Alcohol dependency is a serious illness that is the result of chronic alcohol abuse. Unlike other substances that may not cause dependence, a person that is an alcoholic can not physically go without alcohol. To quit drinking suddenly, an alcoholic would go through severe withdrawal symptoms and face the risk of death. Alcohol withdrawal should not be taken lightly or done alone. For those with severe alcohol dependency, detox is necessary. This is when a patient is admitted into a hospital setting and, under the watchful care of medical staff, allowed to withdraw from the alcohol.
The Process of Alcohol Detox
Here’s what happens: An exam and test will be done on the patient first to determine any underlying medical problems. Once they have been assed, the patient can begin detox. Symptoms will begin 5 to 8 hours after the last drink and include anxiety, restlessness, nausea, hypertension, and trouble sleeping. As the withdrawal progresses, symptoms get more severe and unpleasant, such as vomiting, rapid heart rate, confusion, and possibly hallucinations and seizures. During this time the patient will be monitored carefully, and while not all symptoms can be relieved, some medications can be used to take the edge off.
The most serious side effects of alcohol withdrawal and the reason for specialized hospital care are delirium tremens. These can show up 72 to 96 hours after the last drink, and they can result in death. When delirium tremens occur, the patient will suffer from fever, hypertension, delirium, and tremors. The patient can die from heart problems, head trauma, and electrolyte imbalance as a result of delirium tremens. Benzodiazepines such as Valium or Ativan can be used to treat the most severe symptoms of alcohol withdrawal.
After Alcohol Detox
Once a patient has successfully detoxed from alcohol, the real work begins. Still under a physician’s care, the person may be reevaluated to see that there are still no hidden medical problems or mental illness. If everything checks out at this point, the person may be moved to outpatient treatment. This would mean that they can go home, but must return for therapy and treatment.
Alcoholism is a disease that affects a person for life, and aftercare is extremely important to prevent relapse. Support groups provide structure and guidance from others that have struggled with alcoholism. Alcoholics Anonymous has successfully helped millions of recovering alcoholics stay sober for years through this method.
Alcoholism is not something that can be cured in a week, and in fact some would say that alcoholism can never be cured, just managed. But those that work hard at it can keep themselves from ever going back to this way of life.