Alcohol detox can be defined as a period of medically monitored and supervised withdrawal. Detox or withdrawal symptoms that are experienced by people who have stopped drinking alcohol abruptly ("cold turkey") can range from mild to life-threatening if not properly treated. The severity of these alcohol withdrawal symptoms are usually dependent upon how "alcohol dependent" the chronic drinker has become. Those who drink heavily on a daily basis of course have developed a high level of dependency on alcohol and will almost certainly experience at least some severe withdrawal symptoms, but even those who drink alcohol daily, but not heavily and those who drink alcohol heavily but not daily, can also be chemically dependent upon alcohol.
Detox from alcohol, also known as withdrawal is traumatic and can cause complications, pain and suffering, and may be life-threatening for some. The signs and symptoms of acute alcohol detox and withdrawal begin to appear between 6 and 48 hours after heavy alcohol consumption decreases. Appropriate treatment for alcohol detox and withdrawal is to relieve the patient’s discomfort and prevent the development of serious symptoms. Hospital (or equivalent) admission provides the safest setting for alcohol detox and withdrawal. When someone who has become "alcohol dependent" stops drinking, they will experience some level of physical discomfort. This is why it is extremely difficult for them to stop drinking "on their own" without assistance and support.
Alcohol Detox - Never Again:
After a particularly damaging or embarrassing alcohol binge, the hung over person will make an oath to "never drink again" and really mean it this time. However, when the alcohol withdrawal symptoms begin and the "craving" sets in, the body is telling the drinker that it needs more alcohol. When the physical symptoms of alcohol withdrawal begin to intensify, taking another drink simply becomes less painful than not taking one or so it seems at the time.
Alcohol Detox - The Shakes:
For some, who are less chemically dependent, withdrawal symptoms might be as "mild" as merely getting the shakes, or the sweats -- or perhaps nausea, headache, anxiety, a rapid heartbeat and increased blood pressure. Although these symptoms are uncomfortable and irritating, they are not necessarily dangerous. But they are often accompanied by the "craving" for more alcohol, making the decision to continue abstinence much more difficult to make.
Even the "morning after" hangover of someone who only occasionally drinks to excess, is actually a mild form of alcohol withdrawal from the excesses of the night before, as the alcohol content of their blood begins to drop. The symptoms can appear within a few hours after not drinking.
Alcohol Detox - Hallucinations and Seizures:
Within 6 to 48 hours after not drinking hallucinations may develop. These usually are visual hallucinations but they can also involve sounds and smells. They can last for a few hours up to weeks at a time. Also within this time frame after quitting convulsions or seizures can occur, which is the point at which alcohol withdrawal can become dangerous if not medically treated.
Alcohol Detox - The DT's:
The symptoms may progress to delirium tremens (DT's) after three to five days without alcohol. The symptoms of DT's include profound confusion, disorientation, hallucinations, hyperactivity and extreme cardiovascular disturbances. This condition causes shifts in your breathing, your circulation and your temperature control. It can cause your heart to race or can cause your blood pressure to increase dramatically and it can cause serious dehydration.
Once DT's begin, there is no known medical treatment to stop them. Grand mal seizures, heart attacks and stroke can occur during the DT's, all of which can be fatal.
During alcohol detox, a person is helped to overcome the physical dependence on alcohol. Detoxification from alcohol has the potential for triggering any number of side effects. These can range from mild to quite severe. Mild reactions to alcohol detox can include tremors (the shakes), headaches, vomiting, perspiration, restlessness, loss of appetite and insomnia. More serious effects of alcohol detox can be Delirium Tremors (DT’s), autonomic hyperactivity and seizures (convulsions). It has been estimated that 1 in 4 patients are at high risk of a withdrawal seizure if not medically treated during alcohol detox. The time necessary for detoxification from alcohol can be anywhere from 3 to 14 days.