Is Alcohol Detox REALLY Necessary?

If you have finally decided to get professional help for your uncontrollable drinking, you probably have one huge question in mind – “WHAT HAPPENS NOW?”

After that important first step, your next recovery task is to actually achieve physical sobriety. Before recovery can truly begin, you first must break free from the uncontrollable physical compulsion to consume alcohol. The best, safest way to do this is by participating in a medically-supervised alcohol detox program.

Why Do I Need to Detox? Can’t I Just Quit Alcohol on My Own?

First, if you are truly addicted to alcohol, it is extremely unlikely that you will be able to stop drinking on your own. If you are like most people with an Alcohol Use Disorder, you have probably already made multiple attempts to quit or cut back in the past—all of them unsuccessful.

A “persistent desire or unsuccessful efforts to cut down or control substance use” is one of the criteria used to diagnose a substance abuse disorder, as defined by the DSM-5, the 5th Edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders.

Second and most critical – the abrupt cessation of alcohol after chronic abuse can be extremely painful and hazardous – and can even be fatal.

During acute, active alcohol abuse, the brain’s chemistry profoundly changes, to the point that intoxication becomes the accustomed state. When the disease has progressed far enough, it becomes impossible to function without alcohol. When alcohol is discontinued, your body will go through withdrawal.

Alcohol withdrawal is characterized by several unpleasant symptoms, often occurring within hours of the last drink. These symptoms may last up to 2 weeks:

  • Intense cravings for alcohol
  • Sleep disturbances
  • Heightened anxiety
  • Worsened depression
  • Confusion
  • Profuse sweating
  • Tremors
  • Nausea/vomiting/diarrhea
  • Headache
  • Rapid heartbeat
  • Increased blood pressure
  • Sensitivity to light
  • Hallucinations

The harsh unpleasantness of alcohol withdrawal symptoms can trigger a relapse, as the sufferer tries to relieve their anguish and discomfort. This is one reason why detoxing from alcohol in a safe, controlled environment is such a good idea.

Although these symptoms can be painful, they are not, in and of themselves, physically dangerous. The most serious complication from alcohol withdrawal is delirium tremens – “the DT’s”.

Between 5% and 10% of alcoholics will experience delirium tremens when their supply alcohol is cut off. Delirium tremens is characterized by:

  • Global disorientation – a complete disconnection from reality
  • Seizures

Left untreated, more than a third of sufferers will die. Even with treatment, the mortality rate can reach 15%. Constant medical supervision is why a professional alcohol detox is MORE than a good idea – it is an absolute necessity. The onset of delirium tremens is a medical emergency.

Third, when you check into a medically-supervised alcohol detox facility, your comfort (from withdrawal symptoms) and your safety (from severe reactions like delirium tremens) can both be significantly improved by any of a number of prescription medications. Obviously, when you try to quit alcohol on your own, you will have access to these medications.

Your Past Difficulties May Predict Your Future Success

If you have tried – and failed – to stop drinking on your own in the past, there are several reasons why you may require professional detoxification even more this time.

First – if you experienced any complications due to alcohol withdrawal on any of your previous attempts to quit, you are at increased risk of delirium tremens.
Second, if you started drinking again after an unsuccessful self-detox, your addiction to alcohol has most likely worsened. Now, you may have an even greater physical dependence on alcohol. This makes it both more difficult and less safe to do it on your own.
Third, if you were unable to stop drinking on your own in the past, you may not have corrected the issues that contributed to your lack of success. For example, if you want to regain your sobriety when you are still living with an actively drinking and/or drugging partner, then it will be virtually impossible to self-detox successfully.

The Bottom Line about Alcohol Detox

Addiction, in any form, is a disease that is too cunning, too baffling, and too powerful for you to take on all by yourself. If you want to begin your sober journey with the greatest chance of success, you need all the help and support you can find.

There is no need to jeopardize your health or your newborn sobriety by attempting to self-detox from alcohol. Protect both by finding a reputable local alcohol detox facility.

It only makes sense.

SOURCES:

NIAAA NIH

NIAAA NIH

NIAAA NIH

NAADAC