Alcohol withdrawal syndrome is a potentially life-threatening condition that can occur in people who have been drinking heavily for weeks, months, or years and then either stop or significantly reduce their alcohol consumption. While alcohol use is widely accepted in social settings because it is legal to consume after age 21, clients dependent on the substance are at a significantly higher risk than those who may be experiencing withdrawal from an illicit and highly stigmatized substance, such as heroin. While opiate withdrawal can be tremendously uncomfortable and may also require medical observation, the severity is different in its intensity. It is imperative that alcohol withdrawal treatment be managed by medical professionals to prevent further decompensation when in a detox center.
Common alcohol withdrawal symptoms include: hand tremors or shakes, poor balance, fatigue, GI issues including nausea, diarrhea and vomiting, elevated blood pressure, headaches, anxiety, abdominal cramping, restlessness, insomnia, irritability, depression, muscle/body aches, facial sweating and chills. If untreated, the risk of seizures, delirium tremens (DT’s) and/or blackouts can be high- all of which have the potential to be life threatening.
Attempting to stop drinking “cold turkey” without the help of a medical or behavioral healthcare professional, is not only uncomfortable but extremely dangerous.
In order to ensure a client receives appropriate treatment while in detox, a full lab work-up should be done and reviewed. Alcohol can negatively affect both the liver kidneys which may require immediate intervention and effectively alter the course of the detox period. Perhaps the most acute and dangerous scenario is an elevation in plasma ammonia level which can cause confusion, unsteadiness on one’s feet, extreme tiredness, hyperventilation and seizures, all of which require medical attention in order to be stabilized.
While there is no “standard” protocol for medication during an alcohol detox, it is common for a patient to be given a tapering dose of sedatives such as Librium, Valium, Adivant or another benzodiazepines along with a number of other medications, some over the counter, to ease the process. Vital signs should be closely monitored every 4 hours and should be assessed by a nurse twice per day and at lease once per day by a physician. An alcohol detox and range anywhere from 3 to 9 days, depending on the severity of symptoms.
Alcohol detox programs can be done on both an inpatient or out-patient setting
However, it is always safer for a clients to be under a doctor or facility’s care 24 hours per day while coming off of the substance. While rare, an at-home detox is possible however this requires a registered nurse and doctor to come to the patient’s home and will usually incur a heavy financial burden, as these services are not covered under any medical insurance.
Often times, clients find the most comfortable setting to be a residential treatment center that offers a medically monitored detox program. The ‘round the clock care and observation along with therapeutic activities and treatment planning, appropriate aftercare can be set up to improve chances for ongoing recovery.
Although only a licensed mental health professional is able to make a formal diagnosis, the newest updates to the DSM allows for the general population to identify if they should consider getting help with their alcohol use. If you or a loved one is struggling with alcohol, call 866-488-8684 today for a comprehensive assessment for alcohol detox treatment.