Even knowing all the serious consequences that accompany alcohol addiction, many alcoholics will persist in their compulsive drinking just to avoid the detox and withdrawal experience. Understandably, alcohol detox is highly unpleasant and can become a serious medical emergency if not managed by a trained team of detox specialists who can quickly intervene. Serious health risks, such as alcohol withdrawal hallucinations, seizures, psychosis, and delirium tremens are possible for individuals with a long history of regular high alcohol consumption, but these complications are difficult to predict.
Detox and withdrawal should not deter someone from pursuing recovery from addiction, as alcoholism is a chronic relapsing disease that, if left untreated and unmanaged, will take one’s life eventually. Instead of avoiding recovery out of fear of detox, locate a sound detox plan that provides a supportive, and supervised environment that will help you safely launch your recovery from alcohol dependence.
Importance of Medically Monitored Alcohol Detox
It is a fact that alcohol detox can present some serious health risks as withdrawal symptoms intensify on days 2-4. In the event of severe alcohol withdrawals, these risks include alcohol withdrawal hallucinations, delusions, psychosis, grand mal seizures, and the delirium tremens (DTs). Unfortunately, some individuals attempt to conquer detox on their own without any medical supervision, which can land them in the emergency department at the local hospital.
The safest route to achieving a successful alcohol detox is through a medical detox program. This can be obtained at a freestanding detox center, but detox alone will not lead to a sustained recovery from the actual addiction, and relapse will swiftly follow. The best scenario is to go through a medical detox within a comprehensive addiction treatment program, so therapy and rehabilitation will immediately follow the detox and withdrawal phase of recovery.
The benefits of undergoing detox under medical supervision are many. The client’s vital signs will be monitored throughout, as heart rate, blood pressure, and respiratory rates can fluctuate dramatically. Highly unpleasant withdrawal symptoms are likely to present themselves and a medical detox team will provide medications to help minimize them. These typical withdrawal symptoms include:
- Mood swings
Should withdrawal symptoms become severe, the medical detox team is equipped to respond appropriately.
Severe Alcohol Detox
Alcohol withdrawal symptoms vary from mild to severe according to various factors. These factors include the acuity of the alcohol dependency, length of history of heavy alcohol consumption, age, general health status and whether there are any medical conditions, and if there is a co-occurring mental health disorder. Certain risk factors can alert the medical detox team of potential complications, such as hallucinations or seizures, that arise as the detox proceeds.
Alcoholic hallucinosis is a situation than begin at about 24 hours following the last alcoholic drink, persisting for a few days, and causing distress to the individual. During alcoholic hallucinosis, also referred to as alcohol-related psychosis, the client experiences things that are not really there, including auditory, tactile, and visual hallucinations. This is an uncommon event, usually only present with individuals who have a history of many years of consistent heavy drinking.
The most serious alcohol withdrawal symptoms is the delirium tremens, or DTs as it is commonly referred to. The DTs usually appear 2 to 3 days after the last alcoholic beverage is consumed and is difficult to predict. Tremors that may have begun in the hands now progress to the head and the body. The individual will become highly uncoordinated and experience extreme mental confusion along with hallucinations, terrors, and delusions. Sweating becomes profuse, blood pressure spikes and the heart rate dramatically increases.
The DTs occur in about 5% of the individuals undergoing alcohol detox, and if not treated by a medical profession can prove fatal to 15% of those individuals. Complications include over-sedation, cardiac arrhythmias, respiratory arrest, and aspiration pneumonitis. Some risk factors for the DTs include age (middle age or older), history of seizures during alcohol withdrawal in the past, abnormal liver function, a co-existing mental health disorder, or extreme alcohol cravings.
Post-Acute Withdrawal Syndrome (PAWS)
In most cases, alcohol detox is completed within 5-7 days. This means that the majority of the pain and discomfort associated with withdrawal have subsided by week’s end. However, some individuals continue to struggle with protracted withdrawal symptoms that can persist for weeks or months. This collection of both physical and psychological symptoms is referred to as post-acute withdrawal syndrome, or PAWS.
Prolonged symptoms are common among alcoholics in recovery, often complicating the recovery process. It is important to have realistic expectations in early recovery, and understand that these symptoms too shall pass in time. PAWS symptoms might include:
- Intense cravings for alcohol
- Ongoing tremors
- Nervous system hyperactivity resulting in sweating, rapid heart rate, and nausea
- Mood swings
- Brain chemistry still returning to normal dopamine production
- Sleep disturbance
- Lack of sexual desire
- Cognitive impairment
Most clients will not experience all of the PAWS symptoms, but instead may experience a few of them intermittently over the first few months of recovery. Understanding that PAWS is a common after effect of detox and withdrawal will help the individual accept this temporary condition and look forward to feeling increasingly better as recovery progresses.
After Detox, What Happens Next?
Successfully getting through the alcohol detox process is only the beginning of the recovery journey ahead. There are fundamental changes that must be made in the way one reacts to stressors, triggers, or difficult life events. Where in the past the reflexive response to such things was to reach for alcohol, in recovery those thought/behavior patterns must be torn down and rebuilt. Learning how to make these important changes and acquiring the tools needed to manage triggers and regulate stress is the purpose of addiction treatment.
Once alcohol has cleared the body and the individual has stabilized it is time to transition to active treatment. There are two types of addiction treatment programs available, outpatient and residential. Both programs will provide similar program elements, however the residential treatment offers the highest level of care with 24-hour support. Deciding which type of rehab is best for the individual overcoming alcoholism will depend on the severity of the addiction.
Treatment Elements for Alcohol Addiction Recovery
Alcoholism recovery involves a medley of treatment elements that work together to provide a comprehensive approach. Each rehab will have its own focus, philosophy, and services, but most will include the following treatment elements in the program:
- Psychotherapy. Both individual and group therapy sessions help guide individuals toward examining underlying emotional issues that may be associated with the alcohol abuse. Cognitive behavioral therapy and other evidence-based therapies help individuals change thought distortions that have led to the alcohol abuse, and replace these patterns with new healthy ones.
- Medication assisted treatment. MAT is a medical therapy involving the use of naltrexone, a drug that can help individuals lose the cravings for alcohol, reducing the risk of relapse.
- Education. Rehabs offer classes to educate the individual about how alcohol affects the brain and creates chemical dependency. Relapse prevention strategies are also taught.
- 12-step program. Many rehabs integrate the 12-step programming, or a similar recovery support curriculum, into the weekly routine.
- Holistic activities. Rehabs now include some holistic or experiential activities to round out the treatment program by enhancing the mind-body connection using these techniques.
Treating a Dual Diagnosis
Alcoholism often co-occurs with a mental health disorder, which is referred to as a dual diagnosis. Alcoholism and depression is the most common dual diagnosis, and also a dangerous combination. Alcohol itself is a sedative, suppressing the central nervous system. When someone who is depressed continues to engage in heavy alcohol consumption it can lead to suicide attempts, and a more complex treatment picture.
Someone with a dual diagnosis should understand that unless both the mental health disorder and the alcoholism are addressed and treated there is no chance of achieving a sound, long-term recovery. For this reason, getting professional treatment at a rehab that specializes in dual diagnosis is imperative, as these programs will be outfitted with the appropriate psychiatric staff and training to effectively treat the co-occurring disorders simultaneously.
Aftercare for Achieving a Sustained Recovery
It is important to follow up rehab with a solid aftercare plan. Aftercare services are available to support recovery moving forward. Early recovery from alcoholism is a vulnerable period that can place someone at high risk for relapse. By engaging in aftercare services, the individual significantly increases their chance of sustaining sobriety.
Aftercare services include:
- Outpatient therapy, individual and group format
- Sober living housing
- Joining a recovery community, such as A.A. or SMART Recovery
- Getting a sponsor, a sober companion, establishing sober friendships
Most rehabs will provide the resources for these services and can offer alumni plenty of support after the treatment program has been completed.
Capo By the Sea Manages Alcohol Withdrawal Hallucinations
Capo By the Sea is an elite alcohol and drug recovery program serving Southern California. Capo By the Sea employs an extensively trained medical detox team who will monitor and manage severe alcohol withdrawal symptoms should they emerge. These detox professionals provide the highest level of comfort possible and are prepared for any medical emergency that could arise. Following successful completion of the medical detoxification, the client will be introduced to the therapeutic rehabilitation that follows. Capo By the Sea offers upscale accommodations, private rooms, and deluxe amenities in addition to its top tier addiction treatment program. For more information about the program, please contact Capo By the Sea today at 888-529-2114