Alcohol Detox

Alcohol Detox: Breaking Free from Addiction

Discover the Benefits of Safe and Effective Alcohol Detoxification

Alcohol detox is the first step towards overcoming alcohol addiction. For many, facing alcohol withdrawal symptoms can be intimidating and overwhelming, and it’s often hard to imagine what life could look like beyond drinking.

Support and guidance during detox and withdrawal are important when it comes to ensuring your safety and knowing what to expect. At Smarmore, our medical professionals can help you navigate each stage of withdrawal and prepare you for the next phase of recovery. Safety is our number one priority when it comes to alcohol withdrawal, and choosing to do it alone can be dangerous, even fatal in serious cases.

If you have been drinking for a long time, you likely have a severe alcohol dependence that requires medical intervention. Our detox clinic provides a medically supervised detox for alcohol, ensuring all patients are protected from the most severe withdrawal symptoms.

Summary

In this article, we will explain everything you need to know about the alcohol detox process.

  • The physical and psychological symptoms associated with alcohol withdrawal
  • The important role of detox professionals
  • What acute alcohol withdrawal looks like, and how we manage it efficiently
  • How long does the alcohol detox process last and what to expect
  • The risks associated with at-home alcohol detox and whether it’s a viable option
  • The advantages of medically supervised alcohol detox and how it works 
  • Medications that can help with alcohol detox and make it more comfortable
  • What happens after alcohol detoxification and the importance of ongoing care to prevent relapse   
  • The important role of rehab therapy, counselling, and support groups for long-term recovery.

Download our Brochure

Learn more about what makes Smarmore Castle a leading private addiction rehab clinic in Ireland.

Alcohol Detoxification: Coming Off Alcohol

Coming off alcohol is a challenging and exhausting process that brings many psychological and physical symptoms that vary in severity depending on your drinking patterns. 

The thought of experiencing alcohol withdrawal symptoms often scares people struggling with alcohol addiction. Experiencing it unaware and unassisted is dangerous, extremely uncomfortable and even life-threatening. That’s why it’s always advised that you seek professional medical support. Being well-informed and prepared and having access to proper clinical care will make the process much smoother and safer. 

Physical Symptoms of Alcohol Withdrawal

The physical signs of alcohol withdrawal may vary depending on your past drinking habits but generally include the following: 

  • Malaise or a general feeling of being unwell
  • Stomach pain and nausea
  • Dry mouth
  • Headache 
  • Tiredness
  • Heavy sweating
  • Muscle cramps 
  • Tremor
  • Heart palpitations
  • Tachycardia (heart rate over 100 beats per minute)
  • High blood pressure.  

Free & Confidential Addiction Assessment

Taking the first step in seeking help can be very difficult, our team is here to help you.

Psychological Symptoms of Alcohol Withdrawal

The severity and intensity of psychological symptoms associated with alcohol withdrawal also vary greatly depending on the individual’s level of addiction. Typically, these may include the following: 

  • Sadness and melancholia
  • Guilt
  • Insomnia
  • Nightmares
  • Hypersensitivity to sensory stimuli
  • Anxiety
  • Irritability. 

The signs and symptoms listed above are usually considered mild and typical of the usual withdrawal process that does not threaten one’s life.

However, in some cases, such as if an individual has long-term heavy drinking habits or certain pre-existing conditions, they may experience severe symptoms requiring immediate medical attention. You should be particularly aware of the following: 

  • Hyperventilation
  • Extreme paranoia
  • Bouts of rage
  • Seizures
  • Hallucinations or alcoholic hallucinosis
  • Delirium tremens (extreme disorientation and agitation that can lead to heart failure). 

Acute Withdrawal from Alcohol 

Alcohol withdrawal syndrome is a tricky and complex disorder that affects people who have become dependent on alcohol and suddenly stopped consuming it. It is known to cause mild to severe physical, psychological, and autonomic dysfunctions that can occur shortly after the last alcohol intake. Most symptoms of alcohol withdrawal syndrome are similar to a typical hangover, but one marked difference is an irresistible craving for alcohol. This syndrome only occurs in people who suffer from alcohol addiction. While hangovers usually disappear within a few hours, the withdrawal syndrome lasts several days and causes grave distress.

Alcohol Withdrawal Timeline 

The length and intensity of the withdrawal process caused by alcohol misuse are unique for everyone and vary based on several factors. These can range from how long one has been heavily drinking alcohol to having pre-existing physical or mental disorders that can exacerbate symptoms. Generally, however, most people experience three phases of withdrawal (although your symptoms may not progress this way – not everyone goes through all three stages).

Phase 1: Mild Symptoms

The first symptoms appear within 24 hours after your last drink. The symptoms of mild alcohol withdrawal syndrome resemble those of a hangover but are much more intense. 

Tremor 

The predominant symptom is tremors or shaking, with the intensity ranging from mild to severe. Alcohol tremors mainly occur in the hands but can also affect the head and tongue.

Other Symptoms

Other symptoms may include the following:

  • Profuse sweating
  • An accelerated heartbeat
  • High blood pressure
  • Hyperventilation accompanied by chills and a low-grade fever
  • Feelings of frustration, anxiety, and anger
  • Insomnia and disturbing dreams
  • Generalised feelings of profound sadness
  • Compulsive cravings.

It is also not uncommon for people to experience short periods of delusion. For example, they might see or hear things that are not there. Delusion symptoms are typically short-lived, and the patient often understands that what they perceive is not real.

Duration

While generally not life-threatening, phase 1 withdrawal symptoms can last up to a week or longer. They peak after 24 hours and begin to subside after three days. However, feelings of unease, such as fear or sadness, and difficulty sleeping can remain for a few more weeks. 

Phase 2: Moderate Symptoms

The signs and symptoms of phase 2 of alcohol withdrawal syndrome are similar to phase 1 but more severe. They usually start between 48 and 72 hours after the last drink. 

Phase 2 withdrawal symptoms typically include the following:

  • Tremors and shakes intensify, and the patient experiences difficulty talking and standing;
  • An episode of true hallucination may occur, during which the patient cannot tell what is real. Hallucinations can indicate upcoming delirium tremens;
  • Symptoms often fluctuate in intensity throughout the day. They usually amplify at night, accompanied by profound fear and unease. Very vivid and persistent hallucinations can appear, such as frightening visions of insects. Patients feel like they are being watched, followed, or endangered;
  • Patients are at an increased risk of epileptic seizures if they have pre-existing epilepsy, have had a head injury, or display multiple substance dependencies such as benzodiazepines or barbiturates;
  • Epileptic seizures generally occur within the first 10 to 36 hours following the last alcoholic beverage.

Phase 3: Severe Symptoms or Delirium Tremens (DTs)

Delirium tremens is the most extreme form of alcohol withdrawal syndrome, persisting for up to a few days. Fatalities from DTs are rare when professional medical care is in place. Still, the condition is life-threatening, particularly if the patient is physically frail and exhausted. Therefore, it requires immediate medical attention. 

DTs symptoms

  • Delirium tremens cause extreme disorientation and an altered state of consciousness with brief bouts of hyperactivity. During these activity peaks, the patient may compulsively attempt to complete imaginary tasks;
  • The patient experiences vivid visual and auditory hallucinations;
  • Violent body shaking, heavy sweating, sleeplessness, and severe emotional distress are common;
  • The patient may also suffer from a severe fever and dehydration.

Personalised Treatment

We thoroughly assess each patient in order to build a comprehensive, personalised treatment plan.

Alcohol Detox Process

The detox process for alcohol varies depending on the severity of your addiction. For moderate to severe alcohol withdrawal management, medications may be necessary for a short period to assist patients in managing withdrawal symptoms and regaining health. 

At Smarmore, all patients receive supervised care during the alcohol withdrawal phase. A medically supervised alcohol detox is the best and safest way to avoid serious conditions such as Delirium Tremens.

Medically Supervised Alcohol Detox

Medical alcohol detox at Smarmore is the safest choice for those struggling with severe alcohol dependence. Furthermore, patients will have access to round-the-clock care from healthcare professionals who understand their needs.

Upon admission, our medical team will assess your overall health and take steps to stabilise your physical and mental health.

The Benefits of a medically supervised alcohol detox can not be understated:

  • Detox medication to reduce withdrawal symptoms and cravings
  • Safe environment away from alcohol
  • Expert alcohol detox treatment from trained medical professionals
  • Access to treatment and support

Medications Used in Alcohol Detox

When dealing with severe alcohol syndrome, patients require several different medications to assist them in recovering from the withdrawal, such as anti-depressants and anti-convulsants such as benzodiazepines, antiemetic medicines, and acamprosate. The intensity and type of symptoms the patient experiences will determine the type of medication administered.

Benzodiazepines 

Benzodiazepines like Chlordiazepoxide are highly successful in helping patients with alcohol withdrawal. These drugs act on the same areas of the brain that alcohol does. They help flush out the remaining traces of alcohol while providing a certain degree of familiar comfort to the patient. They also provide relief from the hallucinations, delusions, and seizures that occur with severe alcohol withdrawal syndrome.

Controlled medication is provided by our team here at Smarmore, typically for the first few days of detoxification.

What Happens After Alcohol Detox?

Alcohol rehab at Smarmore combines both detox and therapeutic treatment into one complete programme, ensuring our patients receive optimal levels of care. Once our clinical team are happy with your progress, you will begin the second phase of treatment designed to give patients the tools needed to stay sober.

For successful and long-lasting sobriety, quitting alcohol and detoxing is only the first step. Proper psychological support and treatment are necessary if the patient is to have the best chance of a durable recovery. It requires the patient to reflect on why they started drinking heavily in the first place, analyse their personal history and family dynamics, and develop a strategy that prevents them from going back to substance abuse. 

Begin Your Recovery Today

At Smarmore Castle, our expert team of consultant psychiatrists, doctors, nurses and therapists work together as a multidisciplinary team to deliver an unrivalled range of therapies for our patients.

Our addiction programme delivers lasting recovery through evidence-based assessments and therapies. We treat the whole person by addressing the underlying causes of the addiction, which may include depression, anxiety and trauma.

Call us today, and let us help you evolve beyond addiction041 214 5111

FAQs

What To Expect From Your Body When You Stop Drinking? 

Once you stop drinking, your body begins to heal itself almost immediately. Generally speaking, the most intense withdrawal symptoms last no more than one week. After that, your condition starts to improve noticeably. Sleeping becomes much easier, eating habits return to normal, and people usually regain lost weight as they become more physically alert and active.

How Long Does Alcohol Stay In Your Brain? 

It takes different amounts of time for varying parts of the brain to bounce back from alcohol abuse. However, much of the damage should be repaired within fourteen days of detoxification. The thinking area of the brain takes the longest time to recuperate. Ongoing sobriety and abstinence make at least partial recovery of all diminished cognitive functions possible.

How Long Does It Take For Your Liver To Process Alcohol?

The liver can process about one alcoholic drink per hour, so it depends on the amount consumed. Generally, alcohol does not stay in your system for very long. It remains detectable in the bloodstream for about 6 hours, and its half-life is around 4-5 hours. Some tests can detect the presence of alcohol up to 24 hours after consumption, although these are generally urine tests.

Can You Detox From Alcohol at Home?

Detoxing from alcohol without medical guidance is dangerous and could lead to unexpected symptoms that are unmanageable without medical assistance. As for withdrawal medications, it is up to a licensed narcologist to prescribe them. They know the best treatment plan for each patient and the appropriate dosage for each drug.

Still, some people favour detoxing at home because it might be more affordable or convenient for them, or perhaps they feel daunted by the prospect of residential rehab.
For the safest possible home detox, the following criteria must be met: 

1. The individual has no other physical issues or pre-existing conditions, nor are they dependent on any substances other than alcohol; 
2. The patient initiated detox after a period of heavy drinking that did not last longer than three days; 
3. The patient is highly motivated to quit drinking and not return to old habits. 

If you are attempting to detox from alcohol in the comfort of your own home, try to: 

1. Get as much rest as possible. If struggling to fall asleep, try to avoid sleeping pills and look into non-medicinal methods like meditation or herbal teas. Daytime naps can also be beneficial;

2. Drink lots of water and stay hydrated. Freshly squeezed juices and smoothies are also good options to maintain optimal fluid balance and quickly help your body eliminate toxins. Make sure you consume at least two litres of liquids throughout the day; 

3. Maintain a tidy and airy living space. Taking walks is also important during detox to help you relax and clear your mind from negative thinking;

4. Follow a ketogenic diet, which could be beneficial in reducing alcohol withdrawal symptoms. 

References

  1. Wiers, C.E. et al. (2021) “Ketogenic diet reduces alcohol withdrawal symptoms in humans and alcohol intake in rodents,” Science Advances, 7(15). Available at: https://doi.org/10.1126/sciadv.abf6780.
  2. How Long Does Alcohol Stay in Your System? (2022). Available at: https://americanaddictioncenters.org/alcoholism-treatment/how-long-in-system.
  3. Sachdeva, A., Choudhary, M. and Chandra, M. (2015) Alcohol Withdrawal Syndrome: Benzodiazepines and Beyond, Journal of Clinical and Diagnostic Research. Available at: https://doi.org/10.7860/jcdr/2015/13407.6538.
  4. How to safely detox from alcohol at home. Available at: https://www.wearewithyou.org.uk/help-and-advice/advice-you/how-safely-detox-alcohol-home/.
  5. Alcohol and the Brain: An Overview | National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA). Available at: https://www.niaaa.nih.gov/publications/alcohol-and-brain-overview