Did you know that quitting alcohol “cold turkey” can be dangerous?
To be safe, problem drinkers wanting to start recovery need to undergo a medically-supervised alcohol detox. Detox is a when your body purges itself of a dependence on an intoxicating substance.
Your Brain When You First Stop Drinking
When someone chronically abuses a sedative-hypnotic like alcohol, they develop a physiological dependence. Then, when alcohol consumption is drastically reduced or abruptly stopped, severe symptoms of withdrawal may result.
These symptoms can be extremely serious, causing disruptions of the body’s autonomic functions of the central nervous system. The brain becomes “hyperexcitable”, because receptors that WERE inhibited by alcohol are no longer inhibited.
Symptoms of Alcohol Withdrawal
Within six hours of the last drink, brain hyperexcitability results in:
- Increased body temperature
- High blood pressure
- Irregular heartbeat
- Nausea and vomiting
- Seizures, possibly fatal
Approximately half of all newly-abstaining alcoholics suffer withdrawal symptoms. Alcohol withdrawal typically lasts between 2 and 3 days, but in extreme cases, it can persist up to a week.
What About Delirium Tremens?
1 out of 5 alcoholics will develop delirium tremens—also known as the “DTs”—when they attempt to quit drinking. This serious medical condition usually occurs with the first 48 hours of alcohol withdrawal and lasts 3-5 days.
Symptoms include a rapid onset of severe confusion, terror, hallucinations, and seizures.
- Risk factors for delirium tremens include:
- A long personal history of alcohol abuse—10+ years
- Previous alcohol withdrawal symptoms, particularly among people who are chronic heavy drinkers
Over a third of alcoholics experiencing delirium tremens die without treatment. In fact, 15% of DTs patients die even with treatment.
Are there any Medications for Alcohol Withdrawal?
Alcohol withdrawal medications alleviate uncomfortable withdrawal symptoms and prevent further harmful complications.
- Benzodiazepines –Librium, Valium, Serax, or Ativan, help with confusion, anxiety, and tremors. They also lower the chances of delirium tremens
- Naltrexone –Decreases the number of days spent drinking, the frequency of “heavy” drinking, and the total amount of alcohol consumed.
- Tegretol –A non-sedating benzodiazepine alternative with a low potential for abuse.
- Antipsychotics –For hallucinations and agitation.
- Beta blockers –For elevated heart rate and hypertension.
- Clonidine –For hypertension.
- Dilantin – For seizures.
If all of this sounds serious, because it IS. You should NEVER stop drinking abruptly, and detox should ALWAYS be done only under the care of trained medical specialists.
But here’s the good news – Alcohol detox is very successful – over 70% of alcoholics who enter a detox facility successfully complete the process, and more than half go on to check into alcohol rehab programs.
Lasting Recovery does not provide alcohol detox services. However, we can refer you to partnered detox facilities, and upon completion, help you with one of the most-trusted outpatient alcohol rehab programs Southern California has to offer.