Quitting alcohol if your body is dependent on it is physically and psychologically challenging. When large amounts of alcohol are consumed over an extended period, the body becomes accustomed to it and relies on it to produce chemicals in the brain. This makes it harder to give it up.

For many with alcohol use disorder (AUD), detoxing from alcohol is incredibly intimidating due to the unpleasant and sometimes serious withdrawal symptoms.

However, it is a vital first step in the recovery journey. With the right support and guidance, detox helps many overcome addictions, leading to a healthy and happy future.

What Is a Detox?

Defined as a period when alcohol is abstained from, detox, or detoxification, is the process in which harmful toxins leave the body.

Although detox can be conducted at home or via a center, it is recommended that detox is completed under the supervision of a medical professional. This mitigates the risk of relapse and ensures that life-threatening side effects can be treated.

To enhance its effectiveness, detox is usually completed alongside counseling. Medication is also prescribed to assist the detox process when administered under close observation of a doctor or health professional.

Why Is a Detox Difficult?

When consumed, alcohol works to increase the production of gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA). A neurotransmitter, or chemical messenger, GABA, enables the brain to relax.

When an individual consumes alcohol excessively over a prolonged period, the production of GABA becomes hindered. This means that when the body cannot access alcohol during detox, GABA levels reduce, causing withdrawal symptoms to arise.

Withdrawal Symptoms

The intensity of withdrawal symptoms varies from person to person. For some, they are mild, but for others, they can be life-threatening.

Some of the most experienced withdrawal symptoms include:

  • Nausea
  • Trembling
  • Irritability
  • Headaches
  • Fatigue
  • Trouble Sleeping
  • Sweating
  • Anxiety

While uncommon, severe withdrawal symptoms arise when an individual has been drinking heavily over an extended time. Extremely dangerous, severe withdrawal symptoms include Delirium Tremens (DTs).

Defined as “the most intense and serious syndrome associated with alcohol withdrawal (AW)”, DTs are characterized by severe agitation, tremors, disorientation, and persistent hallucinations. Significant increases in heart rate, breathing rate, pulse, and blood pressure may also be experienced.

Occurring in approximately five percent of patients who undergo detox and experience withdrawal symptoms, symptoms associated with DTs usually appear two to four days after the patient’s last use of alcohol and can last two to three days.

A small percentage of people experiencing AW may also experience seizures and hallucinations. These symptoms can be fatal and extremely frightening.

What Can I Expect to Happen During Detox?

As everyone experiences AW differently, a medical professional will support and guide you along your path towards recovery as you undergo detox.

Some people are prescribed certain medications, such as benzodiazepines, to ease withdrawal symptoms. You may also be required to undergo a physical examination to determine your risk of developing more complex withdrawal symptoms. From here, inpatient or outpatient treatment will be advised.

Inpatient Treatment

Extremely effective, inpatient treatment programs provide immersive care and medical advice. They also remove the client from social and environmental stimuli that could act as triggers for relapse.

Inpatient treatment is recommended if you:

  • Have a history of severe withdrawal symptoms
  • Experience withdrawal seizures or delirium tremens
  • Do not have a reliable support network
  • Are pregnant
  • Consume high levels of alcohol
  • Have previously relapsed
  • Suffer from an accompanying medical or psychiatric illness

Outpatient Treatment

Outpatient treatment does not require clients to remain within a center during treatment. Instead, the outpatient treatment enables you to recover at home, under the guidance and supervision of a medical professional.

This form of treatment is suitable for those with a mild to moderate addiction.

Although an alcohol detox may feel intimidating, it is one of the most rewarding challenges to overcome. Not only does detox provide the opportunity to overcome alcoholism, but it offers a great chance of achieving a much brighter, much happier, sober future.