Alcohol Detox Clinic, Withdrawal and Treatment Options

Each person will experience the detox process differently. Factors such as age, physiology, mental and physical health, the abuse of other drugs, the length of alcohol consumption, the frequency of alcohol consumption, and average amount consumed, will all impact your experience of detox.

Symptoms experienced during detox from alcohol may be as mild as a headache or nausea, however some people experience severe delirium tremens (DTs) marked by seizures and/or hallucinations.

15 Signs and Symptoms of alcohol withdrawal:

  • Insomnia
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Lack of appetite
  • Tremors
  • Sweating
  • Rapid heart rate
  • Increased blood pressure
  • Fever
  • Anxiety
  • Agitation
  • Seizures
  • Disorientation
  • Impaired memory and judgment
  • Increased sensitivity to light
  • Delusions & hallucinations

Withdrawing from alcohol can be a difficult and potentially dangerous process, it is very important that you seek appropriate help and support if you are planning to detox.

The psychological discomfort associated with anxiety during abstinence can be overwhelming, this is why therapeutic change is so important. Rehab offers the opportunity to not only detox but to get really well. By developing emotional regulation skills, interpersonal tools, and other healthy coping mechanisms you can greatly reduce the risk of relapse.

Alcohol Withdrawal Timeline

The acute stage of the withdrawal process begins quickly after the last drink and doesn’t really last that long. The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition (DSM-5), the handbook for clinicians, indicates that alcohol withdrawal symptoms tend to emerge within 4-12 hours of the last drink. As alcohol is metabolised and cleared from the body symptoms tend to peak around the second day and subside by the fourth or fifth day.

Because many issues factor into the withdrawal process there is not a universal detox timeline that can be applied to everybody, however, there are certain phases of detox that many people detoxing will experience. These definitions will help the consultant to determine the severity of your symptoms and to prescribe medication accordingly.

  • Stage 1 (mild):  headache, tremors, anxiety, and insomnia.
  • Stage 2 (moderate): rapid breathing, rapid pulse, profound sweating, fever, and confusion.
  • Stage 3 (severe): impaired attention, disorientation, auditory or visual hallucinations, and seizures.

Detox marks the abrupt ending of alcohol intake and is necessary for the body to cleanse itself of all traces of alcohol. If there are no co-occurring conditions that are impacting the timeline of your detox you may experiences these three phases of detox;

  • Acute withdrawal: This phase can be characterised by the most severe effects of withdrawal, tremors Delirium tremens (DTs) and the risk of seizure is at its highest. Seizures and tremors occur most often within the first 48 hours following discontinued consumption and are at their worst at 24 hours into detox. DTs typically peak around 72 hours.
  • Early abstinence: Again everybody’s experience of this phase differs. It is normal though to experience, anxiety, low mood and disturbed sleep in the weeks following detox but this should resolve within a month or two with the passing of time and the development of new, healthy, coping strategies.
  • Long term sobriety: Long term sobriety involves living life on life’s terms without the use of alcohol. There will be ups and downs and difficult times which may induce the desire to relapse. To successfully lead a long term sober and happy life it is important that you build on the basis you created in primary treatment. And most importantly of course, don’t pick up a drink!

Treatment Options

There are various different treatments available for people diagnosed with alcoholism, these include rehab, medication, and therapy.

Rehab

Experts agree that the most effective way of treating alcohol addiction is residential treatment. Rehab is a specialized, therapeutic environment that offer detox as well as addressing any co-occurring issues as well as the reasons behind the alcohol addiction.

Rehab generally provide a holistic, and integrative approach to alcohol addiction treatment. The recovery programme will usually be built around the core elements of one-to-one counselling and therapeutic group sessions.

Rehab can help you

  • Detox with the support of a team of professionals and a community of peers.
  • Identify unhelpful patterns of thoughts and behaviour, so that they can be challenged, in order to bring about positive change
  • Express yourself constructively, and to process your thoughts in a safe, facilitated, and confidential space
  • Develop positive emotional regulation and coping skills, and start applying them in your daily life.

You should be assessed by a consultant on the day of your admission. This doctor will be able to prescribe you an appropriate medical detox should you need one. Additionally the doctor will assess and treat any other co-occurring issues you may have such as depression, anxiety, and any other physical health issues you may have.

Many people find that detoxing within a community has great therapeutic value, and report it is far easier detoxing in rehab than at home, alone.

Staff in rehabs are often in recovery themselves and are able to provide expert, empathic support for those suffering with alcohol addiction. Alongside your focal counsellor you will create a care plan which will be adapted as you progress through the therapeutic programme on offer at your rehab of choice.

Medication

There are medications available to help with alcohol addiction and detox. These treatments are most effective when used in conjunction with other approaches, such as psychotherapy and group therapy. Pharmacological approaches designed to help alcoholics detox or reduce the chances of relapse include:

  • Acamprosate (brand name: Campral) reduces some of the withdrawal symptoms associated with the recovery process.
  • Disulfiram (brand name: Antabuse) is the oldest of the medications for alcoholism. It increases unpleasant withdrawal symptoms like nausea and skin-flushing, as a deterrent to drinking, which can be effective for some patients, particularly those in the community rather than rehab.
  • Naltrexone (brand names: Revia and Vivitrol, an injectable form of naltrexone) may help reduce cravings.

Additionally the doctor may be able to prescribe you ant-anxiety and anti-depressant medications to support you through the detox process.

Therapy

If you seek medical help for your alcohol addiction, it’s very likely that at some point your doctor or another health care professional will suggest addictions counselling.

You may receive counselling on an individual basis or in a group setting with peers who have similar issues to you. You may also have the opportunity to have therapy alongside your family members and loved ones, this can help you to build important support networks and heal past hurts on all sides.

Counselling can help you to explore, identify, and challenge negative and unproductive thoughts and beliefs in order to improve your life and lessen the risk of relapse. Therapy can also provide support in overcoming issues behind your addiction such as issues from a difficult childhood or trauma. Therapy also aims to help you to develop skills and tools with which you can deal with life and emotions successfully. Therapy can help you to see that you can overcome your addiction and make positive changes in your life.

Through therapy you will be able to explore your feelings, resolve inner conflicts, gain self-awareness, manage behaviour, increase social skills, reduce anxiety and improve your self-esteem.

Alcohol Detox FAQ

How long does it take to Detox Completely from Alcohol?

The acute stage of the detox process is relatively short. Symptoms will usually begin to present very quickly after the last drink – as quickly as within 4hours. Withdrawal symptoms will then peak around 48-72 hours and tail off entirely at around a week to 10 days.

You may experience some lingering low mood or anxiety for a number of weeks but this will usually resolve by itself, particularly if you are working to develop healthy coping mechanisms in that time.

Is Alcoholism A Disease?

The disease theory of alcoholism states that problem drinking can be characterised by altered brain structure and function. In 1956, the American Medical Association (AMA) declared that alcoholism was an illness. In 1991, the AMA further endorsed the dual classification of alcoholism by the International Classification of Diseases under both psychiatric and medical sections.

The disease of alcoholism is characterized by symptoms including an inability to control ones drinking and obsessive compulsive thoughts around alcohol. Alcoholism can also lead to physical addiction, as well as physical consequences such as liver disease.

In a review in 2001, McLellan et al.[i] compared the diagnoses, heritability, etiology (genetic and environmental factors), pathophysiology, and response to treatments of addiction vs type 2 diabetes, hypertension, and asthma. The research showed that genetic heritability, personal choice, and environmental factors are comparably involved in the etiology and course of all of these disorders, providing evidence that drug (including alcohol) dependence is a chronic medical illness.

  • [i] McLellan AT, et al. Reconsidering the evaluation of addiction treatment: From retrospective follow-up to concurrent recovery monitoring. Addiction. 2005;100(4):447–458. [PubMed]
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