What Is Medical Detox for Alcohol?

What Is Medical Detox for Alcohol?

Well, alcohol detoxification, or detox, is the period during which you process the drugs or alcohol already in your system. If you are dependent on alcohol, you are likely to experience a range of withdrawal symptoms during the alcohol detox process. These can be very unpleasant and potentially dangerous, so it is always best to undergo a supervised detox if possible.

If you or a loved one is currently living with alcohol addiction, you may have heard the term “medical detox” and wonder what it means and if it’s necessary. Find out exactly what this process entails in this article.


Understanding Alcohol Dependence and the Need for Detox

If you regularly drink large quantities of alcohol, you may develop a dependency. Essentially, your system gets used to the presence of alcohol and changes to accommodate it. You can also build up a tolerance, meaning you need to drink more and more for the same effect. When the presence of alcohol is suddenly removed, you can experience a range of mental and physical withdrawal symptoms, as well as intense cravings.

In order to begin any sort of recovery from alcohol addiction, it is necessary to stop your alcohol intake and let your system get rid of the elements that are already in there – often from years of drinking. It takes time for your body and brain to adjust, and this can be a very challenging period. Many people who try to quit without the right help (often known as going ‘cold turkey’) are at risk of relapse due to the uncomfortable symptoms that may present themselves during this stage.


What Is Medical Detox for Alcohol?

A medical detox can be defined as the process of cleansing the body of substances whilst under the care and supervision of medical professionals, with appropriate medications to help with a range of common symptoms. This gives individuals the very best chance of getting through this very challenging period.

The two main ways to undergo a supervised or medical detoxification from alcohol are as an inpatient, typically in a rehab or dedicated detox clinic. The resident medical professionals will determine the need for a medical detox, as not all rehab programmes look the same and are often personalised. There’s also the option to detox on an outpatient basis, which means staying at home. Inpatient alcohol rehab is generally the best option, as you will have round-the-clock access to care and supervision.

You will also be in a secure environment, away from any triggers or temptations and with no access to alcohol, which can help you stay the course. Private detox programmes have a cost, however, and you will have to be away from home. Outpatient detox may be more suitable for some people, especially those with less severe alcohol problems.

The process will start with a period of assessment. This will include gathering information regarding the duration and heaviness of your drinking and your current physical and mental health. Any medical conditions and medications you may be taking may also be disclosed. With inpatient or residential detox, you will have round-the-clock care, while outpatient detox will generally involve regular appointments with medical and addiction support professionals. Medications to help with the detox and withdrawal symptoms may be prescribed where appropriate.


Risks Associated with Alcohol Withdrawal

Although alcohol is a legal and generally socially accepted substance, the withdrawal symptoms associated with it can be more severe than most other drugs.

Some common alcohol withdrawal symptoms include:

  • Strong cravings
  • Tremors (‘the shakes’)
  • Anxiety and depression
  • Sweating
  • Fevers and/or chills
  • Nausea and sickness
  • Headache
  • Restlessness and insomnia

These (relatively) mild symptoms usually start within eight to 24 hours from the last alcoholic drink.

A more serious form of alcohol withdrawal is known as delirium tremens (‘the DTs’). Symptoms of delirium tremens can include:

  • Involuntary tremors and spasms
  • Visual, auditory or tactile hallucinations
  • Extreme confusion
  • Seizures

Delirium tremens is considered a medical emergency and can prove fatal. These more severe withdrawal symptoms generally develop after a person withdrawing from alcohol has already been experiencing ‘regular’ withdrawal symptoms for a while.

Any level of alcohol withdrawal symptoms can be very unpleasant and potentially dangerous. It is also difficult to predict the severity of symptoms that will be experienced. These can vary from person to person, which is one reason why it is advised not to go ‘cold turkey’ and detox without proper supervision.


Medications Used in Medical Detox for Alcohol

In the UK, a number of medications are recommended by the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) for alcohol dependence treatment, including:

  • Acamprosate
  • Disulfiram
  • Naltrexone
  • Nalmefene

These are generally used to prevent relapse by reducing cravings or changing the effects of alcohol to make it less appealing.

Some other medications can be used to alleviate withdrawal symptoms during detox, including antidepressants and painkillers. Some medications may be used only in certain situations, such as acute alcohol withdrawal or delirium tremens. This could include a quick-acting benzodiazepine such as lorazepam in the event of seizures.


What to Expect During Medical Detox

There’s no getting away from the fact that even a medically assisted detox can be very challenging. Compared to the damage that alcohol addiction can cause, however – not only to your health but to relationships, work and pretty much every aspect of your life – it is always worth working through. And a properly supervised detoxification will be both safer and easier than without medical detoxification.

Medications can help with some of the cravings and withdrawal symptoms. Depending on the type of detox programme, you will also receive medical monitoring during the process and emotional and mental health support.


The Role of Medical Detox in Long-Term Recovery

Detox is a hugely important step in long-term recovery. Recovery cannot begin without getting sober in the first place, but detox is still just one step in what is usually a very long journey and ongoing process.

Without further treatment, relapse and consuming alcohol are a lot more likely. A more complete treatment programme such as that offered in rehab will accompany detox with a comprehensive set of therapies and treatments aimed at addressing every aspect of the addiction, including the root causes of alcohol abuse. It will also aim to provide and relapse prevention strategies with full aftercare support.


Find Support for Alcohol Addiction Today

If you or someone you know are struggling with an alcohol problem, you should always seek professional help. Your GP can be a good first port of call as they can signpost you to more specialised local services. Our team here at Rehab Clinics Group (RCG) can also provide complete alcohol addiction treatments, including rehab programmes and medical detox for alcohol. Get in touch by calling 0800 470 0382 today.