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Alcohol Withdrawal: The Importance of Alcohol Detox


If you are physically addicted to alcohol, going to alcohol detox is of utmost importance. Not only is it difficult to endure the withdrawal symptoms on your own, but some of the potential complications can be fatal. In addition, the mental cravings that occur during withdrawal have the ability to drive people back to the bottle before the alcohol withdrawal timeline is complete. Fortunately, medical detox helps make the process much easier. 

Alcohol detoxification is a natural process within the body. It involves ridding the body of toxins and waste products that result from long-term alcohol abuse. Although this process is natural, it is dangerous without medical treatment. In a professional setting, alcohol detox involves counseling, medical supervision, and detox medications. During this process, people overcome their physical dependence on alcohol. 

Who Needs Alcohol Detox?

Individuals who drink for extended periods of time on a regular basis are susceptible to alcohol withdrawal. When alcohol is abused, biological changes occur in the body. The mind and body become accustomed to having alcohol in the system, making it difficult to function normally without alcohol in the body. In addition, drinking over a long period of time leads to the development of tolerance. 

When tolerance builds, a person needs more and more alcohol to produce the desired effects. As tolerance increases, physical dependency becomes stronger, and withdrawal symptoms worsen. As a result, when a person who is dependent on alcohol stops drinking, they disrupt the balance in the body. This leads to withdrawal symptoms and undesirable side effects. Consequently, anyone who experiences alcohol withdrawal symptoms or has trouble stopping drinking alone needs medical detox. 

Understanding the Alcohol Detox Process

Alcohol detox is thought of as a preparation step before a person enters an alcohol treatment program. Medical detox exists in both inpatient and outpatient settings. However, inpatient detox is recommended for chronic alcohol abusers due to the 24/7 medical support available. Alcohol detox typically consists of three steps: intake, detox medications, and medical stabilization.

The Intake Process

Intake is one of the most important steps towards a successful alcohol detox. During intake, patients undergo a comprehensive examination and review of their medical and psychiatric history. This step allows medical professionals to fully understand the needs of each patient. For example, if a patient has a pre-existing mental or physical health issue, that person may require specialized treatment or additional medications. Intake also gives medical professionals an idea of how long detox will take, what potential complications may arise, and how to care for each individual client. 

Medications Used in Alcohol Detox

Many alcohol detox programs use medications to reduce withdrawal symptoms and cravings. In addition, some medications may target co-occurring mental health disorders or specific areas of discomfort. Medications that are commonly used in the detoxification process include:[1][2]

  • Benzodiazepines (Librium, Ativan, Valium)
  • Non-benzodiazepine anticonvulsants or NBACs (Keppra, Gabapentin, Topiramate)
  • Blood pressure medications (Clonidine)
  • Beta-blockers (Baclofen)

Although not every patient will require all of these medications, medical detox facilities have medication on hand to treat varying degrees of alcohol withdrawal. 

Medical Stabilization

Once withdrawal symptoms begin fading away, the medical staff must ensure that a patient is medically stable. As patients are tapered off of detox medications, they undergo psychotherapies and medical evaluations that review their mental and physical states. Once a patient is deemed medically stable, he or she should begin an alcohol rehab program.

Withdrawal Symptoms to Expect

Detoxing from alcohol cold-turkey is particularly dangerous for long-term alcohol abusers. Some severe withdrawal symptoms that may lead to serious complications include: 

  • Anxiety
  • Depression
  • Cravings
  • Heart arrhythmias
  • Headaches
  • Nausea
  • Insomnia
  • Aspiration pneumonia
  • Fever
  • Liver or kidney problems
  • Hallucinations
  • Seizures
  • Delerium Tremens

Due to the intensity of these potential symptoms, experts always recommend for people to check into alcohol detox. After all, medical attention and detoxification medications help mitigate these side effects, and experts are ready to intervene in case of an emergency. [3]

Furthermore, after acute withdrawals are over, many people experience Post-Acute Withdrawal Syndrome (PAWS). PAWS includes symptoms that may occur for weeks or months while the brain slowly adjusts to regular functioning. Symptoms of PAWS include: [4]

  • Depression
  • Anxiety
  • Mood swings
  • Insomnia
  • Restlessness
  • Lack of appetite

Due to ongoing symptoms, most people benefit from alcohol rehab programs after they complete the detoxification process.

Continuing Care

Alcohol detox is only the first step toward recovery. After all, clearing the body of alcohol and related toxins doesn’t cure alcoholism – it only stabilizes the mind and body. As a result, it is imperative to check into a treatment program after completing an alcohol detox. Alcohol rehab programs teach patients how to achieve a full, lasting recovery from alcohol abuse. 

If you or a loved one is battling alcohol addiction and are ready to leave alcoholism in the past, contact us today. Our compassionate addiction specialists are eager to help show you the way.



Call the Agape Treatment Center admissions team at 888-614-0077 to learn more about what our addiction and mental health facilities can do for you or your loved one.

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