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Alcohol detoxification (detox) is defined as the natural process that occurs in the body as it attempts to rid the system of waste products and toxins from excessive, long-term alcohol consumption. Alcohol detox in a treatment setting is usually accompanied by medication, medical observation, and counseling.
People who have been drinking heavily for a long time are more likely to experience negative side effects during detox, some of which can be dangerous.
Detoxification is a period of medical treatment, usually including counseling, during which a person is helped to overcome physical and psychological dependence on alcohol.
Prolonged alcohol abuse can lead to tolerance and biological changes that create a false homeostasis. Disrupting this balance and restoring the user to a healthy state is a process that is as essential as it is delicate.
Alcohol detoxification is the preparatory step before a longer treatment program. Detoxification can be safely performed at both inpatient and outpatient facilities, but round-the-clock medical monitoring is recommended for heavy users. In most cases, the detox process involves 3 steps:
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Although medically-assisted detox limits some of the negative side effects the user experiences, some are unavoidable. Different side effects will appear during the 2 phases of alcohol detox.
Phase 1 occurs within hours of an alcoholic ceasing consumption of alcohol and continues for days or weeks. This is generally when the most severe side effects occur, including:
The second and longer phase of alcohol detox occurs over months as the brain slowly begins to regulate and get back to normal functioning. This is called Post-Acute Withdrawal Symptom and includes symptoms such as:
Part of the detox process includes keeping the patient’s system in balance and avoiding major physiological upsets. Sometimes medications are necessary to do this. Benzodiazepines, including Librium, Valium, and Ativan, are commonly used for alcohol treatment because they reduce alcohol withdrawal symptoms and also prevent alcohol withdrawal seizures. Seizures are among the most common causes of fatality in alcohol withdrawal, so additional anti-convulsant drugs such as Keppra are often used as well.
While Benzodiazepines have been proven effective in treating or preventing certain symptoms of alcohol withdrawal, it is imperative that a recovering alcoholic only use medically recommended amounts of the drugs. Benzodiazepines are addictive substances in their own right, and use should be closely monitored.
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Especially in the cases of long-term alcohol abusers, detoxing cold turkey can be dangerous and even fatal. Although rare, some of the severe side effects of alcohol detox include:
It is always recommended to seek medical attention for an alcohol detox to mitigate these side effects.
Detox is merely the first step of treatment for people trying to overcome their alcohol addiction. Ridding the body of alcohol will not cure alcoholism; it clears the mind and heals the body so that a person suffering from alcohol addiction may pursue full treatment. To find out more about alcohol detox and treatment options, contact a treatment provider today.
Jeffrey Juergens earned his Bachelor’s and Juris Doctor from the University of Florida. Jeffrey’s desire to help others led him to focus on economic and social development and policy making. After graduation, he decided to pursue his passion of writing and editing. Jeffrey’s mission is to educate and inform the public on addiction issues and help those in need of treatment find the best option for them.
Reviewed by Certified Addiction Professional
Theresa Parisi is a Certified Addiction Professional (CAP), Certified Behavioral Health Case Manager (CBHCM), and International Certified Alcohol and Drug Counselor (ICADC) with over 12 years of experience in the addiction treatment field.
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