The Importance of a Residential Detox
It is understandable why someone seeking treatment for alcohol dependence may be anxious about the detox and withdrawal phase of recovery. In fact, fear of alcohol detox can be a significant barrier to getting needed help for overcoming an alcohol use disorder. However, by seeking detox services through a supervised program, the individual can rest assured that they will be closely monitored throughout the process.
A residential detox is absolutely necessary for someone with a deeply ingrained alcohol use disorder. This is due to the possibility, no matter how remote, that the person could develop the DTs, which is a serious event. The detox team is trained to identify the early warning signs of the DTs, allowing them to be proactive in providing necessary emergency interventions.
Because the detox process can include psychological symptoms in addition to the physical symptoms, the trained detox specialists can also provide emotional support. This is essential during detox, as many may be tempted to give up and return to drinking just to avoid the emotional discomforts of withdrawal. Having this psychological support helps ensure that the individual safely segues into treatment.
What to Expect in Alcohol Detox
Alcohol detox and withdrawal will involve a wide range of severity, from mild to severe. The intensity of the withdrawal symptoms will be determined by such factors as the length of alcohol abuse history, the usual level of daily alcohol consumption, the individual’s state of health and their age, and whether there is a co-occurring mental health disorder.
Alcohol withdrawal symptoms will emerge within 6-12 hours of the last drink. In most cases, alcohol detox will be completed within one week. There are three phases to alcohol detox. These include:
Emerging symptoms: During the early phase of detox, the individual will experience nausea, abdominal pain, insomnia, sweating, and anxiety.
Peak symptoms: The symptoms will peak on days 2-3, and include tremors or alcohol shakes, high blood pressure, increased body temperature, irregular heart rate, agitation, and mental confusion.
The DTs may emerge on days 3-4 and would involved severe mental confusion, hallucinations, delusions, seizures, shallow breathing, shaking, rapid heart rate, and disorientation.
Subsiding symptoms: Days 5-7 feature declining intensity of symptoms, although some psychological symptoms, such as depression, anxiety, and sleep disturbance may linger.
Interventions for Alcohol Detox and Withdrawal
Someone with a history of chronic heavy alcohol consumption will benefit from medications that are useful during the detox process, and in early recovery. During alcohol detox there is a risk of seizures, so anti-anxiety medications are routinely prescribed. In addition to helping control the risk for seizures, the benzodiazepine can also help reduce anxiety and insomnia.
In some individuals, anticonvulsants, that treat seizures, have shown to improve symptoms such as tremors, anxiety, high blood pressure, and nausea. For individuals experiencing psychotic symptoms such as hallucinations, an antipsychotic medication can help stabilize them.