Alcohol Detox and Withdrawal

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Alcohol withdrawal occurs when someone suffering from alcohol addiction stops drinking and may trigger life-threatening health complications. A medical detox in a hospital is recommended for safe withdrawal from alcohol.

What is Alcoholism

Alcoholism (alcohol addiction) is a chronic disease which is characterised by an uncontrollable desire to drink alcohol, which is usually underpinned by preoccupation about drinking – how, and when the sufferer can procure, and consume alcohol.

An addiction sufferer who is dependent on alcohol will spend a lot of time obtaining, using and recovering from the effects of use. Additionally, a sufferer will continue to use alcohol despite being acutely aware of the negative effects, such as being unable to fulfil obligations at home, work or school because of their use.

Alcohol can affect an addict to the point where they become tolerant to the substance, that is they feel they need to drink increasingly large amounts of the substance to achieve the desired effects.

This is because alcohol interacts with receptors in the brain known as GABA (gamma aminobutyric acid) receptors, modifying the responsiveness of the receptor proteins which enhance the signalling power of GABA.

To compensate, the brain will adjust, reducing the number of receptors – thus creating the effect of “tolerance” – leaving the person to require more of the addictive substance to create same effects within the brain.

They may also become disinhibited in that they may use alcohol in dangerous situations, for example, driving a motor vehicle.

The Causes of Alcohol Withdrawal

When a sufferer stops drinking, they can develop withdrawal symptoms within hours of stopping their last drink.

Although alcohol is freely available in society and there is a perception that it is “safer” than other drugs, the withdrawal process can be dangerous.

It is important that an addiction sufferer’s loved ones understand that a “cold turkey” withdrawal from alcohol could be potentially deadly – this is not an addiction that someone can simply “snap” out of.

Withdrawal of an addictive substance, where the body has to return to a state where it functions without the substance can bring about unpleasant symptoms, from mild, to life threatening depending on the substance that has been abused.

Alcohol Withdrawal Symptoms

Withdrawal or detox from alcohol can start from a couple of hours after the last drink and depending on the user, can last up to seven days.

The symptoms of withdrawal can include:

  • sweating
  • tremors
  • nausea
  • anxiety, irritability
  • seizures
  • insomnia
  • poor appetite
  • delusional thinking and hallucinations
  • death/delirium tremens.

In some cases of alcohol dependence, especially if use has been heavy and long term, a person may develop delirium tremens, which is a neurologic issue characterised by changes in mental affect and autonomic nervous system stimulation.

Additional symptoms of delirium tremens include hallucinations, agitation and severe confusion, body tremors, disorientation and seizures.

A presentation of delirium tremens constitutes a medical emergency and withdrawal should therefore occur in a hospital setting.

How to Safely Treat Alcohol Withdrawal Symptoms

Because there is high risk involved with detoxing from heavy alcohol use, it is recommended that detox occurs under medical supervision.

Additionally, it’s often 48-72 hours post withdrawal that life threatening symptoms, such as delirium tremens, may occur.

A medical detox in a hospital setting involves undertaking a comprehensive patient evaluation pre intake which allows the withdrawal process to be individually tailored which considers patient general health, mental health assessment and history of substance abuse.

Alcohol Detox

The benefits of a medical in-patient detox are as follows:

  • medical stabilisation
  • management of mental health comorbidities
  • management of poly drug use (additional withdrawal from other substances)
  • 24 hour, 7 day per week care and management of withdrawal symptoms
  • hospital provides a safe structured environment
  • medically managed therapeutic intervention
  • access to specialist staff who can facilitate the long term recovery process
  • individually prescribed medication to assist in the withdrawal process and keep the patient as comfortable as possible
  • physical separation from influences that may be underpinning addiction
  • space to concentrate on the early stages of recovery
  • support and education for a patient’s family

How long does alcohol detox take?

Every person is different, however, the usual timeline for alcohol withdrawal is about seven days, with the worst symptoms starting 24 hours after the last drink and peaking at 50-60 hours.

Some individuals suffer from detox symptoms in the longer term.

However, with proper management and commitment to abstinence from alcohol, these symptoms become less severe over time.

Once a medical detox has been achieved safely and the patient stabilised, the optimum window of opportunity for residential rehabilitation opens.

Without the discomfort of acute detoxification, a person suffering the disease of addiction can immerse themselves better in a residential recovery program which teaches them proven tools and strategies for managing their condition.

The Hader Clinic Queensland Private hospital provides a medically supervised detox process, accompanied by a structured inpatient program and access to mental health services.

The Hader Clinic Queensland provides residential rehabilitation for alcohol addiction treatment and aftercare programs to ensure long term success in the management of addiction.

Enquire Now

For more information about our detox and withdrawal programs please get in touch.

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Accredited drug and alcohol health services provider

Hader Clinic Queensland Private Hospital is HDAA accredited and complies with the requirements of the National Safety & Quality Health Service Standards. Certificate number 1316NSQ1.