Although you have made the decision to break free of your alcohol addiction and may have even settled on a rehab facility to help you achieve sobriety, you may still have questions concerning the withdrawal process and what you can expect as you work toward leading an alcohol-free life. If so, this article may be of some interest to you. When it comes to alcohol cessation, the withdrawal symptoms will occur in three stages. And the intensity of those withdrawal symptoms is almost always predicated on how long you have been drinking.
It is also important to note that the longer an individual has been drinking, the more tolerant he or she will become to alcohol. In short, if you have been drinking for a long time, you will be more prone to relapse and more susceptible to severe withdrawal symptoms. Of course, this is not an attempt to dissuade you from kicking the habit if you have been drinking for a while; moreover, it is an attempt at full disclosure. After all, knowing what to expect can help make the journey toward sobriety that much easier.
MEDICALLY-ASSISTED DETOX FOR ALCOHOL WITHDRAWAL
Before detailing the stages associated with alcohol cessation, let’s take a moment to discuss how most rehab facilities go about minimizing the severe physical withdrawal symptoms that an individual will encounter as they go through the detox process. Before an individual starts their detox journey, most rehab facilities will recommend medically-assisted detox to help make severe withdrawal symptoms more manageable. Medically-assisted detox is performed under the supervision of a licensed physician and involves the use of prescription-based medication, some of which include
Benzodiazepines – This class of medication, which include common medications like diazepam and lorazepam, for example, are used as a way to stabilize individuals by disrupting the normal excitatory neural signaling that often occurs with abrupt alcohol cessation.
Barbiturates – Similar to benzodiazepines, barbiturates also disrupts the normal excitatory neural signaling process that comes with alcohol cessation. However, these medications are used only in extreme cases involving alcohol addiction due to the potential for overdose, which can occur even at low doses.
Supportive medications – Because the symptoms commonly associated with alcohol withdrawal are so varied, many rehab facilities will advise patients to take medications like gabapentin, which helps correct physiologic imbalances that occur with abrupt alcohol cessation, as they go through detox. For general aches and pains as well as nausea and vomiting, patients may be advised to take over-the-counter acetaminophen and antacids respectively.
THE FIRST 72 HOURS OF ALCOHOL WITHDRAWAL
Having detailed the benefits of medically-assisted detox and how it can make the withdrawal process a much easier endeavor, let’s take a closer look at what you expect during the first 72 hours of alcohol withdrawal, which will take place in three separate stages:
Stage 1 – During this stage, most individuals will experience abdominal pain, insomnia, and nausea, all of which will begin within 8 hours after they have consumed their last drink of alcohol.
Stage 2 – During this stage, most individuals can expect an increase in body temperature, which is accompanied by changes in heart rate and feelings of confusion, all of which will start within 24 to 72 hours after they have consumed their last drink of alcohol.
Stage 3 – During this final stage of alcohol withdrawal, most individuals will become agitated and will experience hallucinations, fevers, body aches, and seizure. Like stage 2, these symptoms will start to reveal themselves within 24 to 72 hours after they have consumed their last drink of alcohol.
Although all of these symptoms sound quite severe, it is worth noting that they don’t last forever. In most cases, they will begin to taper off within 5 to 7 days.
WHAT HAPPENS AFTER DETOX?
Once you have made it through detox and have weathered the storm of severe withdrawal symptoms, you will be several steps closer in your journey toward sobriety. However, it is worth noting that detox only addresses the physical dependence associated with overcoming alcohol addiction. Most rehab facilities will encourage individuals to follow-up detox with substance abuse counseling to address the psychological component that may stand in the way of achieving long-term sobriety success. During these sessions with a substance abuse counselor, individuals will be taught how to effectively cope with anxiety, depression, suicidal ideation, and other psychological symptoms that could lead to relapse.