Detoxing from any drug, including alcohol, is the process by which the body fully metabolizes the drugs that have been ingested. This can take a few hours or a few weeks depending on the amount of alcohol present in the body, and on the addict. Every person processes alcohol at a slightly different pace.
While ridding the body of toxins like alcohol is a good thing, and often the first step towards getting treatment, it is not, however, without its dangers. For those with a high tolerance to alcohol and who are highly addicted, going “cold turkey” can be life threatening.
For those addicted to alcohol, it’s not just that they think they need alcohol to feel okay, their body actually requires it. In these cases, detoxing occurs gradually by “tapering”, under the direct supervision of a medical staff, in which they are weaned off of alcohol at a safe pace, allowing their body to adjust.
If you or a loved one is thinking about undergoing a detox treatment, one of the first questions you might ask is, “how long it will take?” There is no universal answer for everyone, but the average detox treatment takes about one week. But what’s more important is the quality of the treatment. The best detox treatment will take place in an alcohol rehabilitation facility where medical professionals trained in detox and alcohol treatment can keep a close eye on the patient.
Some people try to detox at home, but this can be dangerous and is not advised. Those with a severe addiction can become agitated and belligerent through the detox process. In a medical facility, they may be given drugs to help curb the cravings and pains associated with detox. Sometimes a sedative will be given to keep them calm during the process. This isn’t available at home, and a DIY approach can horribly backfire.
Although you can’t determine how long each person’s detox will take, you can approximate based on the severity of their addiction and tolerance. However, regardless of “detox time,” it’s important to plan for ample treatment time. A detox period is just the beginning for addicts who are ready to get treatment. They may also benefit from an extended inpatient or outpatient treatment program.
Both inpatient and outpatient treatments can vary in length. The program that will work best for you or your loved one can be determined by the kind of care required, location, and, of course, your finances. Sometimes health insurance will cover all or part of detox and the proceeding treatment, but payment plans are often available for instances where it may not be covered.
How to Detox from Alcohol
Detoxing from alcohol can vary from person to person. However, it should always be managed by a medical professional. Some patients can go cold turkey and are monitored during the process to make sure they don’t become a danger to themselves, or aren’t at risk of deadly withdrawal symptoms. The cravings can be very intense during this period, as can the pain, which is why detoxes should take place in medical facilities.
Other times, the tapering method is best. In these scenarios, medical professionals will provide fewer and fewer amounts of alcohol over a period of time. Tapering makes a detox program last a little longer. However, it may be necessary for the safety of the patient.
Severe alcoholics can die from the shock of no alcohol. Although many people think of long-term liver failure as the worst side effect of alcoholism, alcoholism can also kill acutely. A serious alcoholic who suddenly has no access to their drug of choice can die from heart failure. A rapid heartbeat is a common side effect of alcohol withdrawals and detox, and for those with underlying complementary conditions or a weak heart, this particular withdrawal symptom is especially dangerous.
Surprisingly, it doesn’t take long for a person to go into detox. The process itself is started when a person is no longer consuming more alcohol and the body has started to metabolize the toxins. Getting rid of the toxins in the body is the detox process, and it isn’t complete until all of the toxins are gone. If a person relapses during detox and has alcohol, they are no longer in detox and must start over again. A person can begin to go into detox in as little as five hours after their last drink.
Dangers of Alcohol Detox
There are many dangers to alcohol detox, the biggest being death. As previously mentioned, severe alcoholics truly depend on alcohol to stay alive. However, only a professional can gauge if an alcoholic needs to taper or if a full-stop detox is the best approach. This is yet another reason why it’s always best to detox in a rehab facility. If a person tries to detox on their own, they not only put themselves and others at risk, but also have a very high chance of not completing the entire detox process.
Nausea and vomiting are also common withdrawal symptoms that occur during detox. While dehydration can be dangerous, the bigger risk of this symptom is choking on vomit. Extreme fatigue and passing out can also occur especially if sedatives are given to help increase calmness. However, if a person vomits and they don’t have the capacity to clear out their throat, they can suffocate. When detox takes place in a medical facility, professionals are on hand to ensure this doesn’t happen. If it takes place in someone’s home, that puts too much responsibility on friends and family.
Extreme agitation and even behavior similar to psychosis can occur during detox. The patient might become belligerent and violent. This puts those around them in danger. However, in a detox facility, trained staff have the skills and tools to manage this withdrawal symptom. When an addict is in this stage of detox, they cannot be reasoned with and would have a drink if they weren’t restrained from doing so.
Every detox is different, which is why it’s critical to only detox in rehab facilities where drug therapies will be available to help reduce cravings and manage behavior. Having these aids is just one tool you wouldn’t have access to at home.
It’s very rare that detox alone will help a person stop drinking for good. Without continuing treatment, a detox is usually a minor hiccup in the alcoholic journey. Detox might be necessary as a short-term solution, particularly if the patient has “overdosed” and developed alcohol poisoning. Still, it’s important to remember that this is only the beginning. Battling alcoholism is a long and challenging journey. Unlike other drugs which are illegal, such as cocaine or heroin, alcohol is a legal social substance. It’s impossible for most alcoholics to avoid every future situation where alcohol will be involved. It’s always readily accessible. This makes it even more important to continue with some kind of treatment where the patient can enjoy a support group that helps them navigate a lifetime of temptation.
How Long Does It Take to Detox from Alcohol?
There’s no magic number when it comes to detoxing from alcohol. Most alcoholics take eight days to detox, but it will depend on the severity of their addiction and how much alcohol is in their system. However, it’s understandable that this is a common question often asked by both alcoholics and their friends and family. In some cases, this question is motivated by finances. Many detox programs charge by the day or hour. However, many insurance policies will cover at least part of the detox treatments.
Detox and treatment for alcoholism should not be fully driven by money. You can always ask about payment plans or options like CareCredit (a special credit card just for medical purposes). If the patient has been in detox before, it’s possible that this detox will take about the same amount of time. However, it’s also possible that they’ve drank more than last time or otherwise built up their tolerance.
Once a person has fully detoxed from alcohol and the drug is no longer in their system, they’re in the best situation to begin a rehab treatment program. This “clean slate” can be a psychologically appealing aspect and a fantastic marker. However, it’s also common to have strong cravings, moodiness, depression, anxiety, and fatigue after detox. An alcoholic doesn’t feel better immediately after detox, it’s often quite the opposite. This can make it challenging to get an addict to start a program, and remember that an alcoholic will only effectively start a recovery journey when they’re ready. Unless the patient is a minor, it might be best to wait until they say they’re ready for help and treatment. Detox might be a wakeup call, or it might not. It’s often said that hitting rock bottom kick-starts the drive to positively change, and detox is certainly rock bottom.
Getting Alcohol Detox Treatment
There are alcohol detox treatment centers in any mid-sized or large city. Some have waiting lists, but you’ll need to find a center that has immediate openings. Sometimes detox begins after a person has been admitted to the ER or overdosed at home. It’s essential that only medical professionals monitor the detox process. They are the only ones equipped with the experience and tools to handle all of the variants involved with alcohol detox.
When looking for a detox center, check to make sure that it’s “medically-assisted” or “medically-supervised.” These two terms can be used interchangeably and indicate that professionals are watching the patient 24/7. Reviews can be helpful, but in the rush of finding a detox center you will likely be looking for availability and whether or not it’s a medically-supervised center. Most importantly, remember that this is just one part of the process. Hopefully, it will be the wakeup call the addict needs to begin recovery.
Northeast Addition Editorial Team
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This page does not provide medical advice.