If you’re looking to detox from alcohol, you may be wondering what exactly detox medication is. Can it help ease the withdrawal symptoms? Does it help to streamline your recovery?
That’s what we’re going to explore on this page. Read on to learn more about the alcohol withdrawal process, alcohol detoxification, and of course, detox medication for the alcohol withdrawal process.
What is Alcohol Withdrawal?
If you have a physical dependence on alcohol, then you’ll experience withdrawal symptoms when you stop drinking, or when you lower your typical amount of alcohol.
As well as physical withdrawal symptoms, you could also experience psychological withdrawal symptoms – for example, changes in mood or mental health disorders.
The reason that you experience withdrawal symptoms comes down to the effect alcohol has on your brain. After drinking, you may feel calm and relaxed – as alcohol increases GABA effects (a neurotransmitter). Alcohol also decreases glutamate levels, which lowers excitability levels.
When you drink alcohol on a regular basis for a long period of time or drink excessive amounts of alcohol/ abuse alcohol, your body gets used to these changes. This means that your body will begin producing less GABA and more glutamate to make up the difference.
If you stop drinking suddenly or drastically lower the amount you usually drink, your body will continue producing less GABA and more glutamate, leaving you feeling hyperactive, shaky, anxious, and restless. [i]
In severe cases, you may benefit from withdrawing from alcohol in a medical environment – known as a medically supervised detox.
This is because some alcohol withdrawal symptoms can be unpleasant and uncomfortable. However, if you have a milder addiction, you may prefer to complete an outpatient detox or use an at-home detox kit.
How Long Does Alcohol Withdrawal Last
The amount of time it can take to withdraw from alcohol can vary from person to person. No person’s recovery journey is the same, and it could take you longer to detox than somebody else in a similar situation.
There are many factors that can affect the detox timeline including:
- How long you’ve been drinking alcohol
- How much alcohol your body is used to/ how much alcohol you previously drank
- Your genetic profile
- Your height and weight
- Your age
- Your addiction history or the severity of your addiction
The severity and the length of alcohol withdrawal depend a lot on the severity of your addiction. For example, if you were light or moderate drinker, then you may not experience more severe symptoms, and withdrawal may be a shorter process for you.
However, if you were a heavy drinker with severe alcohol dependence, then you may experience more severe withdrawal symptoms that last longer.
Typically, if you have a mild alcohol addiction or alcohol dependence, then you may experience withdrawal symptoms for a week or two.
However, if you have a severe addiction, then you may experience withdrawal symptoms for several weeks – or even longer, depending on other factors.
The length of time it takes for you to begin experiencing withdrawal symptoms can also vary. Many people experience withdrawal symptoms within a few days of quitting drinking.
However, if you have a severe addiction, then you may begin to experience withdrawal symptoms within just a few hours after your last drink.
Common Alcohol Withdrawal Symptoms
If you’re an alcoholic, then you’ll likely experience withdrawal symptoms when you stop drinking – as it takes some time for your body to get used to the changes.
You may experience a combination of both physical withdrawal symptoms and psychological withdrawal symptoms, varying in severity.
Some physical withdrawal symptoms that many people experience during alcohol detox include:
- Fever or flu-like symptoms
- Alcohol cravings
- Nausea and/ or vomiting
- Red face
- Stomach ache
- Changes in appetite
Some common psychological withdrawal symptoms include:
- Trouble sleeping
- Other mental health problems
Some of these withdrawal symptoms are manageable, but others can be particularly unpleasant. It is important that you have a support network to help you through the withdrawal process, whether it be friends, family, or medical support.
What is Severe Alcohol Withdrawal?
It is possible to experience a more severe form of alcohol withdrawal. The most severe form of alcohol withdrawal syndrome is delirium tremens (DT).
Delirium tremens have been recognised as a disorder related to excessive alcohol use since 1813. It can occur as soon as 48 hours after your last drink – and can last up to five days. It is more likely to last longer in cases of chronic alcohol abuse.
The mortality rate of DT is estimated to be 37% without the right treatment. This is why it’s so important to monitor the signs of withdrawal, as severe alcohol withdrawal can be fatal. [ii]
Some signs of severe alcohol withdrawal or acute alcohol withdrawal syndrome include:
- Fever and/ or flu-like symptoms
- Excessive sweating
- Extreme agitation
- Extreme confusion
- Increased heart rate
- Fast breathing
- High blood pressure
- Visual hallucinations
- Tactile hallucinations
- Auditory hallucinations
If you’re withdrawing from alcohol alone and are experiencing severe alcohol withdrawal symptoms (e.g alcohol withdrawal seizures), you should seek help as it is a medical emergency.
Delirium tremens is something that affects roughly 3% to 5% of all people who withdraw from heavy drinking and can be fatal without the right treatment.
Hospitals, rehab clinics and detox centres can provide you with the assistance you need to get through alcohol detox, as they have the tools to provide the appropriate treatment.
What Medication Can Be Given For Alcohol Withdrawal?
During alcohol detox, you may be given detox medication. Medication during detox has two main purposes – first of all, managing alcohol withdrawal syndrome and the associated symptoms, and secondly, reducing the amount of alcohol that you consume.
However, it’s important that detox medication is managed by medical professionals. Certain medications may not be appropriate for your situation, and one size does not fit all when it comes to alcohol withdrawal medication.
Some medications pose interaction risks – so be sure to avoid self-medication when withdrawing from alcohol or managing alcohol dependence.
It’s also important to know that prescription drugs alone can’t solve your alcohol addiction. Although medication can make the process easier, it is not a cure – it requires willpower, patience, and hard work to stop drinking.
Typically, alcohol rehab involves three stages – and detoxification is just the first. Therapy and additional support are also key stages in rehabilitation.
Recovering from alcohol dependence can take its toll on your body, but vitamins can help. Although not technically a form of medication, vitamins and natural supplements can help to ease your recovery.
Excessive alcohol consumption/ alcohol abuse can take its toll on your body’s vitamin B stores, which can lead to a deficiency. This can cause a variety of issues, including the wet brain.
Some vitamins can ease certain symptoms. For example, withdrawal may leave you feeling nauseous or you may be vomiting – but a vitamin supplement can help to replenish these vitamins and keep you nourished – especially if you’re unable to eat properly or keep food down.
Vitamins and other medications don’t treat alcohol withdrawal but are used as part of a larger treatment plan.
Some alcohol withdrawal patients may be given benzodiazepines to help ease certain symptoms. They can help to ease a variety of symptoms associated with alcohol withdrawal and addiction.
They can work to prevent insomnia, mood swings, seizures, sickness, muscle convulsions, panic attacks, seizures, and much more.
They work by calming the central nervous system, relieving feelings of stress and anxiety. They relax the muscles, which can be very helpful during alcohol detoxification.
A benzodiazepine that is frequently given to those going through withdrawal includes chlordiazepoxide. However, in some cases, you may be given diazepam, oxazepam, or lorazepam.
However, it is important to follow medical advice when taking benzodiazepines. Prescription drugs such as benzodiazepines can be addictive. To learn more about benzodiazepines, check out this page.
Another drug that is often given to detox patients as part of their treatment is Acamprosate. This drug works by stabilising certain signals within the brain that are impacted during the withdrawal process. It alters the GABA (gamma-aminobutyric acid) level, which can help to ease alcohol cravings.
Unlike benzodiazepines, the key aim of Acamprosate is to help those who have already detoxed from alcohol prevent relapse.
This drug is best used as part of a larger support program, whether it be therapy to build strength or psychosocial support. It can help to reduce cravings but is not a cure – therapy, counselling, support groups and rehab treatment work best with this drug.
This is a different type of drug, as it is used as a deterrent. It creates an unpleasant physical response when you drink alcohol – instead, turning the ‘reward’ sensation when you drink alcohol into a negative feeling, ultimately reducing cravings.
If you drink alcohol while taking Disulfiram, you will experience a range of negative effects. For example, you may be sick or feel nauseous, or experience dizziness and loss of breath. Some people may also experience chest pain.
There are some downsides to this drug – it is very sensitive and detects very small amounts of alcohol, so even using mouthwash could trigger this unpleasant bodily response.
The effects of Disulfiram can last up to a week – so if you take Disulfiram on a Monday, you may be sick if you drink alcohol on Friday, Saturday, or even Sunday.
Although it can be unpleasant, it can help to reduce alcohol cravings over time, as you’ll no longer associate alcohol with pleasant feelings.
We Can Help To Find The Best Alcohol Detox For You
You don’t have to deal with addiction alone. At Help4Addiction, we are in contact with rehab clinics all around England and Wales and can find the best place for you to receive treatment for alcohol dependence. We help people with alcohol use disorder every day and can help you to get sober.
Whether you’re looking for just a detox, or a complete rehab treatment plan, we can listen to your story and needs to find the right treatment for you. Some people prefer a medical detox, whereas others prefer to detox at home with a home detox kit.
The length of time it takes to complete an alcohol detox can vary depending on a variety of factors (e.g your addiction history or the severity of your addiction), but we can find plans that last 7-days, 14-days, 28-days, and even longer.
Contact our friendly team today to begin your detox journey. We can also help if you have a drug addiction, and find the best substance abuse treatment for you.