Going through alcohol detox is one of the most dangerous forms of detox. More people die from alcohol withdrawal than detox from other substances, which is why it is essential for most people to undergo the process under medical supervision.
There are different detox methods to ensure you go through alcohol detox without being life threatening.
What are the Symptoms of Alcohol Withdrawal?
When you become physically dependent upon alcohol, your body goes through withdrawal from the substance when you no longer consume it. This causes physical symptoms that can range from mild discomfort to life-threatening.
The most common symptoms include shaking, sweating, lack of appetite, nausea, anxiety, inability to sleep, hallucinations, seizures, and delirium tremens (DT). Symptoms can start within 12 to 48 hours of the last drink. Most people experience initial withdrawal in the morning, when the blood alcohol level has fallen overnight.
Why is Detox Life-Threatening?
There are many reasons why going through detox can be life threatening, but one of the more important is the possibility of seizures and tremors. Seizures could lead to violent shaking throughout the body and loss of consciousness.
The most dangerous stage is delirium tremens (DT), but it is not experienced by everyone. DT can be fatal, and its symptoms include confusion, auditory or visual hallucinations or delusions, physical symptoms of distress such as rapid heart rate or high blood pressure, grand mal seizures, heart attacks, and strokes.
This stage of detox is more common in long-term drinkers and severe alcoholics, which is why it is most important for them to undergo medically assisted detox.
What Causes the Withdrawal Symptoms?
Alcohol affects certain neurotransmitters in the brain, namely GABA and glutamate. GABA neurotransmitters produce calm and relaxed feelings, while glutamate cause excitability. Alcohol suppresses the GABA system, so more alcohol is needed for the same effects.
It also suppresses glutamate activity, which means it has to function much higher than non-drinkers. When alcoholics stop drinking, these neurotransmitters are no longer suppressed, which means that the brain becomes more active, known as brain hyperexcitability.
This causes many of the symptoms of withdrawal, such as shaking, anxiety, irritability, and DT.
What are the Different Methods of Detox?
There are different methods for going through alcohol detox. Those who are lighter drinkers can usually go through detox with minor symptoms that can be appeased by certain over the counter medications (such as anti-nausea) or just waiting for the symptoms to pass.
However, many alcoholics require much more assistance to go through detox. There is medically assisted detox, which uses certain medications to appease the symptoms of withdrawal, such as benzodiazepines.
However, there is debate in the community about the efficacy and use of medication for treating withdrawal. There are also new natural detox options that use vitamins and neurotransmitter restoration to detox the body with limited withdrawal symptoms.
How Long does Detox Last?
There is no set time for how long detox will last. It depends on how much and how long a person has been drinking, including the level of tolerance and the length of the dependency on alcohol. For most people, acute withdrawal lasts no longer than a week, but more complicated cases might take up to a year.
How to Survive Alcohol Detox
The best way to survive alcohol detox is to undergo withdrawal under the care of a doctor at a dedicated treatment facility. The staff will help ease the symptoms, or offer you a medically assisted or naturally assisted detox program that reduces the symptoms.
The facility will also have medical staff on call in case you exhibit some of the more dangerous symptoms of withdrawal, such as seizures or DT.