Making the decision to get sober is an act of bravery. It’s the first and most important step in a long journey toward recovery. If you’ve been drinking heavily for a long time, you’ve likely developed an alcohol dependency. This means you not only feel a psychological pull toward alcohol, but your body has also come to need it to function correctly. If you suddenly stop drinking, you’ll experience mental and physical discomfort known as alcohol withdrawal.
Complications from withdrawal make quitting alcohol cold turkey potentially dangerous. To stay healthy while getting sober, it’s important to manage your withdrawal symptoms in a safe, supportive, and supervised environment.
What is alcohol withdrawal?
It’s no secret that alcohol affects your brain. That happy, stress-free feeling you have after your first few sips is caused by dopamine – also known as “the pleasure chemical” – being released into your brain’s reward center. The more alcohol you drink, the more dopamine is released, and over time, your brain becomes dependent on alcohol to give you that rush, overriding your body’s natural processes.
When you abruptly cut off your alcohol consumption, your nervous system becomes hyperactive in an attempt to compensate for the lower dopamine levels. This hyperactivity causes the symptoms we know as withdrawal.
The symptoms of alcohol withdrawal
Everyone experiences withdrawal differently. The greater your alcohol consumption and the longer you’ve been drinking, the more severe your symptoms are likely to be. Most people will at least experience minor withdrawal symptoms, such as:
These initial symptoms will often begin approximately six to eight hours after the last drink was consumed. More serious problems may kick in between 12 and 24 hours after the last drink, such as fever, confusion, and high blood pressure.
About 5% of individuals going through withdrawal will experience delirium tremens, a severe condition that causes hallucinations, seizures, and extreme tremors. This occurs in people with long-term addiction to alcohol, and symptoms usually appear about two to three days after the last drink. Since delirium tremens can be fatal, medical supervision during this time is essential.
Medical detox treatment for alcohol withdrawal
Participation in a medically supervised detox at an inpatient rehabilitation center will help minimize the pain and discomfort of alcohol withdrawal symptoms – and ensure your safety. Detox centers are staffed with round-the-clock professionals who can assess your condition, monitor your vital signs, and offer support when you need it. They can also administer medication to help lessen your discomfort.
Several prescription medications are used to treat withdrawal symptoms. The most common ones include:
Naltrexone reduces the euphoric effects of alcohol by blocking opioid receptors in the brain. It also reduces alcohol cravings, making it easier to want to stop drinking.
Used to help ease the pain of withdrawal, acamprosate diminishes symptoms such as anxiety, insomnia, and restlessness.
Also known as Antabuse, disulfiram was designed as a deterrent from drinking; ingesting alcohol while you’re taking it can make you feel extremely ill.
Detox can take anywhere from a few days to a week or longer. Once you’ve completed medical detox, you can move on to an addiction treatment center and begin the long-term work of committing to your sobriety.
Detox from alcohol safely at Alvarado Parkway Institute
At Alvarado Parkway Institute in San Diego, we’ve been helping people overcome alcohol addiction for over 35 years. Our inpatient alcohol rehabilitation center offers an effective detoxification program to ease withdrawal symptoms, as well as a highly structured and customized therapeutic treatment program. We provide individual, group, and family therapy, as well as patient education and aftercare planning, providing each individual with the tools needed and skills needed to stay clean for the long haul.
If you’re ready to overcome your alcohol addiction, call Alvarado Parkway Institute at (619) 667-6125 today.