Alcohol withdrawal is undeniably the most challenging and intimidating part of the recovery process. People who’ve been using alcohol to mute their physical and emotional pain are generally reticent to face this extended period of discomfort. Fear of the unknown can make this first and absolutely essential stage of recovery all the less appealing.
At Mississippi Drug and Alcohol Treatment Center, we’re committed to providing information that allays common detox-related fears. We believe that knowing the alcohol withdrawal timeline gives people a clear understanding of what they can expect, even as it alleviates countless anxieties.
Although detoxing can be difficult, it is not impossible, and it is more than worthwhile. Moreover, when detox is safely performed in a professional and controlled environment, there are countless measures that can be used to make patients more comfortable. This also helps the body expedite its return to normalcy and good health.
Alcohol addiction can affect people in vastly different ways, as can the detox process. For those who’ve spent years consuming large amounts of hard liquor, detoxing can be significantly harder than it might be for someone who’s only recently begun drinking, and who tends to consume far less. In general, however, the alcohol withdrawal timeline starts within six to eight hours of a person’s last drink.
The symptoms of withdrawal often set in aroun 6-8 hours after the last drink. Symptoms may peak within just one day, but for some individuals, these symptoms can heighten in their intensity for up to three days. Among the most important things to know about alcohol detox, is that it should never be performed without medical guidance, and it should never be performed alone. The effects of alcohol detox can be life-threatening in many instances. Unless these effects are properly mitigated, the damage that they cause can be lifelong.
Understanding What It Means to Withdrawal From Alcohol
When detoxing from alcohol, those living with alcohol use disorder are often most concerned about their cravings, and about the physical and emotional discomfort that they’ll experience by not being able to stop them. However, if you’re addicted to alcohol, your body has become dependent upon it.
Not having a drink will do far more than make you physically and emotionally uncomfortable. It can actually send your entire body into a state of extreme physiological distress. Many people experience rapid and dramatic changes in their vital signs while detoxing. Their heart rates, blood pressure, and blood glucose levels fluctuate wildly.
Those who’ve been drinking for a while are even at risk of experiencing advanced withdrawal symptoms known as delirium tremens. These can include:
Alcohol use stimulates key brain receptors and depresses the central nervous system (CNS). When alcohol is repeatedly consumed and in large amounts, overstimulated brain receptors gradually become desensitized. The number of these receptors also decreases over time, and continued drinking results in both chemical dependence and growing tolerance. As a result, not only do people need to continue drinking in order to maintain some sense of equilibrium, but they also need to drink more alcohol in order to enjoy the same effects.
Stopping alcohol outright results in the uncontrolled firing of the CNS. This is what in turn causes mild to severe withdrawal symptoms. Most people detoxing from alcohol can expect to experience:
- Mild to moderate itchiness
- Mild to moderate headaches
Even at the very low end of the spectrum, detox symptoms can make a person feel generally unwell from head to toe. Moreover, although some people may never see their detox symptoms progress beyond this point, even this moderate level of discomfort can cause a recovering alcoholic to give up.
Thus, rather than going “cold turkey” at home, it’s always best to complete an alcohol detox in a reputable and properly staffed facility. With the right support, patients can successfully make their way through approximately 24 to 72 hours of discomfort, and can additionally establish solid plans for continued treatment and recovery.
Many people will experience moderate to severe symptoms of alcohol detox before their symptoms peak and eventually abate. These include:
- Numbness or burning sensations across the body
- Vomiting, diarrhea, or other forms of digestive distress
- Excessive sweating
- Noticeable changes in cognition
When detox symptoms are at their worst, lights, sounds, and other outside stimuli become significantly more intense. Recovering addicts might startle easily at loud noises, or find that their headaches are greatly intensified when lights or TV sets are turned on.
Medication-Assisted Treatment for Alcohol Withdrawal
Medically assisted treatment (MAT) for alcohol withdrawal provides a variety of benefits. First, it ensures that the symptoms of detox never reach a point where they’re able to cause lasting physical damage. MAT also makes withdrawing from alcohol much easier by leveraging therapies and medical interventions that mitigate and minimize the body’s response to abstinence. More importantly, for those who are at high risk of experiencing delirium tremens, these services keep hallucinations, seizures, and other serious medical developments at bay.
With MAT, patients are also well-prepared for PAWS or post-acute withdrawal symptoms. The challenges of abstaining from alcohol do not stop after your physical detox symptoms abate. With post-acute withdrawal, you’ll find yourself facing the psychological and emotional difficulties of learning to live alcohol-free. PAWS generally present after the body has physically stabilized, and as the brain relearns how to function without drinking.
The Symptoms of PAWS include:
- General irritability
- Changes in focus and concentration
- Excessive fatigue
- Mood swings
Although PAWS is infinitely easier from a physical standpoint, the emotional challenges of this portion of the detox process places people at extraordinary risk of relapse. Just as medical interventions can be leveraged to prevent primary detox symptoms from spiraling out of control, MAT can assist patients in successfully navigating this portion of their journeys.
At Mississippi Drug and Alcohol Treatment Center, we offer a vast range of services and solutions for meeting a diverse range of needs. If you want medical detox support, reliable options in inpatient or outpatient treatment, and effective aftercare support, we can help. Call us today at 855-334-6120.