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OVERVIEW OF 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 alcoholism as a neurological illness rather than a defect in morality.

While alcoholism 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 alcoholism 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 alcoholism, but the most unfortunate—and easily mitigated—is being unable to find the resources needed to overcome alcoholism. 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 alcoholism and detoxification. More specifically, this guide will help you to determine whether you or a loved one has a drinking problem, learn about detox programs and how it fits into the alcoholism recovery process, get an idea of the detox 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 alcohol 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 alcoholism, or alcohol dependence, but sometimes it’s hard to be certain whether you’re a binge drinker or actually dependent on alcohol. 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 alcohol 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 an alcohol 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.

Alcoholism 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 alcohol dependent will often lose weight or muscle definition as their frequent alcohol abuse 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 abuse causes profound damage to the liver, but alcohol also has a major effect on the pancreas; triggered by alcohol consumption, the pancreas produces toxins that have proven to cause pancreatitis. And finally, frequent alcohol abuse 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 an alcoholic 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 alcoholism, a person will inevitably become dishonest with loved ones and might even resort to taking advantage of them to sustain a drinking problem. To an alcoholic, the means justifies the end, but this often leaves a trail of broken hearts in the person’s wake. 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 alcoholic. In short, 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 alcoholism as it shows that the body has developed a physical need for alcohol. Although there are a number of withdrawal symptoms, they mostly equate to physical discomfort and feelings of depression or anxiety.

  • 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 abuse alcohol or drink frequently don’t experience withdrawal symptoms when they go without drinking alcohol because their bodies haven’t become physically dependent on the substance. However, individuals who have habitually misused alcohol, which is a central nervous system depressant, by drinking frequently and in excessive quantities will experience the discomfort of withdrawal. Alcohol withdrawal—also known as alcohol withdrawal syndrome (AWS)—is a condition that affects on those individuals who have developed severe drinking problems and, in short, occurs when the body has adapted to frequent alcohol consumption.

When a person drinks alcohol, the alcohol enters the bloodstream and makes its way to the brain. Each mind-altering substance affects the brain different, but alcohol amplifies the effects of inhibitory neurotransmitters. The main neurotransmitter targeted by alcohol 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.

With the brain now relying on alcohol intake to function effectively, as long as the person continues to drink alcohol regularly there will be no unpleasant symptoms or physical discomfort; however, when there is no longer alcohol in the person’s system, the brain’s neurochemical level is no longer balanced. Having become accustomed to the continuous presence of alcohol, the sudden absence of alcohol 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 alcohol content in the blood, an alcoholic will soon begin to feel the unpleasant symptoms of alcohol withdrawal syndrome.

The symptoms of alcohol withdrawal syndrome 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 alcoholism and the amount they had last consumed. The most common symptoms that characterize mild to moderate alcohol withdrawal include a sense of fatigue, intermittent feelings of anxiety and depression, difficulty sleeping, and nausea; however, when a person’s alcoholism is more severe, the withdrawal symptoms will be more severe as well. Severe alcohol 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 alcohol withdrawal that will 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 alcoholism suddenly ceases alcohol consumption. Having long since adjusted to the continual presence of large quantities of alcohol in the system, the sudden absence of alcohol from the system 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 alcoholic’s 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 and the sensation of being unable to breathe, sudden and unpredictable 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 alcohol withdrawal so potentially dangerous.

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

Recovery from alcoholism 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. Alcoholism 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. When you consider the fact that most people would likely experience some level of physical discomfort were they to abruptly stop drinking, it becomes quite clear that participating in the counseling, therapies, and other treatments that comprise an alcoholism recovery program would be quite difficult for anyone who was in a similar state of withdrawal.

Therefore, before a person can begin treatment, it’s essential to address the physical components of alcoholism. When done in the right way, detoxification is the first important—and arguably the most important—part of recovering from alcoholism.

Alcoholism is a brain disease that causes both physical and psychological symptoms

At an alcohol 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, alcohol detoxification is both a way to disrupt physical dependence on alcohol while also being a way to cleanse the body of any chemical substances and toxins, restoring a person to an optimal state of physical health. However, the benefits of alcohol going to an alcohol detox center 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 sessions, 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 an alcohol 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 alcoholism, 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 essential clear the body of any harmful presences while attending to the patient’s needs, 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 round-the-clock supervision and professional care. For the duration of your stay at an alcohol 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 detoxification 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 are utilized during alcohol 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 who 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 to 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 alcohol detoxification. 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 alcoholism.

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 detoxification doesn’t actually have to be that way. The primary reason that alcohol withdrawal is so frequently associated with pain and discomfort is because most people experience withdrawal while they’re in active alcoholism, during the times when they must go a longer period of time without alcohol than they’re used to. For these people, alcohol 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 discomfort that causes them to be fearful of recovery.

By detoxing in an alcohol detox program, you can skip much of the unpleasance of alcohol withdrawal. The continuous care and use of comfort medications alleviate the symptoms most often associated with alcohol 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 inpatient an alcohol detox program is the safety and reassurance that it provides. As we mentioned previously, alcohol 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 if the person’s symptoms 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 detox 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 OF ALCOHOL DETOX PROGRAMS

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 alcohol detox is about much more than merely finding a facility that offers alcohol detox services. An essential prerequisite for alcoholism treatment is to complete a quality alcohol 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 an alcohol detox program is location, especially if your detox program and inpatient treatment program 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 an alcohol detox program offered by a facility near where you’ll go for inpatient treatment afterward. If your detox facility and treatment facility are far apart, there’s going to be a time gap between detox treatment and inpatient rehab in which you could find yourself confronted with the temptation to drink alcohol while you’re in transit. This puts you at major risk of returning to active alcoholism since you’ve not yet learned how to deal with temptation.

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

There’s also a financial consideration to be made. Fortunately, people in need of alcoholism 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 alcohol detox treatment. 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 at by many state governments and even privately by many addiction treatment centers. The intake coordinators at your alcohol detox and treatment 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 they typically offer extremely low interest rates, an extended period of 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, most high-quality detox facilities in the U.S. into our comprehensive database, which has afforded us the opportunity to match people suffering from alcoholism with the detox treatments and services that they need.

If you’re trying to find an alcohol 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 alcohol 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 alcohol 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. 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 alcoholism, whether alcoholism runs in a person’s family, and other factors. Having broken the physical hold that alcoholism had of you in alcohol detox treatment, inpatient rehabilitation is when you’ll turn inward, working with counselors as well as with your peers and perhaps even your loved ones to identify past experiences or cognitions that might be at the root of your alcoholism.

The goal of alcoholism treatment are to learn how to safeguard yourself from slipping back into alcoholism, maintain physical and psychological wellness, develop strategies for coping with stress and emotion that don’t involve drinking alcohol, and to learn how to avoid and resist the temptation to drink again. However, your success in recovery hinges on your success in alcohol detox treatment, 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.