Alcoholism Detox

Alcoholism detox is the first step and an essential element in preparing the alcoholic for rehabilitation, treatment and recovery. However, detox and withdrawal can be dangerous because a substance is being removed from the body upon which it has become highly dependent. Therefore, detoxification should only be performed under medical supervision.

The Bowles Center for Alcohol Studies at the University of North Carolina advises that if you are an alcoholic who wants to stop drinking, you should first consult with a qualified counselor or physician who can determine the best strategy for you to give up alcohol.

Your state of health and severity of your addiction will be factors considered when determining the proper approach, but often a medical hospital or an alcohol and drug detox and treatment center is selected so that your condition can be closely monitored.

Since the 1980s, most detoxifications have been done on an outpatient basis – fewer than 20 percent of patients have required admission to an inpatient unit. More than 70 percent of patients who participate in an outpatient program complete detoxification, and 50 percent of the patients continued in treatment after going through detoxification.

Alcoholism Detox - Severe Cases

The withdrawal process in severe cases can create a variety of serious and even life-threatening physical symptoms such as shaking or tremors, headaches, vomiting, sweating, restlessness, loss of appetite, insomnia, Delirium Tremens (DTs), hyperactivity and convulsions.

Therefore withdrawal will likely require inpatient care. Inpatient treatment also effectively separates patients from social and environmental influences that could trigger a relapse. Signs of a probable need for inpatient detox include:

  • A history of severe withdrawal symptoms
  • A history of alcohol withdrawal seizures or DTs
  • Several past detoxifications
  • A medical or psychiatric illness accompanying the alcoholism
  • Recent high levels of drinking
  • A lack of a dependable support network
  • Pregnancy

Anticonvulsant and other medications, including antipsychotic drugs, are often prescribed to help the severe alcoholic withdrawal from alcohol safely and with as little physical and mental discomfort as possible. Detox can take anywhere from three to 14 days, depending on the circumstances.

Alcohol detoxification will not, in and of itself, prevent a resumption of drinking. Rather, it should be seen as a means of setting the foundation for further treatment in order to ensure a relapse does not occur. 

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Additional Sources:

-Drug and Alcohol Resource Center: Nationwide Alcohol and Drug Addiction Rehab Information

-Miller NS. Treatment of the addictions: applications of outcome research for clinical management. New York: Haworth, 1995.

-Myrick Hugh, MD, and Anton Raymond F., MD. Treatment of Alcohol Withdrawal. Alcohol Health and Research World. Vol. 22, No. 1, 1998. 

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