One of the most challenging parts of overcoming any substance addiction is beginning the recovery process. For a patient with alcohol use disorder, getting started is especially difficult because of the physical dependency the body develops due to the constant overconsumption of alcohol. While it may seem straightforward to simply stop drinking, a self-detox from alcohol is often ineffective, and it can be extremely dangerous.
What is Detoxing?
Detoxing is abstaining the body from alcohol until it is no longer physically dependent on the substance. Removing intoxicates is necessary before considering the next steps in an alcohol treatment plan.
“As a person becomes tolerant to a substance, such as alcohol, they will also become dependent on the substance,” says Dr. Brent Boyett, Medical Director for Bradford. “With repeated use, the withdrawal symptoms of the substance will manifest as the exact opposite to the effect of the drug.”
This opposite effect exhibits in the withdrawal process, which often includes severe symptoms such as shaking, headache, or vomiting, as the body seeks to establish homeostasis without the substance. In a hospital or other medical setting, the patient is safely managed by professionals in alcohol treatment.
When a person tries to self-detox, they put themselves at risk of experiencing an uncomfortable withdrawal process and may develop serious complications or even death.
Dangers of Self-Detoxing
Self-detoxing is often ineffective and extremely dangerous. When the body becomes dependent on benzodiazepines, alcohol, or other “downer” drugs, going “cold turkey” and stopping consumption too quickly could cause sudden deadly seizures.
“The brain tries to compensate to create homeostasis to counteract the depressant. When the alcohol is stopped abruptly, the rebound effect of central nervous system excitation can be so severe, the brain is at risk for a seizure,” says Dr. Boyett. “Alcohol withdrawal seizures may result in permanent brain damage or even death.”
Detoxing without medical assistance could bring about other discomforts such as excessive sweating, nausea, cramping, insomnia, and high blood pressure. These intense withdrawal symptoms often result in unsuccessful withdrawal management due to the immense stress on the body and mind. Research shows that these severe symptoms often discourage the patient from attempting to detox again in the event of a relapse.
Benefits of Medical Detoxing
Withdrawal symptoms are not as prominent when medically detoxing. When detoxing in a controlled environment like a hospital, alcohol rehabilitation center, or drug treatment facility, doctors will administer medication to stabilize the brain, protecting the patient from discomfort or harm.
“The purpose of medical detox is to provide a chemical parachute to reduce the risk of dangerous withdrawal seizures,” Dr. Boyette explains. “By substituting the drug for a similar medication, then tapering slowly, can reduce the risk of a life-threatening seizure.”
In addition to reduced withdrawal symptoms, studies show that medical detox, followed by an alcohol addiction treatment program, can also decrease the likelihood of relapse. Detox is only the beginning of recovery. There is still a continuum of care that needs to be received before one can live a life of sobriety.
The Path to Sobriety
The first step on the path to sobriety is deciding to seek help. If you or a loved one struggles with alcohol abuse, our clinical professionals are available to help you find recovery through Bradford’s safe medical detox and proven treatment programs. Our recovery advisors are available 24 hours a day, seven days a week at 1-888-577-0012.