Each year, 2 million Americans experience alcohol withdrawal symptoms. These symptoms range from a mild headache to life-threatening seizures and hallucinations.
Detoxing is an important first step on the road to recovery. But without proper care, it can also be dangerous. In fact, hundreds of people die from alcohol detox each year in the United States.
If you or someone you love has been struggling with alcohol abuse, you can detox safely and recover safely. Proper medical care can help to ensure the safety and efficacy of your detox.
Using this guide, learn more about the dangers of attempting to detox without medical help.
What Happens During Alcohol Withdrawal
Alcohol withdrawal occurs when you stop drinking after a period of prolonged heavy drinking. Generally, heavy drinking means drinking 8+ drinks per week for women or 15+ drinks per week for men.
Whether you’ve been drinking heavily for weeks or years, you may experience symptoms of withdrawal while detoxing.
Because alcohol acts as a depressant on the central nervous symptom, it slows down brain function. In order to ensure that nerves are still able to transmit important messages, the body compensates for the effect of alcohol by increasing certain signals that help to keep the central nervous system awake and alert.
With prolonged alcohol abuse, the central nervous system adjusts to the presence of alcohol. The body even creates additional receptors that stimulate the nervous system.
When consumption is suddenly stopped during detox, it takes time for the body to adjust back to normal functioning. This period of adjustment is what causes withdrawal symptoms.
Some of the common symptoms of detoxing from alcohol include:
- Increased heart rate
- Trouble sleeping
These symptoms vary in length and severity depending on how long that alcohol abuse has occurred and how often the individual drank. The onset of symptoms can begin as soon as 6 hours after your last drink and usually last for 5-7 days. However, some heavy drinkers may experience symptoms for as long as one month after they stop drinking.
Complications From Detox Without Medical Help
If you or a loved one has been battling addiction, it can be tempting to attempt to self-detox as soon as the urge arises. However, detoxing without medical supervision poses a great risk. Because of the medical complications that can arise from alcohol withdrawal, it’s important to detox with care from trained professionals.
Here are some of the main dangers of detoxing without medical help.
Increased Risk of Relapse
There is no escaping the discomfort that comes from detoxing. The physical and mental symptoms of withdrawal are incredibly uncomfortable. Oftentimes, this discomfort drives people to return to alcohol in order to escape the discomfort of detox.
However, supervised detoxing can reduce the risk of relapse. The treatment often includes medications that ease the discomfort of some of these symptoms and reduce the impulse to drink. Rather than numbing the pain by returning to alcohol, patients receive medical and mental support to help them through the detox process.
Some of the more severe cases of alcohol withdrawal syndrome (AWS) can include hallucinations, inability to think clearly, and disorientation. In fact, when diagnosing AWS, some doctors will ask patients “what is your name?” and “what day is it today?”.
This mental confusion can pose a great risk to individuals who are detoxing. Without proper supervision, patients may lose touch with reality and engage in activities or behaviors that risk their safety.
Because of the heightened activity of the central nervous system during prolonged alcohol abuse, seizures are somewhat common during detox.
The heightened activity continues once alcohol consumption has stopped, causing seizures. There are two types of seizures that might occur as a result of detoxing: focal seizures and generalized seizures.
Focal seizures occur in one part of the brain. Patients might stare off into space, lose consciousness, or have differences in taste and emotions. Generalized seizures occur in all areas of the brain.
These seizures can be life-threatening without proper medical care.
Prolonged alcohol use can cause deficiencies in nutrients and vitamins like:
- Vitamin B6
- Vitamin A
These vitamins and minerals and essential in helping to maintain and regulate functions like metabolism and growth. Alcohol use can disrupt the body’s absorption of these nutrients, ultimately leading to a deficiency.
These deficiencies are not only important for maintaining overall health and wellbeing but deficiencies can also aggravate withdrawal symptoms.
Medical professionals can prescribe supplements to correct those nutritional deficiencies to help to restore health and lessen the severity of withdrawal symptoms.
Delirium Tremens (DT) is a serious complication of alcohol withdrawal that occurs in 5% of people detoxing. Some symptoms of DT to look for are:
- Sensitivity to light
- Stomach pain
- Rapid mood changes
Symptoms of DT normally first appear 24-48 hours after the last drink, but they can last for as long as two weeks. The symptoms may also not appear until many days after detoxing has begun.
DT can be fatal and requires immediate medical attention. While detoxing under medical care, patients have access to anti-seizure medications, IV fluids, sedatives, and antipsychotic medications to help to ease the symptoms of DT so that you can safely and more comfortably detox.
Get the Care You Need to Recover Today
If you or a loved one is ready to take the first step to alcohol recovery, find medical help to safely detox. Put your health and safety first and don’t risk detoxing at home.
At Sober Partners, we can help you to avoid the risks of detox without medical help. Our philosophy is that sobriety can be fun and our team of professionals is dedicated to helping you on your journey.
Get help now to safely detox and begin your journey to sober living.