How to detox from alcohol

Dangerous symptoms of withdrawal occur when alcohol is stopped and can present in people who have only been drinking for a short term or for many years. Other drugs increase this danger. Medical detox is imperative to ensuring safety.

When a person with alcoholism stops drinking, withdrawal symptoms begin within 6 – 48 hours and peak about 24 – 35 hours after the last drink.

Some of the symptoms of withdrawal are:

  • Anxiety
  • Irritability
  • Insomnia
  • Agitation
  • Shakiness
  • Aggressive behavior
  • Fever, increased pulse rate
  • Blood pressure increases or drops
  • Mental disturbances

About 95 percent of people have mild-to-moderate withdrawal symptoms when stopping alcohol.

Serious medical conditions can quickly develop during the withdrawal period including anemia, irregular heartbeat and liver damage. For this reason, an individual should always undergo a thorough medical evaluation from a professional trained in alcohol disorders.

Seizures occur in about 10 percent of adults during withdrawal. In about 60 percent of these patients, the seizures are multiple. The time between the first and last seizure is often six hours or less. Increasingly severe and frequent seizures may lead to possible brain damage.

Delirium tremens (DTs) is the term for withdrawal symptoms that become progressively severe and include altered mental states such as hallucinations, generalized seizures, confusion, and agitation.

High fever is also common. DTs are potentially fatal. They develop in up to 5 percent of alcoholic patients, usually 2 – 4 days after the last drink, although it may take two or more days for DTs to peak. In 15 – 20 percent of people with moderate symptoms, brief seizures and hallucinations may occur, but these will not necessarily progress to full-blown DTs. The fatality rate can be as high as 20 percent in these individuals. Treatment usually involves intravenous administration of anti-anxiety medications and fluids.

Since the dangers of alcohol withdrawal syndrome are so prevalent, a carefully monitored, inpatient medical detoxification is recommended.

Medical detoxification should be implemented at the same time as an assessment. This assessment should examine medical, social, personal, spiritual, wellness, and psychological factors. After a thorough assessment of these and also any underlying psychiatric issues, addiction specialists can properly administer and monitor a medical detoxification regimen that is safe and comfortable.

Detox is the medical treatment of the physical addiction to a substance.

This complicated process involves using medications to assist in the gradual withdrawal from a dependency.

The acute, first phase of medical detox takes approximately one week. The second phase of detox is known as post acute withdrawal or protracted abstinence syndrome. Though less acute, it is a period involving feelings of anxiety and “fuzzy thinking” that can take weeks to months to complete. This return to mental and physical balance is a delicate and vulnerable time for the former addict. During this period, recovery should be initiate. Residential treatment is one of the most effective tools in recovery from alcohol.

According to the American Society of Addiction Medicine, “Detoxification does not constitute substance abuse treatment but is one part of a continuum of care.”

The key to recovery is to learn the means to manage life without drugs. During detox and the early stages of recovery, it is necessary to work closely with medical and psychological professionals. Psychological disorders such as depression, or anxiety disorders need to be treated concurrently. Collaboration with their multidisciplinary treatment team in the development of a holistic treatment plan is key to sustained recovery.

Likewise, medical detoxification and stability followed by treatment services, continuing care and recovery care services are the best and most effective steps in substance use rehab. During treatment, patients begin to regain health, and will start to rebuild relationships with their families. 12–Step integration practice provides an additional way to give and receive support.

Developing an emotionally and spiritually rich life is key to recovery. This process must begin directly after detox.

Ultimately, recovery must include meaningful fellowship and support from others. This includes addressing trauma and finding ways to manage stress and cope with difficult emotional situations. For recovery to be truly successful, the participant must develop an open and willing attitude.

Once the struggle with the physical effects of alcohol stops, the person can accept help. Committing to recovery requires dedication to an ongoing, proactive, sobriety plan.

Drugs, alcohol, problems? Call 844-843-8935 for solutions.

How Long After Using Can Tests Detect Drugs?

Whether you’re wondering how long it will take for you to pass a drug test or you simply want to know how long it will take for you to get fully clean again, it can be pretty helpful to know what certain drug tests can detect for specific drugs.

Drug general detection timelines

Listed below are the general detection timelines for the four major classes of drugs for the three primary types of tests: urine, breath/saliva, and hair follicle tests.  

  • Urine Tests
    • Alcohol – 12 to 48 hours
    • Opioids72 hours
    • Benzodiazepines2 to 14 days (depending on short-acting or long-acting)
    • Stimulants24 to 96 hours
  • Breath/Saliva Tests
    • Alcohol24 hours
    • Opioids24 to 36 hours
    • Benzodiazepines48 hours
    • Stimulants24 hours
  • Hair Tests
    • Alcohol90 days
    • Opioids90 days
    • Benzodiazepines90 days
    • Stimulants90 days

Over the Counter Medicines & Supplements That Can Ease Withdrawal Symptoms

It’s important to remember, however, that even though you’re likely in a lot of pain, you still need to follow the dosing guidelines outlined on the bottles. Even though these drugs are sold legally in stores, they can end up being both addictive and dangerous when used incorrectly.

  • Imodium – Helpful for stopping diarrhea.
  • Ibuprofen – An immensely helpful pain reliever, anti-inflammatory, and fever reducer. Superior to acetaminophen for detox in that acetaminophen can end up damaging the liver at high doses.
  • Melatonin/Valerian Root – Natural sleep aids that aren’t habit forming and can help combat insomnia.
  • Complete Multivitamin – An important addition to any at-home detox, can provide your body with many of the nutrients it needs to combat withdrawals and make recovery much easier.
  • Fish Oil – Provides Omega-3s which can make the body more effective at recovering.
  • L-Glutamine – Can help reduce cravings and balance blood chemical levels.
  • B-Vitamins – Can become severely depleted due to alcoholism. Restoring to normal levels can boost energy and eliminate mental fog.
  • L-Theanine – Reduces anxiety.
  • St. John’s Wort – Improves mood and combats depression.
  • Vitamin C – May be helpful in treating heroin withdrawals specifically.
  • L-Tyrosine – Can help with depression, low energy levels, and mood disorders.
  • Kava Kava – May reduce anxiety.
  • Zinc – Can help restore your body’s immune system.

What Other Complications Make At-Home Detoxification Dangerous?

While it’s true that alcohol, benzodiazepines, and opioids (to an extent) are the only drugs that have directly life-threatening withdrawal symptoms, that doesn’t mean that your life isn’t in danger with other drugs.

In fact, many cases of deaths during detoxification actually arise from the additional complications that can come from detox rather than the potentially-fatal withdrawals we’ve looked at already.

Below are the most common complications to be on the lookout for and how they may end up being the biggest threat to your life if you still decide to detox at home rather than with a professional program.

  • MalnutritionMany different drug withdrawals include vomiting in their long list of physical side effects to expect. And for some of these drugs, the vomiting can occur almost constantly. As you can imagine, this can make keeping food down a bit of a challenge.

Added to the fact that most drug users don’t get the proper nutrition they need while they’re actively addicted, this might lead to a serious state of malnutrition. As a result, they may experience a range of additional complications such as impaired immunity, poor cognition, reduced muscle strength, and many more.

  • DehydrationIn addition to just how common vomiting is during withdrawal, diarrhea also occurs quite frequently along the way. And not only is this withdrawal symptom incredibly uncomfortable, but it can also lead to dehydration incredibly quickly, especially combined with vomiting.

Dehydration, as well as the electrolyte imbalance that can happen as a result, can lead to lowered blood pressure and kidney failure, among other conditions.

  • Arrhythmia & Cardiac EventsDetoxes from drugs and alcohol often impact the way the body regulates autonomic functions like respiration and heart rate. And in the flurry of activity, your heart rate can actually become abnormal, a condition technically known as an arrhythmia. While not all arrhythmias lead to deadly complications, some do.

The irregular heartbeat can make it hard for certain organs to get the blood they need to function properly. And as a result, some people experiencing an arrhythmia may suffer a stroke or complete heart failure.

With proper medical help, though, you’ll have the medical expertise needed to both treat this condition and prevent any serious complications should they arise.

  • Choking – The persistent vomiting associated with withdrawal can also lead to another unexpected complication: choking. While it’s a horrifying thing to think of, some addicts may actually be at risk of choking on their own vomit as they suffer through the symptoms of withdrawal during detoxification.

This risk is even higher if patients are using other drugs illicitly in order to help them get through the worst withdrawals, especially when those drugs are particularly sedating. It’s important, then, that even if you do decide to forego the medical expertise of a professional detox facility, that you still get someone to help you as you work through withdrawals at home.  

  • Pulmonary Aspiration – Piggybacking on the previous complication, the frequent vomiting can also cause a dangerous complication known as pulmonary aspiration. This condition comes from accidentally inhaling vomit and the infection that can result from a buildup of fluid or material in the lungs.

This buildup can then cause other complications such as aspiration pneumonia which, in some cases, can end up being quite deadly.

  • PsychosisMost common with amphetamines, some drug withdrawals might also send recovering addicts into a manic and deluded state resembling psychosis. This state is characterized by a disconnect with reality, delusions, paranoia, aggressive behavior, and sometimes even hallucinations.

During a state of psychosis, it can be difficult if not impossible to control the victim and they may pose a physical risk to others as well as themselves.

  • Self-Harm – Not all dangerous complications are physical. In fact, some of the most lethal withdrawal symptoms are actually the psychological ones. Anxiety, depression, irritability, paranoia, and more can all add up to an overwhelmingly hopeless feeling that some people just can’t shake. And these psychological withdrawals can quite often lead to the development of suicidal thoughts.

Without proper interventions from a professional treatment facility, a patient going through withdrawal may not be able to see that their feelings of hopelessness are actually a symptom of withdrawal and won’t last forever.

Understanding Alcohol In The Body

Woman Who Learned How to Detox from AlcoholWhen you drink alcohol, your stomach lining quickly absorbs about one-third of it. The rest of the alcohol enters your bloodstream slowly. Alcohol affects every cell in your body. It has a negative impact on major organs, including the brain.

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Drinking alcohol can make you feel good. The substance stimulates the release of neurotransmitters that produce positive effects. GABA, one of these neurotransmitters, blocks communication between brain cells. Without GABA, neurons may fire too frequently, causing anxiety, panic attacks, and many other conditions. Moderate GABA stimulation can make you feel calm. However, too much GABA can excessively slow down the central nervous system.

Over time, your body gets used to alcohol’s effects. Although your body will still release calming neurotransmitters when you drink, the receptors become desensitized to their effects. You need more alcohol to feel a buzz. This can lead to overdrinking, dependence, and addiction.

What Happens When You Stop Drinking?

If you’ve been consuming alcohol on a long-term basis, your nervous system slows down. Your body essentially loses the ability to regulate itself using neurotransmitters. When you stop drinking, your nervous system rebounds. The stimulation overload can cause heart palpitations, seizures, brain damage, or death.

You may not experience life-threatening alcohol detox symptoms when you quit. However, many people deal with less severe problems, including:

  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Uncontrollable shakes
  • Hallucinations
  • Fever
  • Profuse sweating
  • Anxiety

Health Risks During Detox From Alcohol

Alcohol affects the brain, interfering with the normal production and function of its chemical messengers, or neurotransmitters. Chronic alcohol abuse leads to the suppression of the neurotransmitters GABA and glutamine. GABA functions to slow down brain activity and promotes calm and relaxing feelings, while glutamine is responsible for feelings of excitability. When alcohol is then removed from the brain during detox, these chemicals are no longer suppressed, and the brain can rebound leading to brain hyperexcitablity. This may manifest through anxiety, irritability, tremors, agitation, and, in severe cases, seizures and delirium tremens (DTs).

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The severity of the withdrawal symptoms is typically directly related to the amount of alcohol consumed and the length of time the habit was perpetuated. Most episodes of heavy or binge drinking will result in some form of withdrawal symptoms.

There is a wide range of symptoms, including:

  • Headache
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Insomnia
  • Loss of appetite
  • Sweating
  • Depression
  • Rapid heart rate
  • Shakiness
  • Mood swings
  • Fatigue
  • Nervousness
  • Hallucinations
  • Fever
  • Confusion

One of the most severe withdrawal symptoms is delirium tremens, which is fatal between one and five percent of the time, as published by the American Society of Addiction Medicine. Delirium tremens is a medical emergency characterized by mental and nervous system changes, which can cause hallucinations, seizures, and disorientation. If you suspect DTs, seek immediate medical help as early intervention and treatment greatly reduces the mortality rate.Alcoholism is a disease, and relapse is common. Unfortunately, repeated episodes of detox can increase the risk for seizures and DTs. Medical supervision is recommended during alcohol detox to help manage withdrawal symptoms and lower the health risks.

Timeline of Alcohol Detox

DoctorAlcohol withdrawal varies from person to person depending on the level of dependence and duration of the substance abuse; therefore, so does the detox timeline. Typically, withdrawal symptoms will begin within six to eight hours of blood alcohol levels dropping drastically and peak around 24 to 72 hours. Tactile, visual, and auditory hallucinations may start between 12 and 24 hours of alcohol levels dropping, while seizures can begin to occur between 24 and 48 hours after stopping drinking. DTs typically appear within 24 to 72 hours after alcohol has been purged from the body. Withdrawal symptoms may persist for a long period of time.

Many times, the use of pharmaceuticals can be a helpful aid to relieve the intensity of many of the more severe withdrawal symptoms, and they are often added to the detox protocol. Medications used during detox include:

  • Sedatives
  • Anti-anxiety medications
  • Adjunctive medications
  • Vitamin supplements
  • Intravenous fluids
  • Alcohol itself

Benzodiazepines are commonly used to help relieve alcohol withdrawal symptoms during detox. Valium and Librium, benzodiazepine medications, have tranquilizing and sedative effects. They work to suppress the central nervous system and help relieve convulsions and tremors related to alcohol withdrawal. Diazepam is another benzodiazepine medication also often used to counteract the anxiety that crops up during alcohol detox. Other pharmaceuticals, including adrenergic medications, may be used in addition to benzodiazepines as a supplement, or adjunctive medication, and may relieve other withdrawal symptoms like agitation and hallucinations.

Alcohol withdrawal can also cause severe vitamin deficiencies that can be balanced by vitamin supplements. For example, many chronic drinkers are deficient in thiamine, essential for energy metabolism, and this deficiency if left untreated can lead to Wernicke-Korsakoff syndrome, which can progress to irreversible dementia. Therefore thiamine, or vitamin B complex, is often added to the alcohol detox protocol. In some cases, severe dehydration occurs during alcohol withdrawal and intravenous fluids are necessary, which must be administered in an inpatient setting.

Since stopping alcohol suddenly can be problematic, sometimes tapering off alcohol is suggested. This method creates a schedule in which the drinker gradually reduces the levels of alcohol consumed down to zero over a period of time. Tapering off is typically not recommended, as it is safest to withdraw from alcohol in a controlled and monitored setting.

What Happens After Detox?

Detox is merely the first step in the recovery process. The emotional component of alcohol dependency should not be overlooked. Managing withdrawal symptoms is the initial goal during detox. After the alcohol is purged from your body, counseling and therapy are necessary to remain abstinent. Alcohol dependency manifests for many reasons, including both genetic and environmental factors. Alcoholism is a brain disease, and awareness of its root cause can be helpful in managing recovery options.

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) can help you to identify what may trigger episodes of drinking and how to avoid or manage them. CBT also works to modify negative thought and behavior patterns. Support groups are an important part of the recovery process as well. Family and peer support can be vital in preventing a future relapse. Family, group, and individual therapy are vital tools also. Many support groups exist, including 12-Step programs, faith-based options, and other social support groups. Rehabilitation is a process and alcohol use disorders take time to recover from. Both your brain and body need time to heal.

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After detox, there are also medications that can be useful to prevent future drinking. One of these medications, naltrexone, is an opioid antagonist that effectively blocks the opioid receptors from receiving the pleasure signals that drinking alcohol can release, therefore decreasing the desire to drink. A nutritious diet, exercise, and a healthy sleep schedule can also be effective tools during the recovery process.

Oftentimes, alcohol use disorders co-occur with other mental health disorders. Co-occurring disorders are complexly integrated, and a dual diagnosis approach can be highly effective. Dual diagnosis treatment models balance treatment between physical addiction and psychological health. Dual diagnosis treatment includes a safe and secure environment for a complete detoxification from alcohol and the proper follow-up care to promote a healthy future.

Foundations Recovery Network offers a comprehensive dual diagnosis treatment approach with highly educated staff. On-site 24-hour medical supervision, with assistance from consulting doctors, is essential to minimize dangerous health risks. Alcohol withdrawal can be difficult, but compassionate and professional admissions coordinators who are knowledgeable about dual diagnosis treatment are on hand to make the process as smooth as possible. Call today for your individual and personal evaluation to get started down the path toward recovery.

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Physical Dependence on Alcohol

The American Psychiatric Association (APA) establishes the diagnostic criteria that are used to diagnose mental disorders, such as an alcohol use disorder. However, APA does not specify the specific standards of treatment for mental disorders in its diagnostic manual, the DSM-5. Instead, organizations like the American Society for Addiction Medicine (ASAM), the largest formal organization of addiction medicine physicians in the United States, sets the standards and guidelines for the major medical treatment protocols associated with substance use disorders. This includes the medical procedures used to negotiate issues with physical dependence on drugs and alcohol.

Physical dependence consists of both the syndromes of tolerance (a process of habituation to the use of a drug or medication, such that an individual needs to take a larger amount of the drug over time in order to get the effects they once experienced at smaller amounts) and withdrawal (a process that occurs when an individual’s system adjusts itself to the presence of alcohol or a drug, and is thrown out of balance when the levels of that substance decline in the system).

detox withdrawal management

ASAM, APA, and the World Health Organization (WHO) have distinguished between the notions of detoxification and withdrawal management. These organizations recognize that the process of detoxification as a natural process that occurs in the body as it attempts to rid the system of waste products and toxins, whereas withdrawal management refers to a directed process that attempts to deal with withdrawal symptoms that occur when an individual stops using certain drugs or alcohol. When the withdrawal management process is supervised by a physician, it is often referred to as physician-assisted withdrawal management; in some instances, treatment facilities may refer to it as medical detox. Whatever term is used, the accepted protocol for managing withdrawal symptoms from alcohol or detoxing from alcohol is established by organizations like ASAM and WHO.

Don’t Get Fooled

A quick internet search will offer many options for home remedies and tips (including products to buy) that claim to make a detox from alcohol progress more quickly. You know when there are links to Pinterest that you’ve Googled a popular subject! However, the buyer should beware of such claims. Here are a few of the ineffective and potentially dangerous home remedies and tips such a search may yield:

  • Black coffee
  • Cold showers
  • Detox tea
  • Electrolyte replacement drinks
  • Essential oils
  • Intense aerobic exercise

Using any of these will do very little to impact the length of your detox, and there is really no safe way to accelerate the process. If you are addicted to alcohol, undergoing detox and withdrawal can be medically complicated and is potentially life-threatening. Drinking causes problems, but stopping drinking can become a medical emergency.

Duration of Alcohol Withdrawal

The length of withdrawal from an alcohol dependency depends upon two key factors:

  • The condition of your liver. Alcohol is detoxified by your liver and if your liver is healthy, the withdrawal process happens more quickly. If your liver is unhealthy from years of heavy drinking, or if you have liver disease, your withdrawal will take longer.
  • How much you consumed. Very roughly, it takes a normal liver one hour to detoxify one drink (one 12 ounce beer, one 8 ounce glass of wine, or a one ounce shot of hard liquor). The more you consume, the longer it takes to detoxify. Nothing — no amount of food, exercise, coffee or tea — can significantly change that.

Safety First

If you are thinking about stopping drinking, get help. Seek a treatment professional and be honest about your alcohol dependency. Share your drinking history – how much you’ve been drinking and for how long. A medically supervised detox can be the safest and most comfortable way to get through an uncomfortable and scary process. Start your recovery off by treating yourself well, valuing your health and safety, and making good choices. By doing this, you are building an excellent foundation for your ongoing recovery.


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