Like all other stages of recovery from an addiction, the detox stage is a difficult but necessary step along the road to freedom from addiction. Detox, often confused with rehab, is a process where the body physically rids itself of harmful products that are the result of alcohol excess.
In contrast, rehab is where you can learn to take back control of your life without substances following detox . This article will explore alcohol detox and what you can expect to happen during the process.
If you have been battling an alcohol addiction for a while, your body soon gets accustomed to having a certain amount of alcohol in its system, eventually to the point where it needs the alcohol to feel ‘normal’.
For this reason, when you quit drinking at the start of the detox process, you soon notice the symptoms of withdrawal within two hours of your last drink as the body flushes the alcohol out.
These symptoms include:
Looking at this withdrawal process in a little more detail, excessive alcohol use interferes with the chemical messengers (neurotransmitters) in the brain.
In particular, it interferes with gamma-aminobutyric (GABA) that is responsible for the relaxed feeling that alcohol intoxication brings and dopamine, a key part of the brain’s reward system .
Eventually, due to alcohol’s interference, the brain becomes dependent on the alcohol to release these feel-good chemicals.
As these neurotransmitters regulate not only how we feel but also important body processes, when their levels suddenly drop with the cessation of alcohol, the unpleasant side effects of this drop are both psychological and physical.
Although the severity of symptoms varies widely between individuals, the detox process can be split into stages:
Symptoms start during this period, sometimes starting mild then increasing in severity. You may notice shaking, sweating, fast heart rate and nausea.
You can expect the severity of symptoms to increase in the first 24 hours, with disorientation and hand tremors becoming more prominent
Symptoms from day one continue, increasing in severity, potentially including hallucinations and panic attacks
Symptoms tend to peak around now. At this point, the risk of delirium tremens is greatest, a particularly severe symptom of withdrawal characterised by seizures, confusion, fever and hallucinations. The peak incidence of seizures happens at around 36 hours
Detox is really difficult and potentially dangerous so it is important to detox under professional supervision. Under this careful supervision, you may be prescribed a number of medications to reduce symptoms and stop you from relapsing .
Your healthcare provider will go through these in more detail but they can include benzodiazepines like chlordiazepoxide to lessen anxiety, acamprosate to reduce cravings by blocking GABA and disulfiram which produces unpleasant side effects if you drink again, deterring you from relapse.