After months or even years of heavy drinking, most people will experience significant physical and psychological withdrawal symptoms when quitting. If you’ve never tried abstaining before, fear of the unknown could be keeping you from taking one of the most important steps of your life. The good news is that like all things, alcohol withdrawal has a definite beginning and a definite end. Although the first week of detoxing will likely be the toughest, there are many things that rehab professionals can do to make you more comfortable. Best of all, with each hurdle that you clear, your mind and body will feel increasingly better. You’ll start regaining control over your life as the days go by, and you’ll again have the power to strategically shape your own future.
Alcohol depresses the central nervous system (CNS). It also disrupts natural brain chemistry, burns out important neurotransmitters, and alters brain performance and brain size. When people drink, the brain releases powerful “feel good” chemicals that are responsible for the feelings of relaxation, heightened confidence, and lowered inhibitions that they feel. These “feel good” chemicals or neurotransmitters drive the natural reward system of the CNS. They also play a hand in moderating and controlling a number of basic and essential functions throughout the body. Neurotransmitters assist with:
- Smooth muscle control
- Temperature regulation
and much more. Once the body has become reliant upon alcohol, natural neurotransmitter production declines. As a result, suddenly taking alcohol away causes the body to emit widespread signals of distress. These signals are known as physical withdrawal symptoms and can include:
and many other uncomfortable developments. In professional rehab, all of these symptoms can be minimized and even prevented. Detoxing with qualified medical support makes the first week of sobriety far safer and much easier than if detoxing alone at home.
What to Expect During Your First Week of Detox
Alcohol detox and withdrawal symptoms can vary from person to person. Factors such as age, general health, gender, and the duration and severity of alcohol use all play roles in determining how physically and emotionally challenging this process will be. One of the most important things to know about alcohol detox is that it’s rarely safe to do alone. If early withdrawal symptoms aren’t being properly mitigated, they can quickly spiral out of control. Medical interventions early-on can prevent serious withdrawal-related problems from occurring. Without this support, people are virtually guaranteed to enter the severe and incredibly dangerous withdrawal stage known as delirium tremens. During delirium tremens, the risk of having seizures and hallucinations is high. When experienced without appropriate medical care, delirium tremens can also result in coma and even death.
As soon as alcohol starts leaving the body, most people begin experiencing uncomfortable changes in how they feel. Depending upon the individual, early withdrawal symptoms can rear their heads just six to eight hours after a person’s last drink. During this time, hangover-like symptoms may present including the inability to focus, heavy sweating, balance and cognition issues, and digestive upset. Fortunately, rehab centers are prepared to start mitigating these and other developments as soon as patients enter the door. During the detox check-in process, all patients are given psychological evaluations and medical exams, and medications for alleviating withdrawal symptoms can be started right away.
For many patients in medically assisted detox, minor detox symptoms peak between just 24 and 48 hours after their last drink. For those with more severe symptoms and longer histories of heavy drinking, the risk of delirium tremens is at its highest between 48 and 72 hours of quitting. Studies show that early interventions can both prevent delirium tremens from occurring, and shorten the duration of detox overall.
It’s important to note that once physical detox symptoms have completely abated, people are not entirely out of the woods. Lingering discomfort can exist for several weeks after quitting alcohol as brain chemistry slowly normalizes and the body heals. Moreover, recovering alcoholics are prone to developing post-acute withdrawal symptoms (PAWS). These are the psychological symptoms that present after the physical effects of detoxing have largely gone away. These can include sleeplessness, restlessness, depression, loss of motivation, and malaise. In a managed detox setting, medication and other interventions are made for minimizing the effects of PAWS as well. If you’re ready to quit drinking and want the benefit of doing so in a safe, secure, and supportive environment, we can help you find it. Call us today at 833-820-2922.