The Importance Of Medically Detoxing From Alcohol

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If you are coping with alcohol addiction, detoxification may seem like a frightening prospect. Withdrawals from alcohol can be severe, and, in some cases, fatal. Medically detoxing from alcohol is one way to achieve sobriety safely and effectively.


Signs Of Alcoholism

Alcoholism is a disease affecting as many as one in 12 adults in the United States. It is a legal drug that is widely marketed and available to the general public. This general acceptance may be one reason alcohol is the associated with more deaths, damage, and chronic health issues than any other drug legal or illicit.

Those who are addicted to alcohol exhibit a set of symptoms specific to the disease:

  • Someone who has grown dependent on the drug will feel a strong compulsion to consume alcohol, and the more they drink, the more tolerant they will become of its effects.
  • They may begin consuming excessive levels of alcohol to achieve a state of “normal” or to avoid withdrawal symptoms.
  • As the disease progresses, they no longer seek the kinds of hobbies or activities that once brought them pleasure, choosing to drink instead. It is also common for a person battling alcoholism to suffer lapses in memory and engage in high-risk activities, resulting in legal issues.
  • Someone addicted to alcohol may become increasingly isolated, destroying relationships with loved ones and coworkers.

These behaviors aren’t by choice – no one chooses to experience the downward spiral of alcoholism; it is a progressive disease that claims the lives of tens of thousands of people each year in this country alone.

One of the greatest challenges those recovering from alcoholism face as they move toward recovery, is the withdrawal. Physically, this process is not only uncomfortable, it can become life threatening if not managed by treatment or medical professionals. Understanding this process requires a basic understanding of how alcohol quickly takes hold of the brain and body of the unwitting individual who is left in the wake of its cruel and degrading consequences.

Alcohol Addiction And The Brain’s Pleasure Centers

When a person begins drinking, a series of changes take place within the brain. Alcohol binds with gamma aminobutyric acid (GABA) receptors located within the brain and along the central nervous system. GABA is a neurotransmitter normally activated at times when the body is under stress. GABA reduces overall neuronal excitability along the entire central nervous system, reducing muscle tension and countering the effects of stress hormones like cortisol. This form of central nervous system depression is greatly enhanced by a person consuming alcohol.

The enhanced effects of alcohol on the central nervous system generated by the increase in GABA neurotransmission, has a ripple effect through the brain, triggering subsequent serotonin and dopamine activity.

Dopamine neurotransmitters come from a part of the brain known as the nucleus accumbens, or more simply, the brain’s “pleasure center.” Whenever someone engages in behavior or activity the body perceives as beneficial to its survival (like eating food or having sex), dopamine is released and a person will experience the effects often referred to as a natural “high.” When this process is hyperstimulated through the use of drugs like alcohol, the pleasure or reward centers of the brain begin associating use of alcohol with primary modes of survival. In other words, alcohol becomes as important to the body as food, water, and sex toward continuation of the species.

A dangerous line has been crossed. The brain doesn’t just crave alcohol, it needs it for survival. The more a person consumes alcohol, normal brain function along with natural GABA neurotransmission, is significantly inhibited. A decision to stop this process is now so far convoluted by alterations in brain chemistry, cutting out alcohol isn’t just difficult; it’s dangerous.

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Alcohol Withdrawal Syndrome

When a person becomes addicted to alcohol, they are dependent on the drug to avoid physical withdrawal symptoms. Alcohol withdrawal syndrome occurs with any decrease in the consumption of alcohol and can last for weeks. These symptoms are opposite those suppressed by GABA and include intense anxiety, irritability, seizures, and cardiac distress. Severe withdrawal symptoms may include delirium tremens, a condition defined by symptoms that include hallucinations, delirium, seizures, and body tremors. Death from alcohol withdrawal is more common in someone suffering with symptoms of delirium tremens.

The severity of withdrawal symptoms require a medically supervised approach to ending the hold alcohol has on the body, so that someone addicted to alcohol, may safely achieve sobriety.

What Is Alcohol Detoxification?

Detoxification is the process of stabilizing neural activity along the central nervous system and within the brain, while ridding the body of alcohol. Within just a few hours following cessation of alcohol consumption, the body will begin to experience symptoms of withdrawal. As time progresses, these symptoms will worsen.

Alcohol detoxification, also known as withdrawal stabilization, offers someone addicted to alcohol a safe and controlled environment in which to cleanse the body of the alcohol and eliminate symptoms associated with withdrawal. Depending on the severity of the alcohol addiction, medications may be implemented to diminish the more dangerous or serious side effects of withdrawal process.

Medications Used In Alcohol Detoxification

Depending on the severity of the alcohol addiction, medications used to aid the withdrawal process will likely include Librium, Valium, Serax, or Ativan. These drugs are in the benzodiazepine class and work similarly to alcohol, binding at GABA receptor sites to reduce side effects associated with alcohol withdrawal. Barbiturates and sometimes nitrous oxide are used in place of benzodiazepines.

Those undergoing treatment for alcohol addiction may also receive anticonvulsant medications like Neurontin or Trileptal to reduce risk of seizures and further decrease feelings of anxiety.

Medicines used to treat withdrawals help maintain some balance in the brain and central nervous system at a time when it is critically needed. If someone stops using alcohol suddenly, the side effects from withdrawal can prove deadly. Even if a person does not die from complications from delirium tremens, they might suffer a heart attack from the enormous stress the body is under as it recovers from the addiction. Medical supervision along with medications designed to help manage these symptoms are an important and even critical part of any alcohol treatment plan.

Someone who has been battling alcohol addiction for a long time will likely have suffered serious ill-health effects relating to poor diet. During the detoxification process, those recovering from alcohol addiction may receive supplemental vitamins, most often B vitamins and folic acid, and minerals to improve their health.

Medical Detoxification Is A Step Toward A Safe Recovery From Alcohol Addiction

Alcohol detoxification is safer and represents a far less traumatic experience for the alcohol addicted person when medications to manage symptoms are utilized. Detox includes medical supervision to ensure a safe recovery from alcohol addiction. A detox plan is based on the severity of the person’s addiction to alcohol and may include varying degrees of medications and other therapies to help a person into recovery.

Locate Professional Support to Begin Your Recovery Today

Take that first step toward a safe and effective recovery process by contacting you or someone you love is facing an addiction to alcohol, can connect you with the resources you need to better understand the addiction and to locate treatment options best suited for your individual needs. Take that first step toward a safe and effective recovery process by contacting

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