Alcohol Detoxification and Withdrawal

Alcohol Detoxification and Withdrawal

Alcohol Detoxification and Withdrawal

Alcohol is extremely addictive because the body builds up a tolerance and dependence to this substance meaning that overtime more is needed to produce the same effects and when and individual goes without drinking for a short time period, he or she will most likely experience withdrawals. Many individuals believe that alcohol abuse is dangerous because of the long-term effects on the body, and although this is true, withdrawing from alcohol is one of the most dangerous and life-threatening side effects associated with alcohol abuse. In fact, physicians state that alcohol is often the most dangerous substance for the body to withdraw from, especially when attempted without medical supervision.

Alcohol withdrawal symptoms

Symptoms associated with alcohol withdrawal range from mild to severe and generally begin six-72 hours after the last drink.

  • Mild symptoms: Tend to begin within six to eight hours of discontinued alcohol use. These symptoms are usually associated with minor physical disturbances and changes in behavior and mood and include depression, anxiety, insomnia, nausea, headaches, vomiting, mood swings and tremors. ?
  • Moderate symptoms: Usually begin 12-48 hours after the last drink and include high blood pressure, fever, irregular heartbeat, confusion and sweating.
  • Severe symptoms: Life threatening and begin 48-72 hours within the detox process and include hallucinations, fever, seizures, confusion and agitation.

Medical detoxification is necessary for severe withdrawal symptoms and as a result it is strongly advised that any individual experiencing the first signs of alcohol withdrawal seeks medical help immediately in order to prevent hallucinations and seizures, which can lead to death. For those individuals experiencing the most serious symptom of alcohol withdrawal, shaking, shivering, sweating and delirium tremens, the death rate has been estimated as high as four percent, or one in 25. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention counted 831 deaths in 2016 that could be characterized as related to alcohol withdrawal.

How long does alcohol withdrawal last?

Depending on the severity of the alcohol use disorder, alcohol withdrawal usually begin six to eight hours after the last drink and can last up to five to six days. Alcohol withdrawal should always be managed in a controlled medical setting where medications can be given to alleviate the physical withdrawal symptoms as well as to stable the individual’s heart rate and blood pressure.

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Alcohol withdrawal treatment

Individuals who are at risk of alcohol withdrawal should be monitored in a medical setting in case they are in need of medications or medical intervention. A slow tapered dose of benzodiazepines are usually administered to individuals in order to prevent severe withdrawal effects. Benzodiazepines work on the same receptors in the brain as alcohol and therefore can alleviate any of the physical withdrawal side effects since this class of medication is considered to be structurally and chemically similar to alcohol. Over time the individuals is weaned off of this benzodiazepine taper until they are no longer at risk of physical alcohol withdrawal symptoms. Individuals may still experience alcohol cravings and the desire to drink and therefore these individuals should undergo long-term alcohol treatment where they can develop coping skills to understand their triggers and control their cravings.

Are you at risk of alcohol withdrawal?

The diagnosis of alcoholism is based on the individual’s drinking history. There are many different assessments health care professionals use to screen individuals for alcohol use including the 10-question Alcohol Use Disorders Identification Test (AUDIT), the abbreviated 3-question Audit-Consumption (Audit-C) and the CAGE questionnaire. The CAGE questionnaire is probably the most widely used screening tool among both medical and mental health professionals and includes the following questions:

  • Have you ever tried to stop drinking for a week or longer but only lasted a couple of days?
  • Has your drinking ever caused you trouble at home?
  • Has your drinking ever caused you trouble with your job?
  • Have you ever felt the need to have a drink in the morning to curb shakiness?
  • Do you have “blackouts”? A blackout occurs when you have been drinking for a period of time and you cannot recall any events.
  • Do you drink when you are stressed out, disappointed or are in a fight with someone?
  • Have you ever had withdrawal symptoms from alcohol? These can include a racing heart, nausea, vomiting, tremors, or seizures.
  • Have you ever operated a motor vehicle while under the influence?
  • Have you ever tried to hide your drinking habits from your friends or family?
  • Has anyone close to you expressed concern about your drinking?
  • Do you often find yourself in a hurry to have your first drink of the day?
  • Do you ever feel disappointed or uncomfortable if alcohol is not available in a social setting?

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