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OVERVIEW OF ALCOHOLISM AND ALCOHOL DETOX

All substances are different when it comes to detoxification and require different levels of care for withdrawal. Unfortunately, alcohol dependence is one of the most dangerous addictions and always requires alcohol detox in a medical facility. Before we get into the specifics of alcohol detox, we will give some brief history of alcohol and alcoholism.

Humanity has a long, sordid history with alcohol, extending as far back as several thousand years and remaining the most-abused substance today. Until relatively recently, indulging in alcohol with reckless abandon was commonplace and accepted without question, but the people who habitually—and compulsively—drank alcohol exhibited deteriorating health as well as various other observable symptoms. The initial consensus was that chronic drinkers were simply refusing to control themselves, indicating weakness of character or their being disconnected from God. It wasn’t until the eve of the nineteenth century that society would begin seeing alcohol use disorder as a neurological illness rather than a defect in morality.

While alcohol use disorder would appear to be a behavioral problem due to all the outward manifestations that indicate its presence, after years of research we’ve concluded that alcoholism is actually a chronic brain disease that occurs due to alcohol’s profound effect on the brain. And although this knowledge has helped us to develop a greater variety of effective treatments for alcoholism and make them more accessible to those in need, there are 17.6 million Americans—or approximately one in twelve people living in the U.S.—who are still suffering from alcoholism today. In fact, it’s estimated there are 88,000 annual deaths due to alcohol-related incidents nationwide, making it the third-leading cause of preventable death in the U.S. The effects of alcohol use disorder stretch from individual- and family-level and up to the entire globe. Approximately ten percent of all American children live with at least one alcoholic parent and studies indicate that the children of alcoholics are very likely to become alcoholics themselves. In terms of the disease’s economic effects, problems that result from alcohol misuse collectively cost the U.S. $230 billion dollars or more each year. Some have identified certain attributes of recovery that have proven prohibitive or obstructive to those in need of treatment for alcohol abuse, but the most unfortunate—and easily mitigated—is being unable to find the resources needed to recover, like efficient alcohol detox and treatment. In other words, there are many people who want to recover from alcoholism, but they aren’t sure which services, treatments, or programs they need in order to address each of their specific, individual recovery needs. Therefore, we at Detox Local have created this comprehensive guide to inform you about alcohol use disorder and the alcohol detox process. More specifically, this guide will help you to determine whether you or a loved one has a drinking problem, learn about alcohol detox programs and how it fits into the alcoholism recovery process, and learn how to find the right detox programs for your needs or for the needs of your loved one.

DO I HAVE A DRINKING PROBLEM?

There are many people who enjoy a cocktail or two on occasion. For most, the occasional consumption of alcohol never becomes a problem. Their drinking behavior doesn’t harm their health, their career, their relationships, or their well-being. However, with alcohol being legal rather than illegal, many people assume that it’s safe to drink, even in large volumes. And there’s also the issue of this substance being so accessible, even to those who are underage. In fact, youths aged 12 to 20 are estimated to consume 11 percent of all the alcohol in the U.S. When you underestimate alcohol’s addictive potential, it can be quite easy to develop alcohol use disorder or dependence, but sometimes it’s hard to be certain whether you’re a binge drinker or are actually dependent and need alcohol detox. Although the line between being a binge drinker and an alcoholic can be blurry, there are a number of characteristics and effects that characterize most alcoholics.

A person with a drinking problem becomes increasingly avoidant.

Even though many people who develop alcohol dependence are unaware of the severity of their addictions, they still recognize that they drink more a than many others. Not wanting others to become suspicious or question their drinking, people with drinking problems will avoid their spouses, children, parents, and other loved ones, especially when they’re actively under the influence or intoxicated. And unless one’s friends abuse alcohol, it’s likely for the person to avoid close friends, too.

An alcoholic is protective of time spent drinking.

In other words, a person who has a drinking problem won’t allow other obligations or plans to get in the way of the time the individual has allotted to drinking. In the minds of alcoholics, most “free time” or “alone time” will knowingly be spent drinking. They will often refuse to commit to making plans that would interfere with the times they plan to drink. It’s not uncommon for alcoholics to go to great lengths or make elaborate excuses that will keep them from having to lose any of their drinking time. If others try to prod at the person and decipher the reason for resistance, an alcoholic will quickly become defensive and may even cite a job or other obligations that are exhausting or warrant some personal time alone.

Alcohol use disorder causes deterioration of physical health.

One of the first physical effects that occurs due to a drinking problem is a major weakening of the immune system, which makes alcoholics much more susceptible to bacteria and germs that can cause a number of illnesses. Additionally, people who are dependent will often lose weight or muscle definition as their frequent drinking makes them less likely to maintain a healthy diet or fitness regimen. Meanwhile, there are a number of longer-term effects such as the potential for heart problems, including high blood pressure, irregular heartbeat, and stroke. It’s a well-known fact that alcohol misuse causes profound damage to the liver, but it also has a major effect on the pancreas; triggered by drinking, the pancreas produces toxins that have proven to cause pancreatitis. And finally, frequent heavy drinking is known to make people significantly more susceptible to cancer in several areas of the body such as in the mouth and esophagus.

Becoming dependent on alcohol often causes unpredictable and unprovoked changes in mood.

The cause for this emotional volatility is believed to be the result of alcohol’s effects on the brain. Chemicals in the brain called neurotransmitters are responsible for, among other functions, a person’s emotional state, thoughts, and behavior. When a person drinks alcohol, it throws off the brain’s neurochemical balance, and while alcohol is most often associated with effects similar to depressants, the continuous abuse of alcohol damages neural pathways, inhibiting the brain’s natural functioning and even affecting the brain’s physical structure and appearance. The overall effect is emotional unpredictability with unprovoked and intense mood swings.

A drinking problem will cause financial troubles.

Alcohol can be quite expensive, especially when you’re drinking it in large amounts on most days. This puts a huge strain on a person’s financial resources, especially with an alcoholic requiring more and more alcohol as the disease worsens. The financial trouble that alcoholism causes will typically begin with a person having no extra money beyond what’s needed to pay for living expenses and alcohol; from this point, maintaining a drinking problem begins to siphon funds away from living expenses, causing bills and eventually even rent to go unpaid. Alcoholism’s potential to cause financial trouble is quite great, and when a drinking habit is causing financial trouble there’s a substantial indication of an alcohol problem.

An alcoholic exhibits a decline in work performance and attendance.

As a drinking problem becomes worse, its effects begin to bleed into more and more of a person’s life, including affecting a career. Whether it’s due to being intoxicated or feeling ill due to the previous night’s binge drinking—called a “hangover”—becoming dependent on alcohol will invariably cause people to start missing work. And on days when they make it to work, their performance is inferior compared to how they performed before the onset of alcoholism. For most people with drinking problems, the reduction in work performance is negligible at first, but it becomes increasingly more noticeable and frequently results in termination.

A person who’s dependent on alcohol exhibits more risk-taking behavior and increasingly poor decisions.

There quickly comes a point in every alcoholic’s deterioration when alcohol has become a central part of their lives, but their lives have begun to fall apart. In particular, a drinking problem and the possible loss of a job puts a person in a very poor financial state. This leads to increasing desperation, very poor decisions, and a willingness to resort to risky behavior as a means of sustaining a drinking problem.

Due to a drinking problem, relationships get damaged or possible even destroyed.

It’s one thing to be avoidant and emotionally distant, but it’s another matter when an alcoholic is actually hurting loved ones. Over the course of alcohol use disorder, a person will inevitably become dishonest with loved ones and might even resort to taking advantage of them to sustain a drinking problem. Reaching the end of their ropes, an alcoholic’s loved ones are likely to reach the point where they feel they must protect themselves and distance themselves from the active addict. This means that a person who has a drinking problem is likely to lose important relationships with family members, close friends, and other loved ones.

Without alcohol, a person with a drinking problem will begin to experience withdrawal symptoms.

Withdrawal is the most telling sign of serious alcohol use disorder as it shows that the body has developed a physical need for the substance. Although there are a number of withdrawal symptoms, they mostly equate to physical discomfort and feelings of depression or anxiety. Withdrawal is also infamously associated with tremors, or "the shakes." The only way to stop withdrawal is to drink or take medications provided in an alcohol detox center.

  • 6.6% of the US Population heavily drinks
  • 1.5 million were treated for alcohol abuse in 2005
  • 16.6 million people ages 18+ have an alcohol use disorder
  • 88,000 die annually from alcohol related deaths

WHAT CAUSES SYMPTOMS OF ALCOHOL WITHDRAWAL?

People who don’t drink frequently don’t experience withdrawal symptoms when they go without drinking because their bodies haven’t become physically dependent on the substance. However, individuals who habitually and excessively drink, which acts as a central nervous system depressant, will experience the discomfort of withdrawal. Withdrawal—also known as alcohol withdrawal syndrome (AWS)—is a condition that requires medical attention and alcohol detox. It affects individuals who have developed severe drinking problems and, in short, occurs when the body has adapted to frequent consumption.

When a person drinks, ethanol enters the bloodstream and makes its way to the brain. Each mind-altering substance affects the brain differently, but alcohol amplifies the effects of inhibitory neurotransmitters. The main neurotransmitter targeted by ethanol is called gamma-aminobutyric acid, or GABA, which causes a person to feel calm, slow, and somewhat lethargic when activated; this effect is particularly useful in situations when an individual is feeling anxious, scared, angry, or stressed since the body can naturally alleviate some of those feelings on its own. However, alcohol—and particularly ethanol—causes decreased sensitivity to GABA, which means that more GABA must be produced in order to compensate. This means that the brain becomes flooded with GABA when an individual consumes large amounts of alcohol, and when a person drinks large quantities of alcohol consistently, the brain is frequently being triggered to produce more GABA. In order to adapt, the brain starts making less and less GABA on its own, relying on ever-present alcohol to achieve this function. Alcohol detox focuses on mitigating the consequences of low GABA production.

With the brain now relying on ethanol intake to function effectively, as long as the person continues to drink regularly there will be no unpleasant symptoms or physical discomfort; however, when there is no longer ethanol in the person’s system, the brain’s neurochemical level is no longer balanced. Having become accustomed to the continuous presence of ethanol, the sudden absence is jarring and extremely uncomfortable. In an instant, the brain is expected to revert to its natural state of functioning, but it’s unable to do so instantaneously. Without a high ethanol content in the blood, a dependent person will soon begin to feel the unpleasant symptoms of withdrawal syndrome which can only be safely addressed in an alcohol detox clinic.

The symptoms of AWS can manifest in as little as a few hours after a person’s last drink or as long as a few days, depending on the severity of the person’s addiction and the amount they had last consumed. The most common symptoms that characterize mild to moderate withdrawal include a sense of fatigue, intermittent feelings of anxiety and depression, difficulty sleeping, and nausea; however, when a person’s addiction is more severe, the withdrawal symptoms will be more severe as well. Severe withdrawal symptoms often include physical twitching, tremors, more pronounced nausea, vomiting, confusion, irritability, an increase in heart rate, insomnia, and headache. But there are even more severe forms of withdrawal that can put your very life at risk.

People who have developed serious drinking problems could experience a condition called delirium tremens as an acute or more severe form of withdrawal. Due to alcohol’s powerful effects on the brain and, by extension, the entire nervous system, delirium tremens occurs when a person who has suffered from severe or long-term continuous drinking suddenly ceases consumption. Having long since adjusted to the continual presence of large quantities of ethanol in the system, the sudden absence is too abrupt for the body to adapt and has the potential to cause delirium tremens. Symptoms of delirium tremens will often appear between two and three days after the last drink and include profound confusion and generally diminished cognitive functioning, severe body tremors, rapid cycling between states of excitement and periods of deep sleep, tightness in the chest or sensation of being unable to breathe, sudden mood changes, fear, extreme sensory sensitivity, auditory and/or visual hallucinations, tactile hallucinations, the potential for severe seizures, and even coma or death. It’s mostly the potential for delirium tremens that makes the withdrawal so potentially dangerous. In the case of severe withdrawal, alcohol detox is not only necessary but would likely be lifesaving.

WHAT IS THE PURPOSE OF GOING TO AN ALCOHOL DETOX CENTER?

Recovery from alcohol use disorder tends to provoke thoughts of the counseling a person receives while in an alcohol rehab facility, but there’s actually an important step of the recovery process that often occurs even before someone receives any counseling. Alcohol use disorder is a brain disease that causes both physical and psychological symptoms, which means that the recovery process has to address both sides of alcohol addiction: the physical and the psychological. Detoxification is the essential first step because psycho therapy would be very ineffective for a person suffering from withdrawal.

Alcohol use disorder is a brain disease that causes both physical and psychological symptoms

At a detox facility, a person is afforded whatever amount of time is needed to restore the body to a state of balance and health. In effect, detoxification is both a way to disrupt physical dependence on a substance while also being a way to cleanse the body of any chemicals and toxins, restoring a person to an optimal state of physical health. However, the benefits are psychological as well as physical, affording those who are just beginning the alcoholism recovery process with a period of time to adjust to being without mental and emotional fog that comes from spending the majority of a person’s time under the influence of alcohol. During the detox period, a person isn’t expected to participate in counseling or group-therapy but rather is allowed to simply adjust to the newness of sobriety. In fact, it’s during detoxification that most people transition from a state of apprehension and hesitance to a place of confidence and empowerment.

WHAT CAN I EXPECT FROM AN ALCOHOL DETOX FACILITY?

After the intake process, the first step of a detox program is to settle into the residential accommodations of your inpatient detoxification facility. While certain details may change from one facility to the next—the location and scenery, the amenities that are offered, the forms of care that are used, and so on—every detox center wants you to be as comfortable as possible so that you can relax and focus on this stage of recovery.

Having spent a period of time in a state of addiction, a person’s body will naturally need a reprieve or a period to decompress before beginning treatment. But this doesn’t have to be an unpleasant experience. The goal of a detoxification is to essentially clear the body of any harmful presences while attending to the patient’s needs and eliminating or minimizing many of the unpleasant symptoms that are often associated with alcohol withdrawal. This may seem unlikely, but making the detoxification process as comfortable and smooth as possible is the reason that alcohol detox programs include around-the-clock supervision and professional care. For the duration of your stay at a detox facility, patients are observed and monitored for signs of pain, discomfort, or risks so that the necessary measures can be taken if and when necessary.

Some of the things that physicians and detox specialists will observe during alcohol detox include a patient’s blood pressure, body temperature, and pupil dilation. Additionally, patients will be asked to quantify their current physical and psychological conditions so that staff can become immediately aware of any distress they might be experiencing. As for the specific treatment techniques that are utilized during medical detoxification, there’s a major emphasis on diet, nutrition, and keeping the body hydrated since many alcoholics will exhibit nutrient deficiencies upon beginning detox treatment. In fact, proper nutrition and hydration tend to alleviate much of the discomfort a person could experience in withdrawal. However, in instances when nutrition alone doesn’t stabilize a patient’s symptoms, the patient will likely be provided with medications that will alleviate additional discomfort.

The medicinal solutions—often referred to as “comfort medications”—that are commonly offered during alcohol detoxification also protect patients from the escalation of withdrawal that could lead to delirium tremens or seizures. In fact, mild benzodiazepines such as Librium, Ativan, and Oxazepam can just as readily alleviate the discomfort of withdrawal as they can mitigate delirium tremens while anticonvulsants like Carbamazepine can be used to prevent withdrawal-induced seizures in those with a history of epilepsy or related conditions. Even if a patient isn’t experiencing the more severe withdrawal symptoms, the use of these mild medications can oftentimes provide that extra level of comfort and relaxation and can even help patients sleep better. Moreover, most detox facilities will offer the standard medicinal fare, including Clonidine and beta-blockers to alleviate elevated heart rate and high blood pressure.

There’s no set amount of time allotted to the completion of detox. Each patient’s needs are different; some might complete the process relatively quickly while others need a little more time. On average, it takes between a week and 10 days for a patient to complete their stay at an alcohol detox center. At this point, the body has been stabilized and cleansed, and the patient can begin the treatment phase of recovery, which will address the mental and emotional components of addiction.

HOW IS IT BENEFICIAL TO COMPLETE AN ALCOHOL DETOX PROGRAM?

What comes to mind when you think of alcohol withdrawal? Like most other people, you probably thought of words like “pain”, “discomfort”, “anxiety”, and “difficult”, but an alcohol detox doesn’t actually have to be that way. The primary reason that withdrawal is so frequently associated with pain and discomfort is because most people experience withdrawal while they’re in active addiction, during the times when they must go a longer period of time without their drug of choice. For these people, withdrawal is most likely an unpleasant experience that could be described by the words mentioned above because, in these instances, the symptoms of withdrawal aren’t being managed or mitigated like they would be in an alcohol detox program. Therefore, the experience of withdrawal involves a lot of discomforts that causes them to be fearful of recovery.

By detoxing in an alcohol detox program, you can skip much of the unpleasant symptoms of withdrawal. The continuous care and use of comfort medications alleviate the symptoms most often associated with withdrawal, making people much more comfortable and relaxed as they progress through the detoxification process. The lack of pain and discomfort also gives patients a much higher chance of completing detoxification as well as alcoholism treatment since they aren’t experiencing the unpleasant symptoms that make reverting to alcohol abuse seem like the better choice.

Another significant benefit to an inpatient alcohol detox program is the safety and reassurance that it provides. As we mentioned previously, withdrawal has the potential to become so severe as to actually put a person’s life in danger. When an alcoholic attempts to detox at home, there’s no medical supervision of the individual’s symptoms. This means that the person’s symptoms can reach such a level of severity that seizures or even death become possible. There are no physicians or staff members present to treat such a dire condition. Due to the potential for severe and life-threatening symptoms, people with drinking problems are discouraged from detoxing unless it’s in an inpatient program at a facility that can offer the continuous care and medical supervision necessary to ensure a person’s comfort and safety.

OTHER IMPORTANT CONSIDERATIONS

Choosing an alcohol detox program might appear to be a relatively straightforward process. However, you probably don’t want to simply book yourself a bed in the first detox facility that you find. A successful detox is about much more than merely finding a facility that offers alcohol detox services. An essential prerequisite for addiction treatment is to complete a quality detox program that addresses each of your specific, individual needs. To start, it’s important to determine what your specific needs might be.

One factor to consider when looking for a program is its location, especially if your detox program and inpatient rehab are offered by two separate facilities. It might seem trivial, but location should be a key consideration when choosing a detox facility because you’ll likely want to complete a detox program offered by a facility near where you’ll go for inpatient treatment afterward. For instance, if you're attending a Washington detox center and then plan to go to rehab at a Florida facility, there’s going to be a time gap between detox and inpatient rehab in which you could find yourself confronted with the temptation to drink while you’re in transit, which is bound to happen if you are taking a flight where cocktails are served. This puts you at major risk of returning to active addiction since you’ve not yet learned how to deal with temptation and/or triggers. Our staff personally know people who have relapsed while traveling from detox to rehab.

Other specifications might include language preferences, gender specific programs, programs for teen addiction, specialized LGBTQ addiction programs, college addiction programs, elderly addiction, or programs for the deaf, blind, or otherwise disabled. Detox Local's patient and caring experts can narrow down programs tailored to your needs.

On average, it takes between a week and 10 days for a patient to complete alcohol detox treatment

Additionally, There’s a financial consideration to be made. Fortunately, people in need of addiction treatment have more options today than they would have had even a few short years ago. Anyone with the means to do so can still pay out-of-pocket if they so choose, but most private and government health insurance plans cover substance abuse treatment as an essential health benefit; in short, this means that there’s a good chance your health insurance provider will cover all or most of your a detox treatment and even rehab/aftercare. If health insurance coverage is somehow not an option, there are scholarships and grants available for people who aren’t financially able to pay for substance abuse treatment. Funds obtained via scholarships and grants don’t have to be paid back and are offered by many state governments and even privately by many addiction treatment centers. The intake coordinators at your detox and rehab centers will likely know of any scholarships and grants for which you qualify. And lastly, while it may not be the optimal solution, there’s the possibility of getting a loan to pay for treatment. In fact, there are even a number of lenders who offer loans specifically for the purpose of paying for rehabilitative treatments and typically offer extremely low interest rates, extended time before you start making payments, and other such perks.

HOW TO FIND THE RIGHT ALCOHOL DETOX CENTER

When you consider the sheer number of addiction treatment facilities that are located nationwide, the task of narrowing them all down to the one that best fits your needs seems daunting to say the very least. Instead of leaving the quality and success of your treatment to chance, Detox Local can provide you with all the information you could possibly need about alcohol detoxification to make the right choice for you. We have compiled only the best and highest-quality detox facilities in the U.S. into our comprehensive database, which has afforded us the opportunity to match people suffering from alcohol use disorder with the medical detox treatment that they need.

If you’re trying to find a local detox center for yourself or for someone you love, we can guide you through this journey. Why sift through convoluted, confusing search results and try to decipher all that jargon when you can leave all the heavy lifting to us. Based on your needs or the needs of your loved one, we can determine which detox program or programs would be the right fit and guide you through the next steps of the recovery process. For more information or to find your ideal detox program today, call us toll-free at 1-866-315-7061.

WHAT HAPPENS AFTER YOUR STAY AT AN ALCOHOL DETOX FACILITY?

After completing an alcohol detox program, most patients transition into inpatient treatment at a residential rehabilitation center. Though some form of after care is highly suggested, there are many types of treatment options after detox which could be confusing if it is your first time going to rehab. Much like detox treatment, the features and length of an inpatient program is dependent on each patient’s background and considers the length of time spent in active addiction, whether addiction runs in a person’s family, co-occurring disorders, and other factors. Having broken the physical hold that drinking had on you in alcohol detox, inpatient rehabilitation is when you’ll turn inward, working with counselors, your peers, and perhaps even your loved ones to identify past experiences or cognitions that might be at the root of your drinking problem.

The goal of addiction treatment is to learn how to safeguard yourself from slipping back into addiction, maintain physical and psychological wellness, develop strategies for coping with stress and emotion that don’t involve drinking, and to learn how to avoid and resist the temptation to drink again. However, your success in recovery hinges on your success in detox, making it essential that you find the detox program that best suits your specific needs and prepares you to progress to later stages of alcoholism recovery.