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Alcohol Detox

What is Alcohol Detox?

If people have become physically addicted to alcohol, they will experience withdrawal symptoms when they try to stop this substance. Detox is short for “detoxification” and it refers to this period when the individual is going through the withdrawals. In many instances, it will be necessary for the individual to have this part of their recovery medically supervised, and this is what people mean when they say they are going into detox. People will sometimes use the words “detox” and “rehab” interchangeably, but they are not really the same thing. Many drug and/or alcohol rehabs do have detox beds, but in other instances, the individual will go through detox prior to coming to rehab.

Alcohol Addiction and Withdrawals

Those individuals who have been abusing alcohol heavily over a period of time are likely to develop an addiction. It means that their body has changed and responds to this behaviour. The mechanism by which people become addicted to alcohol (how they become alcoholic) is quite complex, but it is possible to provide a simple explanation that gives a good idea of what is happening.

Alcohol is a toxin in the body, and this means that it can interfere with normal functioning. In fact, the only reason for why people abuse these substances is they desire the mind-altering properties that can feel pleasurable. The fact that it is a toxin, though, means that it is harmful to all the organs in the body. In order to protect itself the body tries to adapt. It is not able to prevent the toxic effects of alcohol from causing harm, but it does learn how to work around this. This means that having alcohol in the bloodstream becomes the normal condition. The individual will develop tolerance to the substance, but it also means that if the person tries to stop their body will have to learn how to cope with this change. It is this period of readjustment following substance abuse that is the cause of most of the withdrawal symptoms that people will experience when they try to quit alcohol.

What to Expect with Alcohol Withdrawals

The severity of alcohol withdrawals can vary a great deal between different people. It very much depends on the heaviness of the addiction, and the amount of time that the individual has been addicted. In the majority of cases, the individual will only suffer relatively mild symptoms as they pass through detox. They are likely to experience things like:

  • Anxiety and agitation
  • Feelings of restlessness
  • Inability to sleep
  • Flu like symptoms
  • Body pains and aches
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Diarrhoea
  • Loss of appetite
  • Mild hallucinations
  • A feeling of impending doom
  • Body shakes
  • Headaches
  • Symptoms of depression

Those individuals who have drank heavily for many years can be at risk of a particularly serious form of withdrawals known as delirium tremens (DTs). The symptoms of this can include:

  • Convulsions and fits
  • Dangerously high blood pressure levels and elevated pulse
  • Intense hallucinations – usually involving insects and small animals
  • Severe confusion

The DTs are dangerous and people can die because of them. It is therefore vital that anyone who is at risk of developing delirium tremens is medically supervised during the detox process. This will help to ensure that they are kept safe and as comfortable as possible.

The Need for Supervised Detox

The idea of a supervised alcohol detox or drug detox is not going to be appealing to some people. The individual may have previously managed to make it through this stage without help, and they feel confident that they can do this again. There are some good reasons for why the individual may wish to choose a supervised detox including:

  • It means that the individual will be kept safe as they pass through detox. It can be very hard to determine who is going to have severe symptoms and who is not. This means that there is always a risk of things going bad, so it makes sense to have a doctor at hand.
  • Most of those people who try to quit alcohol will give up during the withdrawal symptoms. Even when these symptoms are mild, there is still a temptation to quit because the individual knows that they can end their discomfort at any time by giving up. The individual has to be determined to make it through this time, and it can be a great help to be in a supportive environment as this magnifies the person’s own determination. The majority of people who choose a supervised detox will make it through this period.
  • There are treatments available that can make the withdrawal symptoms easier to deal with. These include drugs and other options that will be available in detox.
  • When the individual enters this type of facility, they will usually be surrounded by other people who are going through the same thing. It really can make a difference for the person to know that they are not alone with their discomfort.
  • If the person is in a detox in alcohol or drug rehab, it will mean that they will be able to begin the treatment programme right away. They will be able to make a good deal of progress while still going through detox.

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