What is alcohol detox?

Many people believe that when one is faced with an alcohol addiction, their first course of action should be to check into a rehab facility. While this is partly true, a step is needed before rehab can begin: the process of detoxification.

Alcohol can create a strong physical and mental dependence. The individual has to consume more and more of it in order to accomplish the desired effects. Attempts to quit result in the body going into shock, because it is no longer used to functioning without alcohol. During detox, the effects of that shock are managed under medical supervision, to keep the patient safe and as comfortable as possible.

It is only once that physical dependency is broken that the individual can tackle the next stage of recovery: alcohol rehab.

What are the withdrawal symptoms?

The withdrawal symptoms vary from person to person, but the most common symptoms are as follows:

  • Elevated blood pressure and heart palpitations
  • Headache, fever, sweating and chills
  • Depression, anxiety, agitation and mood swings
  • Seizures and delirium tremens (DT’s)

What is delirium tremens?

Delirum tremens, sometimes called the DT’s, is a state of confusion and hyperactivity that happens to some individuals two or three days into their detox. It results from the altered mental state that comes from alcohol abuse, and it is the most dangerous withdrawal symptom. Unless proper supervision is provided at this time, the DT’s can lead to cardiovascular collapse. It has a high mortality rate in individuals who are not under medical care.

The symptoms of delirium tremens include tremors and shaking, agitation, confusion, mood swings, fever, seizures and hallucinations.

Not everybody experiences the DT’s during detox. Risk factors for this troubling withdrawal symptom include the following:

  • Sudden alcohol deprivation after a period of heavy drinking
  • Alcohol addiction lasting for more than ten years
  • A prior head injury, or a history of heart disease
  • Insufficient nutrition during periods of heavy drinking

How long does detox take?

Alcohol detox can take anywhere from a few days to over two weeks, depending on the length of the addiction, how much alcohol was consumed each day and the presence of coexisting physical or mental health conditions.

Initially, you will feel strong cravings for alcohol that will begin shortly after your last drink and may persist throughout the detox process. You may also start to feel physically ill and experience some anxiety. Over the next two days, more serious symptoms can arise as your brain and body revolt against the sudden deprivation of alcohol. You may experience hallucinations, delirium treatments and seizures. These symptoms can escalate over several days before they peak and then begin to subside.

In most cases, the detox process takes about two weeks, but cravings and the risk of seizures can continue beyond that.

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