Alcohol use disorder, aka alcoholism, is painful in the short term and destructive in the long term. It can also be life-threatening to stop cold. The worst-case scenario is delirium tremens, or alcohol withdrawal delirium, which occurs in about 5 percent of alcohol-withdrawal cases. Common symptoms include:
- Heavy perspiration
- Shaking all over
- Violent muscle spasms
- Rising blood pressure
- Hallucinations and delusions
- Racing heart
- Grand mal seizures
- Respiratory failure
For those who develop alcohol withdrawal delirium away from access to medical care, symptoms may prove fatal in as many as 37 percent of cases.
The Importance of Medical Supervision During Alcohol Withdrawal
While the risk of actually dying during alcohol withdrawal is low for most people, it’s always best to avoid taking the chance and to remain under medical care throughout the process. Plus, life-or-death concerns aside, getting professional medical treatment ensures:
- Experienced care customized to individual needs
- Adequate hydration (vomiting is very common during withdrawal, and unsupervised detoxees have been known to die from vomiting-abetted dehydration)
- The safest, most comfortable and most sanitary detox environment
- Carefully administered prescription medications, as necessary, to mitigate the worst withdrawal effects
- Special attention and reassurance if symptoms get particularly bad
- Recommendations for post-detox care, if it isn’t part of the detox provider’s official program
How to Prepare
Finding an alcohol detox clinic is easy in most places: the best bet is to ask your doctor, local healthcare system or health insurance provider for referrals. If you have to search on your own, don’t just type “alcohol withdrawal treatment” into a general search engine: use a specialist directory from a recognized source such as the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. And check that any place you’re considering has a reputable record (preferably including regular community involvement and/or affiliation with a larger medical system).
Once you’ve settled on a detox center, be prepared to provide information on:
- The specifics of your drinking habits and the problems they’re causing
- Whether you or anyone in your family have a history of alcoholism
- Details on past withdrawal symptoms, and past detox attempts if any
- Any other physical or mental health issues you have
Don’t let embarrassment keep you from being honest with your providers: they need accurate information to ensure you get the best and safest treatment for your individual needs.
What Is Alcohol Withdrawal Like?
Alcohol withdrawal typically takes five to seven days, with symptoms (and the risk of withdrawal delirium) at their worst around the midpoint. Initial symptoms (nausea, perspiration, shakiness, insomnia, increased heart rate, shallow breathing and possible panic attacks) can appear as early as five hours after the last drink, though 12–24 hours is more common.
You can help your doctors help you by:
- Knowing your “whys” for wanting to get sober
- Having an advance plan to keep from dwelling on the inevitable cravings for a drink
- Doing breathing exercises or meditations
- Getting as much healthy sleep and exercise as you can manage (ask your doctor for advice on the best level of activity)
- Sipping water and electrolyte-rich fluids to stay hydrated
- Eating a produce-rich diet, which helps replenish body fluids (and also healthy sugars that reduce alcohol cravings)
- Informing someone immediately (and not “waiting to see”) if you experience any hint of hallucinations, convulsions or extreme heart rate
- Reminding yourself, when things start to feel unbearable, that “this too shall pass”
Physical withdrawal is only the first stage of recovery from alcoholism. You’ll need therapy, plus a period of rest and recuperation, to prepare for re-entry into the everyday world with its “can drive you to drink” stresses. Make sure to follow up your initial treatment with longer-term rehab (1–3 months of inpatient care is ideal) and join a peer support group, plus taking inventory of your personal dreams and passions so you can invest your life in worthwhile alcohol-free goals.
Alcohol withdrawal is not easy, but it’s achievable, and necessary to make a healthy life worth living again. Don’t let fears of short-term discomfort keep you from doing what’s best for yourself.
Safe, Comfortable Alcohol Detox
When you come to Cumberland Heights for alcoholism treatment, our medical professionals ensure that detox is managed according to your needs. Nursing care is 24/7 to ensure potential problems are immediately spotted and dealt with. After detoxification is complete, you have the option of either inpatient or outpatient rehab care for assistance in planning an alcohol-free future.
You don’t have to live with alcohol addiction any longer. Contact us today to learn more about how you can take your real life back!