Alcohol detox is an essential treatment for people who are physically dependent on alcohol. This detox treatment can minimize withdrawal symptoms and complications so patients can experience a safe and healthy recovery.
Keep reading to learn more about alcohol detox and how it works, and where you can find high-quality addiction treatment in Massachusetts.
What Is Alcohol Detox?
Alcohol detox is the first stage of addiction treatment for those in recovery from alcohol use disorder. This treatment manages alcohol withdrawal symptoms using medications that can make patients feel more comfortable.
Alcohol detox is typically performed at drug and alcohol rehab centers in an inpatient medical-like setting where patients can be closely monitored by nurses and doctors as they go through withdrawal. Alcohol withdrawal can be severe and life-threatening for many individuals who suffer from alcohol dependence. However, alcohol detox reduces the risk of life-threatening complications and helps patients heal from the effects of alcohol misuse.
Who Needs Alcohol Detox?
Alcohol detox can benefit anyone who is physically dependent on alcohol. Physical dependence is not the same as addiction but usually always accompanies addiction in people with alcohol use disorder.
Physical dependence occurs when someone drinks alcohol every day for a long period, such as for several weeks or months. Drinking alcohol every day can cause the body to naturally adapt to its presence. When a person suddenly stops alcohol after becoming physically dependent on it, they will often experience a range of symptoms, which is the body’s way of adjusting to its absence.
According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), a person is physically dependent on alcohol if they experience withdrawal symptoms when they suddenly discontinue alcohol use. A person may also be physically dependent on alcohol if they use it to try to avoid or relieve withdrawal symptoms.
How Long Does Alcohol Detox Usually Last?
The length of alcohol detox and withdrawal is different for everyone. Detox will last as long as withdrawal symptoms persist.
The World Health Organization reports that alcohol withdrawal symptoms usually begin within six to 24 hours after the last drink and continue for two to 10 days. The National Library of Medicine (NLM) reports that alcohol withdrawal symptoms begin within eight hours after the last drink and can continue for several weeks.
Factors that can affect the length of alcohol detox include:
- Weight and body fat percentage.
- Frequency of alcohol use.
- Amount of alcohol consumed during a single occasion.
- Immune system health.
- Nutrition and diet.
- Mental illness.
- Number and type of other drugs and substances being used with alcohol.
- One or more other health problems.
Before going through alcohol detox, all patients are carefully assessed and evaluated by a team of medical professionals who determine what will be included in the patient’s detox treatment. Many doctors and nurses can usually anticipate how long detox will last based on the patient’s symptoms and history of alcohol use.
What Symptoms Occur During Alcohol Detox?
Alcohol withdrawal affects each patient differently. Those with a mild case of alcohol dependence may experience only a few symptoms. Those with severe alcohol dependence may experience a wide range of symptoms, including serious symptoms like seizures and irregular heart rate.
Common symptoms of alcohol withdrawal include:
- Heavy sweating
- Shaking and tremors, particularly in hands
- Fatigue and exhaustion
- Mood swings
- Cloudy thinking
- Rapid heart rate
- Increased blood pressure
Less common symptoms of alcohol withdrawal include:
- Dilated (enlarged) pupils
- Loss of appetite
- Pale skin
Some people may experience a severe form of alcohol withdrawal called delirium tremens. According to the NLM, delirium tremens are most common among people who have been using high amounts of alcohol regularly for at least 10 years. Those who drink four to five pints of wine, seven to eight pints of beer, or one pint of hard spirits every day for several months may also experience delirium tremens.
Symptoms of delirium tremens usually begin within 48 to 96 hours after the last drink, but it is also possible for them to begin seven to 10 days after the last drink. Delirium tremens may cause:
- Seizures, usually during the first 12 to 48 hours after the last drink.
- All-over body tremors
- Delirium (severe confusion)
- Bursts of energy
- Sudden changes in mood
- Changes in mental function
- Deep sleep that lasts for at least one day
- Extreme sleepiness
- Sensitivity to light, sound, and touch
- Chest pain
- Stomach pain
Delirium tremens is considered a medical emergency and usually requires inpatient treatment at a hospital or alcohol detox center.
Can Alcohol Detox Treat Delirium Tremens?
Delirium tremens affect an estimated 3% to 5% of people who go through alcohol withdrawal, according to research presented by the National Institutes of Health. Without professional treatment, delirium tremens have an anticipated m ortality rate of up to 37%.
The medical staff who oversee alcohol detox at an addiction treatment center are trained and experienced in treating delirium tremens. Nurses and doctors who work in an alcohol rehab center can often tell whether a person is at risk for delirium tremens and can effectively anticipate, prevent, and treat its symptoms.
In alcohol detox, delirium tremens are usually treated using diazepam. Diazepam is a benzodiazepine medication that can prevent and control seizures, along with anxiety and agitation caused by alcohol withdrawal. Patients may be given 20 mg of diazepam every one to two hours until symptoms of delirium tremens are controlled.
What Medications Are Used in Alcohol Detox?
Alcohol detox often involves the use of many different medications that are chosen based on a person’s symptoms and health condition.
Diazepam is normally used to sedate patients with moderate to severe alcohol withdrawal, including delirium tremens. Patients with mild to moderate symptoms may be given various medications that control specific symptoms. For instance, insomnia may be treated using a benzodiazepine called temazepam, while diarrhea may be treated using an antidiarrheal agent called loperamide.
In addition to receiving medications, many patients in alcohol detox may receive vitamins and nutritional supplements, including vitamin B1 (thiamine). Vitamins and supplements can help boost patients’ immune systems to promote faster healing and recovery during detox.
Alcohol detox may also involve the use of medications that help patients stay sober after acute withdrawal symptoms have been resolved. These medications are acamprosate, disulfiram, and naltrexone.
Acamprosate reduces the desire to drink alcohol to promote alcohol abstinence. Disulfiram produces unpleasant effects when patients drink even a small amount of alcohol. According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), side effects produced by disulfiram include vomiting, difficulty breathing, and chest pain. Naltrexone blocks the pleasurable effects of alcohol, which can motivate patients to stay sober.
What Else Happens in Alcohol Detox?
Patients are generally encouraged to rest and relax during alcohol detox as they recover from dependence. The inpatient ward where alcohol detox is conducted is usually kept quiet and calm. Patients can stay in bed or engage in mild activities such as walking or medication.
Strenuous physical exercise during alcohol detox is not often recommended, as this could prolong some patients’ recovery and lead to setbacks. However, some patients find that yoga and deep breathing exercises may help relieve some symptoms of alcohol withdrawal.
Some alcohol rehab centers offer alternative therapies such as acupuncture and massage therapy that can help patients feel better. Patients are also provided with nutritious meals that can boost their strength, energy, and overall immunity while in detox.
Is It Safe for People to Detox From Alcohol at Home?
Some people try to do alcohol detox at home instead of going to a professional detox center for treatment. These individuals may detox at home because they want to save money or maintain their anonymity or because they think they can cope with symptoms on their own. However, detoxing from alcohol at home can be extremely risky, given how alcohol withdrawal can lead to serious complications, including death, when conducted outside of a medical setting.
Alcohol detox should always be conducted at an inpatient facility where patients can be closely monitored as they go through withdrawal and receive medications that reduce symptoms. Alcohol detox can give patients the peace of mind they need to experience a safe recovery knowing they are being properly cared for while facing a low risk of complications.
What Are Good Ways to Cope During Alcohol Detox?
Alcohol detox can be a trying and difficult time for many patients recovering from alcohol dependence—especially those who have been drinking for a long time. Severe alcohol cravings and insomnia are some of the many difficult symptoms patients cope with during detox. Here are effective coping methods patients can try during this time.
Drink Plenty of Water
Vomiting, diarrhea, and sweating can all lead to loss of fluids and electrolytes that increase the risk for dehydration. Some patients may feel too drained and sick to make an effort to drink water, but staying hydrated is essential to preventing dehydration and reducing nausea. Patients are usually encouraged to drink lots of water during detox or fluids that contain electrolytes, including potassium, calcium, and magnesium.
Have a Support System
Alcohol withdrawal can make some patients feel anxious and scared, especially those at risk for seizures and delirium tremens. Sometimes, symptoms of alcohol withdrawal can be severe enough to the point patients feel as though they need more alcohol to survive and find relief.
Fortunately, many alcohol rehab centers provide patients with 24-hour support from counselors, therapists, nurses, and peers who can help them understand their symptoms and stay on track with recovery. Some alcohol detox centers may also allow visitors so patients can see their loved ones while going through withdrawal.
Stay Busy to Deal with Cravings
Many patients will experience alcohol cravings during detox. Cravings can be intense and may be accompanied by anxiety, restlessness, and depression.
Some detox centers may provide patients with medications that reduce alcohol cravings. However, it also helps patients to stay busy and distracted with activities like reading, watching television, or spending time with peers in recovery who can relate to their situations. Many rehab centers will help patients deal with cravings so they can stay calm, relaxed, and focused on recovery.
Know That Alcohol Withdrawal Is Temporary
Alcohol detox and withdrawal don’t last forever, though it can often feel never-ending for those who are struggling. The nurses and doctors who oversee alcohol detox will often do what it takes to make patients feel more comfortable during withdrawal. However, some symptoms may persist despite the use of medications.
Patients should keep in mind that alcohol withdrawal is only temporary and that they will gradually start feeling better after symptoms have peaked. After recovering from alcohol dependence, patients will not have to worry about going through withdrawal again, as long as they can stay sober and avoid relapse.
Eat Healthy Foods
Alcohol dependence can often lead to nutritional deficiencies and malnutrition due to the way alcohol can prevent the body from properly absorbing important nutrients. Eating highly nutritious foods is essential to helping the body heal and recover during detox and the months and years that follow.
Many whole foods are loaded with nutrients and compounds that support overall good health. Fruits, vegetables, beans, nuts, seeds, and fish are some of many whole “one-ingredient” foods that can accelerate recovery and reduce symptoms.
Find New Hobbies and Interests
Many alcohol rehab centers offer plenty of amenities and activities that can keep patients occupied during detox and between therapy sessions. Libraries, game rooms, fitness centers, yoga classes, and art therapy are some of many activities that can help patients generate new interests and hobbies while in recovery.
During detox, patients with enough energy and stamina could try engaging in these activities to prevent boredom and cope with symptoms and cravings. Even if they don’t feel physically well enough to get up and walk around during detox, they can try reading books or watching videos related to potential new interests and hobbies.
What Happens After Alcohol Detox?
After patients have recovered from the acute symptoms of alcohol withdrawal, many of them transition into an alcohol rehab program to receive counseling and therapy for addiction. Rehab programs are customized for each patient based on their unique situations and background stories as they relate to addiction. The behavioral therapies used in alcohol rehab focus on helping patients address the root causes of their alcohol misuse and change harmful behaviors that may have driven their addiction.
Therapies used in alcohol rehab may include:
- Cognitive-behavioral therapy, which helps patients identify and change negative behaviors related to alcohol use.
- Dual diagnosis therapy, which helps patients cope with and manage symptoms of a co-occurring mental illness while also recovering from addiction.
- Family behavior therapy, which helps patients reconnect with their loved ones and work with them to improve family relationships and dynamics.
- 12-step support group therapy (like Alcoholics Anonymous), which allows patients to bond with peers who can share tips for staying sober and navigating life as a sober individual.
- Relapse prevention training, which helps patients identify and manage the unique triggers that cause them to drink.
- Substance abuse education, which teaches patients how alcohol interacts with the brain and body and how it can lead to dependence and addiction.
- Art and music therapy, which allow patients to express themselves using various art and music mediums to promote recovery from addiction.
Behavioral therapies are available through one of several rehab programs or levels of care. These levels of care include residential, inpatient, and outpatient programs.
Residential rehab programs are live-in programs where patients stay at the facility for the duration of their 30, 60, or 90-day treatment program. Residential rehab is ideal for patients who need help establishing a new daily structure and routine after drinking and being dependent on alcohol for a long period. Patients receive several hours of therapy a day and can benefit from recovering in a safe, stable environment without access to drugs and alcohol.
Inpatient rehab programs generally only last several days or weeks and take place in a hospital-like setting where patients can be closely monitored while receiving treatment. Inpatient rehab is ideal for patients who have already completed alcohol detox but who may require additional treatment for psychiatric symptoms like aggression or co-occurring medical conditions like an eating disorder. Some patients transition to a residential or outpatient rehab program after inpatient rehab.
Outpatient rehab offers several levels of care: partial hospitalization program (PHP), intensive outpatient program (IOP), and standard outpatient program. A PHP offers the highest level of outpatient care and takes place at least six hours a day, five days a week. An IOP offers more flexibility, as it takes place at least three hours a day on two to five days a week and can be scheduled around patients’ work and family schedules. Standard outpatient programs meet less frequently for a few hours a day on one to two days a week and provide patients with ongoing support as they adjust to daily life as sober individuals.
Where Can I Find Alcohol Detox in Massachusetts?
The Haven in New England offers a wide range of detox services in Worcester, Massachusetts, including alcohol detox. Our residential and inpatient detox facility is located at 1369 Grafton Street in Worcester, MA 01604. Contact us today at (844) 933-4145 to learn more about our available addiction treatment services that can help you or your loved one experience a safe and comfortable recovery from alcohol dependence.
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