Whether you’re a chronic binge drinker or a perennial top-up drinker, alcohol withdrawal can be profoundly distressing, panic inducing and horrifyingly scary. It is also very dangerous if not managed correctly, and can even be fatal. This article outlines the ways in which an individual can safely detox from alcohol.
Firstly, it is important to understand what is going on in the process of alcohol withdrawal (detox), and why it takes you to such an insane place.
The answer lies in the neurotransmission within the brain.
People begin drinking in the first instance in order to elicit feelings of relaxation, thereby blocking out painful and / or undesirable realities. The feeling of relaxation or ‘contentment’ that alcohol induces comes from alcohol influencing the neurotransmitter GABA’s receptors.
Essentially, a drinking session is an enlivening of GABA receptors, and after a night of drinking is over, GABA regulation returns to normal after the depressive effects of a hangover – if you are a non-alcoholic.
This process is highly different for the alcoholic.
For the alcoholic, returning to sobriety is a thought too painful, so they continue the drinking spree and thereby continue to influence the functioning of the GABA receptors in the brain.
Eventually, with continued abuse of alcohol, the GABA receptors become overloaded with the amount of alcohol within the body’s system. This leads to one of the first signs of addiction in an individual: Tolerance.
As you become more tolerant to alcohol’s effects, you need more and more to acquire the calming effects it initially elicited.
The clear problem with this is that alcohol cannot be consumed indefinitely, eventually there will come a time when the individual cannot get the amount of alcohol they need in their body, at which point the GABA receptors cannot respond to the presence of GABA correctly.
The result is intense and violent panic.
Further to this, while you spent days, weeks, months or more on a spree, the brain learned to counterbalance the constant soporific effects of alcohol consummation by producing more adrenaline.
It is this massive overload of adrenaline combined with the panic inducing GABA mis-regulation that leads to the hell of alcoholic withdrawal as your body begins to detox.
If you or a loved one is attempting to come off alcohol, it is very important that detoxification isn’t attempted cold turkey without medical advice.
Alcoholic withdrawal can be highly distressing and can even kill (only alcohol, opioids and benzodiazepines can be fatal in withdrawal). Therefore it is important to follow the below steps in order to safely detox from alcohol.
- Do NOT stop cold turkey
If you have finally found an opportunity to stop, in the immediate instance you should not stop right away. This is the case even if you are a weekend binger.
Ceasing chronic alcohol us can be extremely dangerous for the reasons outlined above and can even be fatal.
Therefore, it is important to maintain your current intake of alcohol until medical advice has been sought. Once you have seen a medical professional, they can help you in advising whether you need hospitalization, medicated withdrawal, or you need to taper off slowly.
Tapering off carries other complications as, in the spirit of true alcoholism, there is no guarantee you can actually drink less, and it may just lead to drinking to drunkenness time and again. If this is the case, supervised withdrawal should be sought.
- Ascertain Your Severity Level
Again, this should be done with a medical professional, yet it is relatively simple to discover your severity level.
If you are a binge drinker and consume a great deal of alcohol non-stop from Thursday to Sunday, how you detox from alcohol depends on your age, sex and drinking history.
If you have suffered withdrawals before or have other mental health issues, it is recommended to seek medical advice as there could be complications, but generally binge drinkers can taper off with what is likely to be 2-4 very unpleasant days of withdrawal.
If you are a daily but not constant drinker (for example, every evening) it is important that whatever route is taken you are around others who can supervise your detoxification process.
A doctor may offer you a sedative with which to sleep, and despite not finding you have the same intensity of withdrawal as a binge drinker (likely because you could stay sober until after 17:00 o’clock) it can still be a dangerous process.
If you are a constant ‘top-up’ drinker it is highly advised that hospitalization should be sought via a medical professional.
If your alcoholism has progressed to the state of perennial drinking, coming off alcohol can be highly dangerous and needs to be managed correctly.
- Plan the immediate aftermath
You may have strived for years to remove drinking from your life, and there may be a great relief when you are free of the constant need to drink.
However, alcohol obviously forms a huge part of the alcoholic’s life and it will seem like there is a hole left inside you that alcohol once filled.
Further, alcohol is likely to have been a solution for several personal problems, whether they be fear, low self-esteem, past trauma, painful memories and so forth.
With the above in mind it is important to seek any available help in defining how you can learn to overcome, or at least accept problem areas in your life.
There are a number of options available with regard to this, with therapy, 12-step groups and recovery programmes available via healthcare on offer.