Detoxing From Alcohol: What to Expect

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Deciding to sober clean can be scary, especially when you know what the first step of detoxing entails. However, detox is necessary for treating alcoholism. Alcohol detox may be painful, uncomfortable, and life-threatening. It is not enough to know the general stories regarding alcohol detox – everyone’s detox and withdrawal experience will differ. Knowing what to expect from detox medically can help ease the anxiety of starting the recovery process. 

What is Detox? Why is it Important?

Detoxification, known as detox for short, is the first step in recovering from drug or alcohol addiction. Detoxing is the processing of removing toxins from the body placed there by extended drug and alcohol use. The amount of time detoxing takes depends upon several factors, including:

  • The type of substance used
  • Severity of addiction
  • How long substances were used
  • How much of a substance was consumed at a time
  • The method of consumption
  • Family history
  • Medical conditions
  • Genetics 
  • Underlying mental health conditions

Typically detox takes anywhere from a couple of days to weeks at a time. 

Detox is vital for recovering from alcoholism because alcohol is a depressant. Over time as your brain gets used to having alcohol in its system, it will stop producing specific chemicals that it knows will be replenished from the alcohol. Sudden cessation of drinking causes the body to experience withdrawal symptoms, and it needs to adjust to not having the substance anymore. 

Symptoms of Alcohol Withdrawal

Withdrawal symptoms that occur during detoxing can be mild or severe enough to be life-threatening. The severity of symptoms depends on the addiction’s longevity and severity, how much alcohol is consumed at one time, age, and more. The longer you have been drinking, the more likely you are to have more severe withdrawal symptoms. It is never a good idea to detox at home, as some symptoms can be life-threatening. Detoxing at a treatment facility surrounded by medical professionals ensures a healthy and comfortable detox. Symptoms you may experience include:

Minor Symptoms

  • Headaches
  • Trouble concentrating
  • Vomiting
  • Nausea
  • Body discomfort
  • Anxiety
  • Sweating
  • Mood swings
  • Insomnia

Severe Symptoms

  • Disorientation
  • Tremors
  • Intense hallucinations
  • Seizures
  • Delirium tremens

Timeline of Alcohol Detox/Withdrawal

Symptoms of withdrawal can begin as soon as two hours after your last drink, with mild symptoms lasting for several weeks to one year. Severe symptoms will typically only be present during the first week and then dissipate. 

6-12 Hours

This period is considered an early withdrawal and typically involves anxiety, shaking, headaches, irritability, and nausea. 

Day One

The symptoms of withdrawal tend to become more severe at the end of the first day. The symptoms from the first 6-12 hours will continue with possible added symptoms of hand tremors, disorientation, and seizures. 

Day Two

Day two may introduce severe symptoms such as panic attacks and hallucinations. These can be treated with medications to make you more comfortable. The peak of symptoms will typically start to alleviate around 50 hours after your last drink, just after two days of detoxing.

Days Three through Seven

The first week of detoxing is the most dangerous in terms of withdrawal symptoms because it is the most likely period where you can develop life-threatening withdrawal symptoms such as delirium tremens. Mild symptoms will continue throughout the week and start to subside as you approach your second week. 

Week Two

Minor symptoms may continue after two weeks of stopped drinking. These can be treated with medications to keep you comfortable until the symptoms completely subside. You may experience post-acute withdrawal syndrome (PAWS) even months to a year after your initial detox. PAWS include symptoms such as low energy, insomnia, anxiety, and delayed reflexes. However, these can be managed and are not a cause for concern. 

After Detox

Detoxification is not a cure for addiction but rather the first step of treatment. While detox heals addiction’s physical aspects, individuals still need to go through various counseling, therapy, support groups, and rehab to treat their addiction’s psychological elements. Once you have completed the detox stage, you can plan with your medical staff for the next steps. Aftercare plans may include an inpatient rehab program, outpatient rehab program, therapy, 12-step programs, or other support groups. 

Approaching recovery knowing that the first step is detoxing from alcohol can be intimidating. The stories you hear from others that have gone through an alcohol detox can make this anxiety worse. However, you should keep in mind that every person’s detox and withdrawal symptoms will differ based on various factors. Factors may include the amount of time spent using, the specific substances used, how much of a substance was used, and the consumption method. Knowing the facts can help you understand what to expect and how to prepare. Most detox symptoms will dissipate after a few days, but you may feel the effects of your alcohol use for months after you stop drinking. The more severe your alcohol use was, the longer detox will take. Symptoms can range from mild to life-threatening. Detox should be done in medical professionals’ care to ensure the process of withdrawal is safe and comfortable. In inpatient detox, you will be provided with medications to ease symptoms. Once the detox stage ends, you can then make a treatment plan. For more detox information and how to prepare, contact Everlast Recovery Centers at 866-DETOX-25

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