Alcohol consumption is very common — over half of Americans say they’ve had an alcoholic beverage in the last month. Unfortunately, alcohol use disorder (AUD) is also common. As of 2015, there were 15.1 million American adults suffering from alcohol use disorder — more than one in 20.
If you’re dealing with AUD yourself, or if you have a family member or friend who struggles with AUD, you’re not alone. AUD can cause significant health problems, social distress, and danger to the person suffering and to others — an estimated 88,000 people a year die of alcohol-related causes.
The care that you’ll need to recover from AUD will vary depending on your history, usage, and the individual symptoms you develop, but it’s common for people experiencing AUD to have withdrawal symptoms when they stop drinking suddenly. That’s where detox comes in.
What Is Detox?
Detox is the first step of treatment, but it doesn’t replace treatment entirely. When someone who’s developed a chemical dependence on alcohol stops drinking completely and all at once — “cold turkey,” as it’s often called — they can start to develop withdrawal symptoms. These symptoms can come on quickly — within 24 hours in most cases — and often occur while the person still has alcohol in their system.
For some, withdrawal symptoms are relatively mild, much like a bad hangover. Nausea, headache, dehydration, and aversion to bright light and loud noises are common.
Others, especially those who have been dealing with AUD for a long time, will experience much more serious symptoms. These include:
Delirium tremens (DTs), a life-threatening issue that can make you restless, upset, and confused and cause fever, hallucinations, and seizures
Hallucinations, when you see or hear things that aren’t there
Shakiness, especially in your hands
Unstable changes in blood pressure and heart rate
Do I Need To Detox?
It depends. If you need alcohol on a daily basis just to make your body and brain feel normal, then you most likely have developed a chemical dependence and need help. Don’t try to detox alone, though. Going “cold turkey” without medical supervision isn’t recommended, and can be fatal if not handled properly. If you realize that you need help with AUD, seek out a medical professional.
A detox program will include support to guide you through the withdrawal symptoms, which might last a week or more and hit their peak around 24-72 hours in. Detox programs will often include medication to help ease symptoms, but there’s no beating around the bush — it’s going to be a miserable experience. That’s why support is so important. You’re much more likely to stay on track with a detox program if you have lots of help.
Types of Detox Programs
If you’re trying to plan a detox program for yourself or someone else, it helps to think a step further to a rehabilitation program. Detox is just the first step to get the alcohol out of your system — rehab is how you learn to stop misusing it entirely.
An inpatient program takes place at a hospital, rehab center, or detox clinic. You’ll live in the facility full time during the process, and you’ll have help and support available 24/7 to get you through the difficult process.
For patients with less severe AUD, an outpatient program might be a better fit. Outpatient means you still live at home, but get some treatment during the day. This could run a gamut of treatment levels, from full days in therapy and counseling to simply picking up medications.
Making The Transition To Recovery
Once you’ve been detoxed and gotten through your unpleasant withdrawal symptoms, it’s time to start thinking about rehabilitation. Without help, you’re likely to relapse and fall right back into a habit of harmful alcohol use, so it’s important to change your mindset going forward.
Talk to a professional who can assess your history with alcohol, physical and mental health, history of rehabilitation or attempted rehabilitation, and a number of other factors to find the facility or program that’s right for you.
Admitting that you have a problem is the hardest part of any rehabilitation program, but it’s an important first step. Alcohol doesn’t have to control your life, and you don’t have to fight it alone. If you’re concerned about your alcohol use or that of a loved one, don’t hesitate to look for help.