Alcohol Detox Timeline & Withdrawal Symptoms
February 22, 2019
February 22, 2019
Update: an article is updated in May 2019
Alcohol abuse has been a cultural concern for the past several centuries. During the era of Prohibition, alcohol was considered by many countries to be the root cause of poverty; indecency; and domestic violence. Our concern for its effects in America even led to a constitutional amendment to ban access to it, entirely.
As this particular experiment in social behavior demonstrated, forcing determined adults to abstain from alcohol is an ineffective approach to the problem. People would find ways to consume the substance, even if it meant risking life and freedom. In fact, many people died during this time period, while attempting to obtain their alcohol experience through drinking tainted products. Even now, more than 15 million American adults are engaging in problematic usage of alcohol. What is it about this substance that makes it so appealing?
The positive experiences of alcohol intoxication are hailed throughout time and history. It has been prescribed as a relaxation agent; as a spiritual medium; and even as a beneficial element in better heart health. The key factor that is present within these applications, however, is that of moderation. Those who are unable to moderate their alcohol intake, and to ensure that only the benefits are present, can find that they have opened a door to the debilitating side of the substance.
Physical dependence upon the presence of alcohol can creep up slowly. As alcohol is able to easily penetrate the blood-brain barrier that tends to filter other types of substances, it has a direct line of access to our neurons and to our nervous system. Persistent exposure to alcohol can cause permanent damage to important nerve cells, which is then masked by continuing to intoxicate. Users will find themselves needing to have a drink in order to feel physically normal.
There also exists the danger of psychological dependence. Many who drink utilize the alcohol for the purpose of relaxing after a hard day of work, or as a means to engage more heartily in social interactions. Through relying on the substance for these experiences, the user doesn’t learn to develop a means of coping outside of the influence. Someone who is psychologically dependent on alcohol can begin to feel that the drink is needed as a medium for daily functioning.
Overall, one is considered to be dependent upon the effects of alcohol if the user persists in drinking, in spite of negative physical, psychological, and social consequences surrounding the behavior.
The first symptoms of alcohol withdrawal involve the infamous hangover. Following a binge of drinking, one can wake up to a headache, queasy stomach, and severe thirst. The brain may feel foggy, and the user can feel a strong desire to stay asleep.
Due to the damage to neurons and nerve cells that prolonged alcohol usage can cause, symptoms of withdrawal can further result in what is commonly referred to as the “shakes.” These symptoms of delirium tremens can range from shaking hands, to full-body, seizure-like, reactions. The tremors can be accompanied by confusion, profuse sweating, and severe nausea, resulting in an inability to maintain proper fluid levels within the body. The experience of dehydration compounds the other symptoms, and can result in a life threatening condition. In severe cases, the user can begin to experience hallucinations, and will see or hear things that are not physically present. The heart rate can increase, and blood pressure can rise to dangerous levels.
There are psychological symptoms of withdrawal, as well. Once abstaining, an alcohol dependent person can begin to experience intense anxiety and depression. These heightened experiences of psychological distress can increase of feelings of stress – and result in a sense of inability to cope – which can tempt the user to return to drinking as a means of escape.
The first effects of alcohol withdrawal can occur within the first several hours of having the last drink, and include the symptoms that are listed, above. For those who have only a minor dependence on alcohol, the symptoms are likely to clear up, on their own, within a few days.
For those with a more severe form of alcohol dependence, inpatient treatment may be necessary. In these cases, the initial symptoms are still experienced within the first few days. These symptoms, however, do not subside into relief. A moderate-to-severe dependence on alcohol can produce confusion; severe tremors; and altered perceptions that begin 3-5 days into the period of withdrawal.
Current estimates suggest that it can take anywhere from a few months, to a year, to fully recover from the physical and psychological effects of alcohol dependence. And, even with months of abstinence under the belt, a former drinker can find that they are unable to imbibe in the casual drink without experiencing extreme reactions. As with the varying effects of initial alcohol usage, the ability to successfully engage in moderate drinking following a detoxing period is dependent upon the constitution of an individual.
Upon admittance to a qualified detox facility, a patient is provided with the medications approved by a physician for alleviating the discomfort that is associated with alcohol withdrawal. Blood tests will be performed, in order to assess which nutrients the body is most in need of, and a nutritional plan will be established for replenishing those nutrients once the patient is stabilized. Fluids will be administered – intravenously, if necessary – in order to ensure that the patient remains properly hydrated. Ascendant opened its new medically assisted detox facility in 2018. Located in the heart of Manhattan, within a seven-story brownstone near Central Park, Ascendant has created a unique environment to help people take the first step towards recovery from drug and alcohol addiction. The new facility has been specifically designed to provide a luxurious place of healing that is serene and well-considered to provide the greatest possible comfort during drug and alcohol withdrawal.
A proper alcohol detoxification program will attend to the emotional and psychological needs of a patient, as well. Settings which strive to produce an atmosphere of calm and provide the patient with 24-hour access to care can work to ensure that a patient does not encounter any undue stress in addition to the withdrawal. Following a reduction in physical symptoms, a comprehensive treatment plan for after-care should be developed, which will assist the recovering person to adjust to a new life, free from the influence of alcohol.