Alcohol Detox: Quitting Alcohol and Staying Sober
In social gatherings and professional settings, drinking alcohol is widely acceptable. Yet, there’s a thin line between moderate use of alcohol and becoming dependent.
Alcohol dependence happens when people feel they need to drink more alcohol to achieve the same effect. They might forget and neglect their obligations, skip work, and neglect their family to drink alcohol. The overconsumption of alcohol leads to severe physical and psychological side effects.
Statistics show that 1 in every 10 Americans suffers from alcohol use disorder. It can lead to direct and indirect harm inflicted upon the users and those around them.
This is why alcohol detox is essential. It helps clear your system of alcohol, whether you’re consuming alcohol alone or with other drugs. And we’ll talk about the detox journey in this article, so let’s dive in.
Humans began brewing alcohol about 7000 years ago. It was widespread in several ancient civilizations, where it was used in religious ceremonies and as an offer to the deities. Greek poets and Ancient Egyptian writers referred to fermented drinks in their literature work.
Over centuries, alcohol became widely available, and people began using it for medicinal purposes. But in the 19th century, there was a movement that aimed at regulating the consumption of alcohol by limiting its use, and it was banned in the early 20th century in the US.
Later, it became widely acceptable to drink alcohol over family dinners and in other social settings. Yet, the overconsumption of alcohol is highly frowned upon, as it affects the person and the people around them.
Alcohol interferes with the brain’s mechanism. It affects the areas that control balance, speech, memory, and judgment, making people more likely to engage in reckless behavior that affects their safety.
Alcohol-induced blackouts are common, where the person has gaps in memory and can’t remember what happened when they were drunk or intoxicated. It also affects the body and can cause nausea, vomiting, headache, and mood changes.
As you continue to use alcohol, you’ll go through several stages. Tolerance happens when you continue to drink alcohol for a long time. It no longer provides the same effects, and you must drink more to experience the euphoria and relaxation.
Dependence happens when you feel that you can’t function properly without alcohol. Unless you control your consumption, you’ll have to deal with addiction. This is a stage where alcohol permanently changes your personality and behavior. At this point, the person might be experiencing adverse side effects related to the overconsumption of alcohol, but they can’t quit.
Alcohol can help you overcome the short and long-term side effects of alcohol consumption. The health risks of alcohol increase when you drink it regularly or consume large amounts of alcohol.
- Prolonged heavy drinking damages your liver. Alcohol-related liver disease leads to the accumulation of waste and toxins in your body.
- Alcohol causes bloating, ulcers, and diarrhea or constipation.
- Over time, liver inflammation leads to cirrhosis, which might later change to cancer.
- The overconsumption of alcohol causes inflammation in the pancreas or pancreatitis, which has serious long-term complications.
- Due to the damage to the pancreas, consuming alcohol increases your risk of diabetes.
- The overconsumption of alcohol leads to several circulatory complications like irregular heartbeats and high blood pressure.
- Prolonged use of alcohol damages the nervous system, leading to blackouts. People are unable to create long-term memories, and their emotions aren’t adequately regulated.
- Alcohol decreases the body’s absorption of vitamins and minerals from food and supplements.
- Drinking affects your libido and causes sexual dysfunction.
- Alcohol consumption can damage the frontal lobe, responsible for social behavior and decision-making.
- Heavy drinking can cause Wernicke-Korsakoff syndrome, a permanent brain disorder affecting memory.
- Pregnant women who drink are at a higher risk for premature delivery, miscarriage, or stillbirth. Children born to mothers with drinking problems suffer from learning difficulties and long-term health issues.
In addition to these physical negative consequences, people who are addicted to alcohol experience several psychological and social changes. They become less able to focus and concentrate, and their ability to make rational decisions. People become aggressive and less reliable, and this affects those around them.
People who abuse alcohol are more likely to quit their jobs. They might lose their license because of DUIs. They’ll lose serious relationships in their life and will deal with financial difficulties.
Statistics show that children raised by alcoholic parents or caregivers often deal with conflicting emotions like guilt and embarrassment. They might also withdraw from friends or fail school and start abusing alcohol or drugs at a younger age than their peers.
Long-term use of alcohol is associated with more dangerous side effects. When people become dependent on alcohol, withdrawal becomes more challenging, and people suffer from more serious negative consequences.
Alcohol withdrawal symptoms, or AWS, are a set of symptoms that people experience when they reduce their alcohol consumption or quit drinking alcohol. People might choose to quit alcohol because they can no longer deal with the psychological and social impact of alcohol abuse. They might also quit because of health complications.
People will experience different symptoms based on how long they’ve been consuming alcohol and the amount of alcohol they consume. Underlying health conditions can also affect the withdrawal symptoms a patient might experience.
The early withdrawal symptoms begin six to 12 hours after the last drink. The symptoms are usually mild.
- Craving for alcohol
- Loss of appetite
- Abdominal pain
People experience these severe symptoms if they have a serious problem with alcohol consumption.
- Delirium tremens
Alcohol withdrawal severity can be divided into three stages. These stages are related to the amount of alcohol the person usually consumes and how frequently they drink alcohol, as this will make them more dependent.
- Stage one refers to mild symptoms like abdominal pain, headache, insomnia, and heart palpitations.
- Stage two refers to the symptoms in the first stage, in addition to increased blood pressure, abnormal breathing, and confusion.
- Stage three refers to the previous symptoms, in addition to auditory and visual hallucinations, disorientation, seizures, and impaired attention.
People can progress from one stage to the other pretty fast, especially if they are trying to quit without medical supervision. They begin to experience more intense symptoms one to three days after the last drink. After 72 hours, some symptoms might resolve, while others can last for days and even weeks.
Some people who consume larger amounts of alcohol might experience more severe symptoms like fatigue, insomnia, and mood changes that might last for months.
People have several options when they’re trying to quit alcohol. Each detox method comes with certain pros and cons.
Quitting alcohol cold turkey refers to stopping drinking alcohol all of a sudden. People stop drinking alcohol without reducing their intake gradually, which can put a toll on their body and brain.
Some people choose this detox method because it’s decisive and immediate. They feel that they’re in control, and they can quit discreetly if they want to.
Cold turkey isn’t the best detox method for quitting alcohol. People will experience the most intense withdrawal symptoms, which can progress to violent seizures, DTs, and even death.
In most cases, people experience severe cravings while quitting alcohol, and when they quit cold turkey, they’ll have no access to medical help or assistance. This is why there’s a high risk of relapse when you quit cold turkey.
This detox method allows the patient to get rid of alcohol and eliminate its effects on the body in a controlled and safe environment. Although quitting alcohol imposes the risk of several annoying withdrawal symptoms, patients can have a safer and less uncomfortable detox journey with a professional doctor or healthcare provider.
Medically-assisted detox, or MAT, puts the patient in a monitored environment, offers supportive care, and provides medical help in life-threatening situations.
Quitting alcohol is challenging, but doctors and healthcare providers offer medications that ease the withdrawal symptoms and deal with some of the health complications related to quitting alcohol. These medications also decrease cravings and subsequently reduce the risk of relapse.
- Benzodiazepines facilitate the detox journey as they reduce the intensity of withdrawal symptoms like sweating, nausea, vomiting, irritability, insomnia, headaches, and seizures.
- Antipsychotics can treat psychological symptoms like psychosis and mania. They help patients who suffer from psychotic illnesses while trying to quit alcohol, but they can increase the risk of seizures.
- Anticonvulsants help with chronic withdrawal symptoms that last for a long time. Doctors might prescribe these medications for months after quitting alcohol, and they can reduce the risk of seizures.
- Antihypertensive medications aren’t used as the primary treatment during detox, but they’re used to manage blood pressure without affecting respiratory functions.
Holistic and alternative alcohol detox treatments focus on the patient’s soul, mind, and body to facilitate recovery. They reduce alcohol cravings, increase the patient’s resistance to alcohol, and boost self-confidence.
Patients should focus on hydration, healthy eating, working out, and taking their supplements to help their bodies recover. Here are some alternative detox approaches to quit alcohol.
- Art and music therapy
- Massage therapy
- Animal-assisted therapy
- Guided meditation and mindfulness
While quitting alcohol, you’ll experience several withdrawal symptoms. Some of these symptoms resolve, but others linger for several months. As a result, patients can face several challenges during their alcohol detox journey.
- Unsupervised detox can be life-threatening as the body gets shocked when it’s trying to adapt to the reduced amount of alcohol consumed.
- In most cases, people must stop seeing their friends and people they drink with to quit alcohol. As a result, they will probably have to find new social circles and might feel lonely for some time.
- Alcohol consumption leads to several health conditions, and without a doctor’s supervision, these health issues will be neglected and will probably get worse.
- Patients can deal with guilt, confusion, and emotional pain during their detox journey, and without treating these symptoms, there’s a high risk of relapse.
- People might have isolated themselves while consuming alcohol, so they might feel alone when they quit and become unable to cope socially.
- Some people with drinking problems might have challenging family situations, so they lack support from their families during their detox journey.
Stopping alcohol consumption isn’t the end of your detox journey. Several considerations can help you maintain your sobriety and stay away from alcohol.
- Approaching alcohol detox with medical supervision improves your sobriety chances.
- You can consider several rehabilitation and therapy options, depending on your alcohol problem.
- Think about outpatient and inpatient treatments based on your alcohol consumption and risk of relapse. Inpatient treatment might be the only option for you if you have other medical issues or you can’t stay away from alcohol on your own.
- Family and friends’ support is essential and will help you stay away from alcohol and other drugs.
- Support groups like Alcoholics Anonymous can help you dig deep into your drinking problem and find the reason why you abused alcohol in the first place.
- Patients have to think about healthy coping mechanisms to stay away from alcohol.
Quitting alcohol is challenging, but it’s possible with medical supervision. Doctors and healthcare providers will help you deal with the annoying withdrawal symptoms and treat any health problems caused by alcohol abuse.
Abusing alcohol can change your life, and it’s worth the challenges you might go through. It takes a lot of strength to quit alcohol, and you can do it with the right type of support. You can stay away from alcohol no matter how serious your abuse is, and this will allow you to take control of your life, fix your relationships, and increase your self-confidence.