07 April 2017

Alcohol Detox: What Should I Expect?

For anyone suffering from alcohol addiction, the prospect of going through alcohol detox can be a daunting one. As well as having admitted to having a problem with alcohol, patients entering detox know that they are going to have withdrawal symptoms to cope with. However, knowing in advance what to expect can help an alcohol addict to prepare him/herself and give them self the best chance of a successful recovery.

What Does Alcohol Detox Involve?

Detox is the first stage in recovery from alcohol addiction. It is not possible to undergo treatment if you are still drinking, or still suffering from the effects of alcohol withdrawal, so the detox process is really important.

This process can be the most difficult stage in recovery from alcohol addiction, as the body has become used to the effects of having alcohol present, and the withdrawal symptoms can be severe. It is important that anyone entering detox understands this and is prepared.

It is advisable to go through alcohol detox under close medical supervision. The effects of alcohol withdrawal can be unpleasant and dangerous, so having medical professionals on hand to deal with any complications immediately make the process much safer.

What are the Symptoms of Alcohol Withdrawal?

Everyone experiences alcohol withdrawal differently, but there are symptoms that are commonly experienced by the majority of patients. The severity of the symptoms, and how long these last for, will depend on how much alcohol a person was consuming as well as how long he or she has been drinking for.

Most alcoholics going through detox will experience some, or all, of the following symptoms:

  • rapid heartbeat
  • raised blood pressure
  • raised body temperature
  • excessive sweating
  • headaches
  • mood swings
  • anxiety and/or agitation
  • muscle tremors (the shakes)

Seizures are the most dangerous potential withdrawal symptom of alcohol detox and occur because the brain has actually changed due to the long-term presence of alcohol and its effects. When that alcohol is removed, the brain finds it difficult to cope with the increased level of stimulation now that the sedative effect of the alcohol has gone.

How Long Do Alcohol Withdrawal Symptoms Last?

The length of time the symptoms will last depend, like the severity, on how much alcohol was being consumed and for how long. The longer a person has been struggling with alcohol addiction, the more dependent he or she will be, and the more damage their body will have suffered, so the longer the symptoms are likely to last.

Cravings for alcohol will be felt a few hours after the last drink and can be intense. The first few hours of the detox process can also involve nausea and vomiting, muscle tremors (these are common for all alcoholics going through detox, regardless of how long their addiction lasted), insomnia, and nightmares.

After the first few hours, the likelihood is that the symptoms will become worse. Over the next two days, the most severe symptoms can develop. The rapid heart rate can continue, and the patient may also develop hallucinations and delirium tremens.

Delirium tremens is an extreme symptom sometimes experienced by those going through alcohol detox. Patients are more at risk of developing delirium tremens if they have experience one or more of these risk factors:

  • stopping drinking after a period of very heavy drinking
  • not eating during heavy drinking
  • infection, illness, or a head injury
  • a previous history of alcohol withdrawal
  • more than ten years of heavy drinking.

The symptoms of delirium tremens can be quite frightening and can include whole body tremors, fever and sweating, agitation and rapid mood changes, confusion and disorientation (which can be extreme), seizures, and hallucinations.

For most people, the risk of seizures decreases after the first two days. There are still risks of other complications, however, so it is advisable to continue to have professional medical supervision, particularly for: those patients who have tried to go through detox before, have an alcohol related illness, or who have limited support available at home. Generally, any severe withdrawal symptoms will appear between two to four days after beginning the detox process, but in some cases, they can be delayed by up to seven, or even ten, days.

Where Can I Get Help with Alcohol Detox?

It should be clear by now that going through alcohol detox is not something that should be attempted alone, and indeed is best carried out under close medical supervision.

At UKAT, we can advise you on the best treatment options open to you, and help you to find the most suitable detox treatment programme, so please contact us today.


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*Please contact your chosen centre for availability

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