Going through alcohol withdrawal is scary, but knowing what to expect can help make the process a little bit easier. We’re going to discuss the detox process, and cover 5 weird, but interesting facts related to alcohol withdrawal.
If you’ve been struggling with alcoholism and want to quit drinking, then you might be worried about the detox phase of recovery. That is the short, but uncomfortable transition period between alcoholism and abstinence. Detox not only causes some nasty alcohol withdrawal symptoms but it also causes a good deal of anxiety and doubt. Fortunately, though, there are a wide variety of support options to help us make it through this necessary first stage of recovery.
Why is Detox so Daunting?
The fear of detox is about more than just the uncomfortable symptoms of alcohol withdrawal (even though they are certainly very scary too!).
Starting detox, and sticking with it through the end is very difficult for most people. Typically, alcoholics try to suffer through withdrawal a few times without success before they truly quit drinking. If you’re not prepared, the hardest moments of detox can leave you feeling so sick and weak that you just grab another drink even though you want to get clean. That’s why it’s so very important to know what you’re getting into when you decide to quit. It’s also important to make arrangements ahead of time to stay safe, comfortable, and supported throughout the whole process which can last for days or even weeks.
The 5 Weird Things about Alcohol Withdrawal that Might Surprise You
1. Withdrawal sets in as little as 6 hours after the last drink.
If you’re thinking that 6 hours sounds really short, well, yeah! It is! But, for some people, that’s all the time it takes for withdrawal to set in. Long-term heavy drinkers can experience some fairly severe withdrawal symptoms like trembling and vomiting by the time they wake up in the morning.
2. With that said, Alcohol Withdrawal is not predictable
Sometimes withdrawal symptoms show up quickly, by the time we wake up in the morning. Other times, it sets in 24-36 hours after the last drink. Not everyone will experience alcohol withdrawal in the same way. Some people won’t experience it at all!
It’s important to keep in mind how unpredictable alcohol withdrawal is. That’s because we don’t want to assume we’ll “be fine this time” just because the last time went well, or someone else got through it without help. Even if you and someone you know are drinking roughly the same amount consistently, you might have completely different experiences. Remember to take every case of withdrawal seriously and have support available during the detox process.
3. Alcohol withdrawal tends to get worse each time it happens to us
Unfortunately, each episode of withdrawal that we go through will make the next one stronger. This is a strange effect known as kindling.
When someone tries, tries, and tries again to stop drinking but relapses, that means they are going through withdrawal various times. This causes them to develop stronger reactions to detoxing. Clinicians have to adapt their treatment strategy for those people with a long history of withdrawal episodes because they are more likely to have complications.
4. Treatment involves a Custom blend of medications, dietary changes, and vitamins too!
Medical assistance for alcohol detox is about more than just sedatives and IV fluids. Most people don’t realize that quite a few treatments go into the mix. Since alcoholism depletes our bodies’ ability to process and utilize food, it leads to malnutrition which worsens the withdrawal experience. So, doctors monitor food intake and also prescribe Thiamine, and mineral solutions. Sometimes, cardiac (heart) medications and anesthetics are necessary too!
5. Delirium Tremens is a Big Deal
Delirium Tremens (DT) is a severe form of alcohol withdrawal, which, thankfully is quite rare. It causes life-threatening seizures, severe metabolic issues, hallucinations, loss of consciousness and sometimes, death. An estimated 25% of all people who reach this final stage of alcohol withdrawal do die from it. The typical alcoholic will not get DT. However, if the following criteria apply to you or your loved one, it is absolutely necessary to seek medical help before attempting any form of detox at home.
Delirium Tremens Risk Factors
- Previous history of alcohol withdrawal (remember the kindling effect?)
- Drinking excessive amounts of alcohol every day for months or years.
- 4-5 pints of wine, 7-8 pints of beer, or 1 pint of hard liquor a day counts as excessive.
- People who are underweight, malnourished, or just haven’t been eating enough while alcoholics are at higher risk for DT.
- Previous history of head injuries, or concussions
- Aged 40 or older
Detoxing after a long stretch of drinking too much is something we should do with a trusted helper. The safest, most comfortable place to get clean is in a medical facility specializing in managing withdrawal.
Get Help Today in Our Alcohol Treatment Program
If you can relate to any of these questions and are concerned that you might be struggling with alcoholism, you are not alone. Millions of people, in the United States and around the world, struggle in silence with alcohol abuse.
If you’re not sure if medical assistance is called for in your specific case, ask! It doesn’t hurt to get more information and prepare. Reach out to us for more info on alcohol withdrawal and what kind of treatment is appropriate.