We don't generally think of alcohol as "toxic." We think of toxic things as poison, things that kill you instantly. And we think of alcohol, generally, as a good time. But too much of it can often become a problem very quickly.
Sure, consuming alcohol in moderation can be just fine. But nobody talks about when it goes too far. You'll see "please drink responsibly," but nobody actually bothers to tell you what that is. You don't often see depictions in the media of what "irresponsible drinking" looks like, unless we're talking about driving.
But the real face of irresponsible drinking is addictive drinking - it's alcoholism. And the symptoms of alcoholism are often difficult to detect, because the way alcoholism works, you don't feel bad when you're drinking - you feel bad when you're not.
The result of this is that alcoholism doesn't feel like a problem to the alcoholic themselves. To them, the state of being sober is the one that hurts, and the state of drunkenness is the normal one. So your body and mind draw the logical conclusion to solve the problem of feeling bad with more alcohol.
Your body can filter out small amounts of toxins at a time, but then your body builds up a tolerance to them. Usually that's a good thing - your body also builds up tolerance to illnesses and germs, and you'd be in real trouble if it didn't.
Alcohol detox is about ridding you of these chemically-induced impulses and helping you through the period when those symptoms are at their strongest. This initial period of withdrawal symptoms can be potentially dangerous without proper medical attention, and that's what detox is here for.
But what is detox? Do you need it for alcohol rehab? How bad can withdrawal symptoms really be? Let's get into answering those questions first.
Alcohol detox is about getting you through withdrawal symptoms by lessening the severity of the chemical reactions going on inside you. And yes, it's very important. Why?
Let's go ahead and put this out front: Withdrawal symptoms for alcohol are a big deal because they're potentially fatal.
But what actually are withdrawal symptoms? Simply put, withdrawal symptoms are the physical reactions your body has to not getting the substance it's addicted to. They vary from person to person, but there are some common ones to look out for, like
According to the New England Journal of Medicine, about 50% of people who suffer from alcoholism will experience withdrawal symptoms if they try to quit. And of that 50%, about 3 to 5% will experience severe convulsions and/or DTs.
DTs usually appear about three days into the withdrawal process, and bring confusion, rapid heartbeat, and fever to their victim. These symptoms are severe, can last several days, and are often fatal when untreated. DTs are a big part of the reason why alcohol is one of the most dangerous substances to have withdrawals.
Alcohol withdrawal symptoms can start popping up just a couple of hours after you quit drinking, and can persist for as long as two weeks.
A big part of the detox process is medical detox, which helps alleviate withdrawal symptoms. Medical detox alone made up the majority of detox treatment for a long time, and still serves a very important purpose, especially in safeguarding against deadly DTs.
However, medical detox can also create problems for patients in the long term. Addiction is all about using substances that make you feel "normal." So in the case of medical detox, the medications that are generally used for detoxification - which make patients feel "normal" in the face of withdrawal symptoms - carry their own withdrawal risks.
While the detox drugs used in medical detox carry risks, they aren't nearly as damaging as the alcohol withdrawal symptoms they used for. In many cases, it's quite the opposite - detox drugs can be life-saving, and are still an important part of the detox process. But medicine doesn't treat the core of addiction, it treats its symptoms. Medicine has to be used in conjunction with other methods that treat the root causes of addiction itself.
Well, not so fast. Medicine is still part of most detox programs. But holistic detox programs are on the rise in popularity, and most of the best detox programs now use a mix of the two.
Holistic alcohol detox programs address the basic needs people have when they've become addicted to alcohols. You might not think things like eating and drinking water are things you need treatment for, but they actually incredibly important.
A major component of a holistic alcohol detox is nutrition, because many alcoholics have a tendency to "drink their meals" rather than stick to a proper diet. For alcoholics, the body's need for a drink overrides the desire to eat healthy food. Basically, any sort of "basic need" impulse your body gives you turns into a desire for alcohol. Not surprisingly, drinking lots of water will also be included as a key part of detoxing.
Exercise is also a major component of detox, for much the same reason nutrition is. The focus here is on kick-starting your body's natural ability to handle toxins, which is the whole point of detox in the first place. This also helps reduce the chances you'll become dependent on detox medications.
This may seem more like the kind of treatment you'd get at a gym, rather than detox, but it is truly important and proven effective. Once your body starts getting healthier in general, your body's normal detox functions kick back in and start processing things more efficiently. There isn't any medicine that can help you detox better than your own healthy body. If you commit to these methods, they can cause a drastic reduction in both the severity of your withdrawal symptoms, and the amount of time you experience them.
You might be waiting until you start detox to actually start your recovery, but believe it or not, there are things you can do to make the process easier on yourself that have nothing to do with your alcohol use. Mostly, these are steps geared toward jump-starting the sort of holistic treatment you'll get in detox, but getting an early start on this things can shorten your stay and make the whole thing a little easier.
In fact, it is widely recommended you do not quit drinking in preparation for detox. The detox clinic will most likely offer you a heavy dose of medication on your first day without alcohol.
See, detox is there to help you navigate the withdrawal symptoms of alcoholism. If you try to quit cold turkey a day or two before you go to detox, you're going to put yourself right in the middle of your withdrawals before you get that help, and as we've discussed, that's potentially dangerous. You want to get into detox before your symptoms kick in, so you can get help easing through them. If you're already suffering from withdrawals, when you get there, you're at least partially defeating the purpose.
That doesn't mean you should binge drink on the way to detox, either. Try to drink as little as possible to stave off the symptoms. It's just that the shock of going cold turkey if you're a heavy drinker is something that's best handled when you have the medical attention around you to handle it.
Like we mentioned earlier, alcohol causes your body to get dehydrated. That's one of the reasons why alcohol detox clinics stress the importance of drinking water. But you don't need to be in detox to drink water. Start drinking more water, and you'll be way ahead in your detox. It's a small thing, but it makes a huge difference.
You can also improve the quality of food you eat and jump-start the nutrition aspect of detox. When you're eating a lot of sugar and bad fat, it gives your body more toxins to filter through while you're trying to filter out the alcohol toxins. Avoiding foods that are hard for your body to digest is important at the best alcohol detox centers. The right foods can also help to flush out toxins and strengthen your immune system, which is definitely a must during alcohol detox.
If you would like to learn more about how Northpoint Seattle can help you with your addiction, check out our treatment plan and philosophy. And if you'd like to discuss your options in more detail, please contact us.
Northpoint Seattle does not handle detox in-house, but we are proud to work with some of the best alcohol detox clinics across the state of Washington. We work with clinics that utilize the most modern, holistic methods for alcohol detox, and we make sure to incorporate detox into our treatment plan.
In other words, this isn't a decision you have to make alone. If we think your recovery will require detox treatment, we will refer you out to one, and pick up your treatment once the process has finished - which can take up to two weeks.
Our goal is to help you successfully stop using alcohols without worrying about relapsing. And we will make sure you get whatever treatment you need - even if we're not the ones to provide it.