Alcohol detox is the separation of an individual from alcohol – getting it all out of your system. In the distant past, alcohol detox was excruciating and sometimes deadly. People thought that it was good to let a person “shake it out,” believing detox should be so horrible that one would “never want to do that again.” In reality, alcohol detox can have severe medical consequences, including death, and should never be undertaken alone. Today, with medical supervision, physicians can oversee alcohol detox and manage the client’s withdrawal so that the worst of the symptoms can be avoided altogether and the more minor symptoms can be managed effectively. Alcohol detox does not have to be difficult or painful when medically supervised.
Detoxing From Alcohol
Alcohol detox–what physicians refer to as “alcohol withdrawal syndrome”–is a potentially life-threatening condition and is not to be taken lightly. It can begin as quickly as two hours after a person has taken their last drink and last for several weeks. How quickly symptoms begin and how severe they depend on a number of factors including how long, how much and how often a person has been drinking. Withdrawal can begin even when a person cuts back consumption. One does not need to stop drinking entirely to feel the effects of alcohol withdrawal. Because of the severity of this condition, it is ill-advised to try to detox on your own.
It is estimated that the death rate for those who do not seek a medically supervised detox from alcohol is somewhere between 1 and 5%. It cannot be emphasized enough how critical it is to seek medical support when attempting to detox from alcohol. Physicians can manage symptoms and very often prevent seizures, DTs, and cardiovascular collapse. This is especially important if you also have a history that includes seizure disorder(s), heart disease, or have had infections of the organs in the past.
Alcohol Withdrawal Symptoms
Withdrawal symptoms can come on quickly and without notice. Symptoms can also escalate rapidly. They include a wide range of problems that are not limited to:
- Anxiety (which can become severe)
- Mood swings
- Clammy skin
Severe alcohol withdrawal symptoms are a medical emergency. If someone you love is displaying hallucinations, fever, seizures, or a rapid or irregular heartbeat, call 911 immediately. This individual requires immediate medical attention
Residential Alcohol Detox
The goal of residential alcohol detox is to help a person safely separate from alcohol. We work to minimize the severity of withdrawal symptoms and prevent complications related to alcohol withdrawal. Once you are safely separated from the substance enough to be clear-headed, we work with you to help you stay away from alcohol for good.
In residential treatment at Cliffside Malibu (or in a hospital if your condition requires it), you will be watched closely for indications of hallucinations or other symptoms of acute alcohol withdrawal. Treatment is always individualized and may include IV fluids to prevent dehydration, medications to help minimize symptoms that can range from nausea and anxiety to convulsions (?), and frequent monitoring of blood pressure, heart rate, temperature, and blood chemicals.
Medications Used During Alcohol Detox
A variety of medications may be used short-term (less than one month in duration) to help you detox from alcohol. Many of these are by prescription and are used to minimize the symptoms of withdrawal. Our first priority is your safety. However, almost as importantly, we have learned that when withdrawal is not life-threatening and traumatic, we have a greater opportunity to help you. If you can safely and comfortably separate from alcohol, we are able to build a rapport with you. You will learn that you can trust us to support you through the worst of whatever you might feel. We want to be there for you in every way we are able. This level of commitment to your recovery is ultimately what breeds success.
Depending on your particular withdrawal symptoms, overall health, and health history, you may be given medications to minimize anxiety and/or prevent seizures. You could be given antipsychotic drugs to relieve agitation or help with hallucinations. If you’re showing signs of cardiac involvement or high blood pressure, you might receive blood pressure or other cardiac medications. In all cases, a physician will decide the right complement of medication for you to ensure that your detox from alcohol is as safe and comfortable as possible.
Long Term “Alcoholism Medications”
There are medications that are touted as long-term support for alcoholism. The most well known of these are sold under the brand names Antabuse and Vivitrol. The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism has noted that these medications have shown minimal long-term efficacy. Because of the low efficacy rates of these and similar medications, we do not use them as part of our treatment protocol at Cliffside Malibu. Overwhelmingly, research has shown that medications can be critical as short-term treatment to manage withdrawal symptoms but to truly break free from addiction, one must look at the underlying root causes of their addiction and work through those issues. That’s where freedom begins.
Length and Severity of Alcohol Detox
Because people vary so greatly in their level of alcohol abuse and personal medical history, it is impossible to give an accurate determination as to the length of detox a person with substance use disorder or alcoholic will require. Symptoms usually begin within the first 12-24 hours and are generally at their height at 72 hours after taking the last drink, but this is by no means true for everyone. Most people are completely through with detox in two weeks, but we constantly monitor all who abuse alcohol for seizures for an indefinite period.
Detoxing at Home
Because symptoms can come on suddenly and be life-threatening, it is important that you separate from alcohol under the supervision of a physician. A physician will be able to give you a baseline assessment of the impact your drinking has had on your body and make a determination as to whether your detox can be supervised on an outpatient basis or if you need to be in a hospital setting. In either case, someone detoxing from alcohol should never be left alone for any appreciable period of time. Again, life-threatening symptoms can develop without notice. Someone needs to be available to call for an ambulance should the situation warrant. The alcoholic will not be able to do that for him/herself if s/he has had a seizure or if other complications, such as DTs (delirium tremens), develop.
Holistic or Natural Alcohol Detox Options
Alcohol detox is treated primarily as a medical issue, but it is only one small part of treatment and only the first of many steps in alcoholism recovery.
In order to keep a person as safe as possible during detox and to minimize withdrawal symptoms, especially with regard to long-term alcohol abuse, pharmaceutical interventions are the safest and most effective to use – in the short term. Natural supplements simply cannot match the efficacy of some of the pharmaceuticals. However, this is one aspect of holistic care and treatment of alcoholism.
Holistic Alcoholism Treatment at Cliffside Malibu
Holistic alcoholism treatment means treating the whole person, not just the symptoms of addiction. Thus, at Cliffside Malibu, we use a wide range of adjunctive therapies to support life-long change. Our treatment program is based on the latest understandings of neuroscience, particularly how the brain changes in response to addiction and addiction recovery. We use the “Stages of Change” treatment model, developed by Dr. James Prochaska, one of the world’s leading psychologists, to help people through the change process and redesign their lives. This transdisciplinary psychotherapeutic model, along with a cadre of adjunct therapies, helps to change the brain and bring lasting recovery. To treat the whole person at the levels of mind, body, and spirit, we employ a range of natural and integrative therapies that include but are not limited to: acupuncture, yoga, therapeutic massage, meditation, nutritional therapies, orthomolecular medicine, biofeedback, and nature and adventure therapies. What is chosen for you will depend on your personal interests and needs.
At Cliffside Malibu, we will help you to overcome your addiction to alcohol – first with a medically supervised detox and then with a complete, holistic treatment model that will help you find the life you were always meant to live.