Understanding alcohol withdrawal and detox
Detox is a term that’s used widely, and is often the gossip material for celebrity magazines. But what does detox actually involve and how does alcohol withdrawal work? If you’re concerned about the amount of alcohol you drink (or worry that a loved one drinks too much), then it could be time to consider alcohol detox. It can be a challenging process so it’s worthwhile gaining more knowledge and finding the right support to maximise your chances of succeeding.
How and where you go through detox depends on how dependent you are on alcohol. The nature of alcohol addiction can make this very difficult to determine. It’s extremely common for people living with alcohol addiction to deny their problem or underestimate its severity.
If you can, keep an ‘alcohol diary’ for a week to gain a more informed insight into your actual drinking. It’s a good starting point if you decide to speak to your GP about cutting down or giving up alcohol (also known as abstinence). Some people can detox safely at home (although medication may be prescribed to support the withdrawal process), but those with a higher alcohol consumption (more than 20 units a day) will benefit from professional support in a rehab/recovery clinic or hospital. These type of clinics are found in London and across the country.
The symptoms of alcohol withdrawal
Going through detox can be a difficult time, but it’s important to recognise how far you’ve come in accepting your problem to kick-start withdrawal. Withdrawal symptoms are at their worst for the first 48 hours. They will improve over time. How much time depends on the amount of alcohol you’ve been drinking and how regularly. As a general guideline, your body begins to fully adjust between three and seven days of having your last drink.
It’s normal to crave alcohol during this time of withdrawal. Detox also usually leads to disturbed sleep patterns. You may find yourself waking several times throughout the night and it can take around a month for things to settle down.
Practical ways to cope with alcohol detox
There are things you can do to help make alcohol withdrawal more comfortable. It’s important to drink plenty of fluids – aim for around three litres a day. Try to stick to water or fruit juices as drinks containing caffeine (including tea and coffee) are likely to disturb your sleep further still.
Eating a healthy diet will also help you feel better sooner. Many people don’t feel hungry during alcohol detox, but try to eat regular meals and include as much fruit and vegetables as you can. Managing stress is another common issue during withdrawal, so try gentle exercise such as walking or swimming.
Medication for detox
There are several medications that may be prescribed to support you during alcohol withdrawal and beyond. These include:
- Acamprosate helps reduce alcohol craving to prevent relapses. It can be taken for up to six months from when you begin detox.
- Duslifiram causes unpleasant physical reactions (feeling sick, dizzy and chest pain) if you do drink. The idea being that these symptoms deter people from drinking alcohol.
- Naltexone blocks opioid receptors in the brain to stop the effects of alcohol.
- Nalmefene works in the same way as naltexone but is usually prescribed for people who don’t need to stop drinking immediately or achieve complete abstinence.
Although medication can have its place during detox and alcohol withdrawal, it’s important to bear in mind that alcoholism cannot be managed by medication alone. It’s a complex addiction that needs real care and attention if a person is going to move on a healthier, happier life. The effects of alcohol addiction can be devastating and impact on every part of a person’s life (and their family’s). Detox is not an answer in itself – a longer-term approach is at the heart of success.
Support through groups and therapy
Many people living with alcohol addiction find valuable support in groups such as Alcoholics Anonymous (AA). AA believes in total abstinence and recovery is based on a 12-step programme which is often the basis for treatment at many alcohol rehab and recovery centres.
At Step One Recovery, we help build awareness and understanding of the 12-step programme as part of a bespoke treatment plan to help you manage your addiction. Our luxurious recovery centre is located on Spain’s Costa Blanca. It’s a peaceful sanctuary where an expert team dedicated to your treatment will support you through alcohol detox and withdrawal.
Once your detox is complete, we’ll help you build new coping strategies for life without alcohol. Our holistic approach encompasses a diverse range of therapies and treatments designed to treat you as a whole person (rather than provide a quick fix). We work on relapse prevention techniques and provide a comprehensive aftercare service after leaving residential alcohol rehab to help you stay sober for good.