mild, moderate, severe and extreme. Mild means having problems related to alcohol use without needing treatment. Moderate is when the patient is having problems related to heavy drinking while requiring help. Severe refers to serious health consequences due to excessive drinking. Extreme signifies that the patient is being unable to function normally without using alcohol.
The severity of dependence will often dictate the severity of withdrawal symptoms, the longer one has been drinking and the amount consumed daily will impact the severity of withdrawal symptoms.
Alcohol Withdrawal Syndrome
There are many symptoms associated with alcohol withdrawal syndrome (AWS) that may include ones that you would not consider severe like diarrhoea, vomiting, insomnia, irritability and restlessness. Other symptoms associated with AWS can be more serious like seizures, depression, anxiety, hallucinations and paranoia.
If you or someone you know is suffering from alcohol dependence or alcoholism, always speak to a trained medical professional such as a GP.
How to Detox from Alcohol Safely
If you or someone you know is severely dependent on alcohol, medical detox may be the only safe way to detox from alcohol. During this process you will be closely monitored by a doctor, and depending on the severity of addiction, these medications may prevent withdrawal symptoms from occurring. The medications will help with alcohol cravings and cleanse your body. However, you must seek help from a medical professional before going through this process. You should also understand that going through a medical detox is not the same as going through a psychological rehab programme. The severe withdrawal symptoms that occur during detox are very unpleasant and can be life-threatening. The necessity of medical assistance increases greatly during this time due to the severe nature of the withdrawal symptoms.
The length of the detox will vary greatly depending on several factors including how long you have been drinking, how much alcohol has been consumed each day, the length of time you have been drinking and whether or not you have any other medical issues that may be contributing to your condition.
These are some of the common medications used to help detoxify alcohol dependent individuals.
- Benzodiazepines. These are the most commonly prescribed medications for alcohol withdrawal syndrome today. Benzodiazepines are safe when taken with other drugs under the care of a doctor, but they are highly addictive in their own right. Possible side effects include dizziness, drowsiness, confusion, impaired memory and impairment of concentration. When taken for longer periods of time, they may induce tolerance and dependence. Overdoses can be fatal. The most common benzodiazepines used to treat alcohol withdrawal syndrome are chlordiazepoxide, diazepam and lorazepam.
- Disulfiram (Antabuse). The name of this drug is derived from Antabuse which once prescribed as a sedative to treat alcoholism. This drug has some potential side effects, the most common of which is flushing. It can also cause an allergic reaction in some people. This medication has been used for decades to treat alcoholism, but it should never be used without consulting a physician first.
Detox medication from a GP
If you or someone close to you is suffering from alcohol dependence and has decided to seek help through detox medication, visiting your local GP can be a good place to start. Your GP will be able to refer you on to a medical professional who deals with addiction and alcoholism within an inpatient environment. You may also get referred on directly if your GP believes that this is the best course of action for your condition. A GP may also recommend or refer you to an outpatient programme.
Managed home alcohol detox
Being responsible for taking care of your own alcohol detox can be an intimidating task. For many people the thought of managing their own detox isn’t even discussed because they can’t bear the thought of doing it themselves.
If you find you are having difficulty taking care of your alcohol detox process, but you are still determined to try, you may want to consider signing up for a managed home alcohol detox. There are private home detox services available in the UK that can help you with this process.
Hospitalisation or residential treatment
In rare cases, the NHS may provide a medical detox within an NHS approved unit. This option is only available to those with severe alcohol dependence and there is typically a process before an agreement on care is made.
The alternative option is privately within a detox unit or private rehab. While this option is typically more expensive, there are many benefits to residential care. Being away from triggers, stress, and the temptation to drink is typically the best way to recover in a supportive environment.
Maintaining Recovery: Support Groups
There are many support groups available to help anyone who is struggling to stay sober. Typically, support groups are free of charge and usually meet weekly to discuss the ins and outs of staying sober. There are also meetings that you can attend at your own pace, if you would like to meet up with other people in recovery, find your nearest Alcoholics Anonymous meeting.