Have you or a family member made the decision to go through the detoxification and rehab process to come to terms with your drinking problem? If so, you might be a little nervous and have questions about the alcohol withdrawal process, including how long it takes and what kind of signs and symptoms you may have at this time. The more knowledge you have, the more comfortable you will feel about this decision.
How Widespread is Alcohol Use and Abuse?
Because alcohol is legal to use, easy to get, and socially acceptable in most circles, alcohol usage is widespread. The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA), reports that as of 2013, around 86.8% of adults in the United States have drunk alcohol at some time in their lives, 56.4% in the last month.
But the abuse of alcohol is also widespread. The same report found that:
- 24.6% of Americans engage in binge drinking.
- 16.6 million Americans have alcohol use disorders.
- 1.3 million of those with this disorder sought treatment for this problem.
And this problem does not affect adults only: 697,000 adolescents have a problem with alcohol and 73,000 received treatment for it last year. Because of how widespread drinking disorders are, alcohol was involved in nearly 88,000 fatalities in 2013 and is one of the leading causes of preventable death in this country. In short, it is a serious social problem.
What are the Symptoms of Alcohol Abuse?
It is not always easy to come to terms with the fact that you or a loved one have a drinking problem — or to even realize that there is an issue to be dealt with. But there are symptoms to look for that can raise a red flag. They include:
- Drinking alcohol in larger amounts than you realized or intended
- Having a strong desire to drink or not being able to cut down on drinking
- Letting alcohol interfere with work, school or family life
- Drinking alcohol even when it is causing economic, health or other problems for you
- Needing more and more alcohol to get a “buzz”
- Going through symptoms of withdrawal if you stop drinking
Stages of Alcohol Withdrawal
If you drink heavily for a long period of time, it can affect your brain and nervous system – and so when you stop drinking it abruptly, you can experience signs and symptoms of withdrawal. These withdrawal signs come in stages and there is a timeline associated with them.
Stage one begins around 8 hours after the last drink is taken and can include mild symptoms like headaches, digestive problems like nausea and vomiting, sleep disturbances, tremors and anxiety. Stages two and three can follow each other quickly within 24-72 hours and symptoms will peak at this time. Stage two can bring an increased heart rate, breathing and blood pressure as well as fever and sweating, while stage three, the most intense, can cause cognitive problems like confusion or disorientation, hallucinations and seizures. These symptoms will peak after 5-7 days but can go on for weeks in a milder form.
What is Delirium Tremens?
People who are considering going through rehab are naturally concerned about delirium tremens (also called the DT’s). This is a particularly severe form of alcohol withdrawal and it can cause a high fever as well as nervous system symptoms like being confused, not knowing where you are, seeing or hearing things that aren’t there or even having seizures. The DT’s are serious because they can increase the risk of death — but the good news is that rehabilitation centers can control symptoms and monitor patients to keep them safe while they are going through withdrawal.
How is Alcohol Withdrawal Treated?
The way alcohol withdrawal is treated will depend on how severe the alcoholism is and if there are any factors (such as health problems) that could interfere with the process. If the problem is mild, a patient might be able to go through the process on an outpatient basis, which can be less disturbing to their work or home life.
However, if the alcoholism is severe or if a patient has mental or physical health problems, inpatient rehab is the best place for the detoxification process to take place. Rehab centers can give you the emotional support you need — and also keep you comfortable and safe while going through the detoxification process with the use of medications to relieve withdrawal symptoms. Close supervision is also part of the process. This can be followed by counseling to help get at the root causes of the addiction and help prevent relapse by giving patients the skills they need to cope.
In short, the detoxification process is not an easy one. But when handled by competent, caring professionals in a safe environment, it can be the first step on your journey back to wellness.