If you or someone you know has been abusing alcohol, at some point you may decide that it’s time to stop. Alcoholism can have severe effects on your health and your life, and making the choice to quit is a significant first step to getting things back on track. However quitting cold turkey, or trying to stop drinking on your own at home simply is not safe. The reason why is alcohol withdrawal.
When a person has abused alcohol for an extended period, they are likely to deal with some very uncomfortable alcohol withdrawal symptoms and avoiding them can be challenging. In fact, alcohol withdrawal symptoms are known to be much more severe than those associated with most other substances. Withdrawal from alcohol can even lead to death. Alcohol withdrawal is actually caused by a rebound of neurotransmitters in the GABA system in a person’s brain. GABA receptors are responsible for producing a person’s feelings of calm, relaxation, and sleepiness. When alcohol is present in a person’s system, it enhances the function of their GABA receptors, giving them these feelings. However, when they have abused alcohol for a long period of time, the receptors will struggle to return to normal function when alcohol is removed. The GABA receptors will respond weakly to the presence of GABA in the absence of alcohol, and this will produce adverse feelings of anxiety, panic, and even insomnia, among others. The presence of alcohol also makes a person’s brain try to overcompensate and produce more neurotransmitters, which run rampant in the brain when alcohol is removed, elevating blood pressure, raising their pulse, and even causing hallucinations, fever, and DTs, or delirium tremens, which is the most serious form of alcohol withdrawal. DTs cause sudden confusion in the brain, can occur without warning, and can even be fatal. While alcohol withdrawal symptoms will vary widely from person to person and are dependent on many factors, withdrawal generally occurs in three stages. Stage 1: Minor Withdrawal Minor withdrawal symptoms will include shakiness, sweating, some mild anxiety and/or panic, insomnia, twitching, headaches, and even some nausea. These alcohol withdrawal symptoms will appear within six to 12 hours after the last drink. Stage 2: Mid-level Withdrawal During mid-level withdrawal, a person will see the symptoms involved in stage 1 intensify, in addition to a rapid pulse, irregular or elevated heartbeat, and potential seizures. They may also encounter some minor visual and auditory hallucinations, but the person should be aware that they aren’t real. These alcohol withdrawal symptoms appear roughly 12 to 48 hours after the person’s last drink. Stage 3: Major Withdrawal Stage 3 withdrawal is when things get dangerous, as all symptoms will reach their highest levels. The person may have seizures, profuse sweating, intense tremors, rapid breathing and pulse, fever, significant spikes in their blood pressure, and will no longer be able to distinguish their hallucinations from reality. Stage 3 is also where death may occur. Major withdrawal arrives 48 to 72 hours after the person’s last drink and will peak around day 5. While this information might make you think you should stop drinking right away, this isn’t the case. In fact, quitting cold turkey is quite dangerous and not at all recommended. Alcohol withdrawal can be fatal if you suddenly remove the depressant from suppressing the neurological activity in your brain. So, how exactly can you quit drinking? The best way to stop an alcohol addiction is the tapering method.
How To Safely Quit Drinking Alcohol – The Taper Method
If a person has been drinking alcohol heavily over a long period of time, it won’t be safe for them to stop drinking suddenly. Worse, it can actually be fatal. Alcohol’s effect on the brain is so severe, that if it is suddenly removed from your system, the rebound of your neurotransmitters could cause severe rebound symptoms and even death. While someone who has abused alcohol for only a short time can probably safely quit “cold turkey” without dealing with anything more than mild withdrawal symptoms, those who have been long-time drinkers should taper off of their drinking. Tapering means that the person will keep drinking, but safely cut back on their alcohol consumption over a period of time. This will help them manage their withdrawal symptoms and make sure nothing gets too intense for them. If symptoms start to set in a little too heavily, the person can simply drink a little more until they subside. Beer is the drink of choice for the taper method due to its low alcohol content, and the amount of beer the person will drink and how long they will need to taper down their consumption will completely depend on the individual. If they were drinking a liter of hard alcohol per day, they may start out drinking quite a lot of beer, and slowly but surely cut back by a couple beers each day. In the tapering system, beer is medicine, and the person will need to view it as such. They should only drink more if they absolutely need to because their symptoms have become too severe. Since policing yourself, especially if you have an addiction, can be so challenging, it is best to detox from alcohol with some help, and you’re generally better off not attempting detoxing from alcohol at home. Here’s why.
The Danger In Detoxing From Alcohol At Home
Deciding to get sober is a big decision, but it isn’t a journey you should take on your own. It might be tempting to try and isolate yourself, and it’s entirely understandable that you wouldn’t want to put the burden on anyone else, but the fact is that trying to detox from alcohol at home is not safe.
Monitoring Your Detox Is A Lot To Ask Of Your Family & Friends
Even if you have a care system in place in the form of supportive family and/or friends, they may not be able to provide the proper care you need when withdrawal symptoms set in. After all, would your friends or family be prepared to deal with a life-threatening emergency if your withdrawal symptoms got that severe? It’s a big risk, and a lot to ask of someone you know and love. You also aren’t going to be easy to deal with during this time, as beyond the physical withdrawal symptoms, you will also become easily irritated and agitated. This is normal, and part of the recovery process, but it is best to not let your frustrations affect your family.
Alcohol Withdrawal Can Be Life-Threatening
There is a common misconception that detoxing from alcohol isn’t dangerous, or at least isn’t as dangerous as detoxing from other drugs, but the fact is, that it’s one of the most dangerous substances to detox from, period. Alcohol withdrawal symptoms can be incredibly severe, and even life-threatening, so being monitored by a medical professional through an alcohol therapy program will put you in the safest position to quit safely.
Symptoms Are Worse If The Person Used Other Substances Or Has An Underlying Condition
The withdrawal symptoms are also compounded if a person used any other substances, such as benzos, heroin, opioids, cocaine, or methamphetamine, at the same time they were drinking. Any underlying medical issue that the person has, such as bipolar disorder, high blood pressure, asthma, anxiety, and more, can also complicate the alcohol detox process. The withdrawal process, and alcohol abuse, in general, are often tied to depression, which can make it easy to slip back into drinking if you aren’t monitored. Medical professionals will make sure you taper off safely and don’t start to drink again for pleasure. They know the right amounts to give to keep symptoms at bay while also cutting back to the point of safely eliminating alcohol from your system entirely.
Detox Is Not A Quick Fix
As you read in the section about tapering off from alcohol, getting over alcohol withdrawal symptoms won’t be as simple as sleeping it off. The process is going to take some time, and you or someone you know was a very heavy drinker for a long time, it’s going to be very hard.
Staying Home Keeps You In A Bad Environment
If you try to detox at home, you are leaving yourself open to temptation to relapse and continue drinking. Withdrawal symptoms may be so bad that you may want to start drinking again, it’s easy to get right back into it. However, if you are able to remove yourself from your environment and bad habits by entering an inpatient alcohol treatment program, you’ll give yourself the best chance for a safe recovery.
Detoxing From Alcohol Symptoms
The symptoms of alcohol detox will closely mimic those of alcohol withdrawal because the two are tied at the hip. Those in alcohol detox can expect to sweat profusely, especially at night, will probably experience some headaches, feel overcome with shame, guilt and other emotions, and have a tough time with some other physical and mental issues. There’s no way to know what symptoms you will encounter until you make the choice to quit and begin the process. But again, if you taper off of alcohol, you’ll be able to quit safely.
The Detoxing From Alcohol Timeline
While there is not a specific timeline for alcohol detox, it will generally follow along with how severe a person’s withdrawal symptoms are. Withdrawal typically begins within 12 hours after the person’s last drink. These minor symptoms could get worse and move on to stage 2 or 3 within 24 to 72 hours. Sometimes, the intensity can pick up rather rapidly, while others, it may take a while for the true impact of withdrawal to hit. Stage 3 withdrawal tends to peak around day 5 and should taper off thereafter. Some psychological effects may continue for a few weeks after the initial withdrawal period has ended but should be treatable. We bring up the alcohol withdrawal timeline again here because withdrawal is actually the first step in alcohol detox. Detox is the process through which you will remove all of the harmful substances in your body. Alcohol detox, in particular, can take a few days or even a week or more, depending on the person’s level of abuse and health history. During the detox process, you will work together with medical professionals to keep your withdrawal symptoms under control. By checking into a professional rehab center, you will be in a place where you can be constantly monitored by people who know how to handle the symptoms you may encounter and can react should a serious situation arise. They will administer medications and make sure you are taking in the proper fluids and foods. Eating a healthy diet and staying hydrated will be extremely important during the detox process. However, once detox ends, things aren’t all fixed forever, detox is just the start of a long journey in recovery that will last the rest of your life. The first goal during detox is to monitor you constantly and make sure your physical symptoms are kept stable. Some benzodiazepines may be prescribed during this time to help manage over-activity in your central nervous system as it attempts to rebound. Your blood pressure, heart rate, temperature, and breathing will all be closely monitored as well in a detox center. Because tapering is often the safest method, staff will also monitor your alcohol usage during detox to make sure you stay on your tapering schedule and don’t start over-drinking again. They will help you taper down to wean the alcohol out of your system while making sure you are getting the proper nutrition you need. This controlled manner of detox is much safer than any program you can set up for yourself at home, and ensures you won’t harm any relationships with friends or family along the way. Detox from alcohol is nothing to be embarrassed about, and asking for help is the first step toward a successful recovery. If you or someone you know is having problems with alcohol, seek a detox facility near you to help, and never attempt detoxing from alcohol at home without a real support system in place. At APEX Recovery, we help you identify motivating factors for long-term change, develop necessary skills to maintain recovery and include your loved ones in your recovery. We treat individual patients and their unique needs through a model that we recognize is not a “one size fits all”. Our admissions coordinators are available 24 hours a day to give you the support you need to make positive changes. Call APEX today.