The Process of Withdrawal

Treating an alcohol addiction involves a number of steps, the first of which is a detox. During detox, the body goes into withdrawal. There is a lot of confusion surrounding withdrawal, and many prospective patients just don’t know what to expect. Dive headfirst into the process of withdrawal to learn what it is really all about.

What Causes Withdrawal?

On the most basic level, withdrawal is caused when individuals stop consuming alcohol. Of course, the withdrawal will only occur if these individuals are already addicted to the substance.

Withdrawal is best described as the collection of symptoms that is produced when the body starts to function without its choice of addictive substance. Once the body can no longer metabolize any alcohol or drugs, it can start to go haywire. While this might seem problematic, it is a necessary part of the recovery process.

The body and the brain have to learn to function without alcohol or drugs. In the time it takes for that to happen, withdrawal can be unpleasant. The brain is chemically wired to function with alcohol or drugs as a result of addiction. While the brain relearns sobriety, it can act out with uncomfortable symptoms and confusion.

Why is Withdrawal so Important?

If withdrawal is largely an unpleasant phase, why do people need to go through it at all? Withdrawal may not be desirable, but it is certainly necessary. In order to treat addiction in a meaningful way, patients have to be sober. To achieve sobriety, patients have to detox and go through withdrawal.

Patients who go through withdrawal are also making a commitment. This is a decision to end addiction once and for all. This step is powerful, and it can boost the chances of success. Patients who commit to withdrawal and detox in one fell swoop may be ultimately more successful than those who try tapering or cutting back over time.

What is important is getting through withdrawal. The discomfort and any possible pain are certainly not necessary. That’s why so many patients rely on resources offered by medical professionals that can mitigate discomfort.

When Does Withdrawal Begin?

The process of withdrawal typically starts about six to eight hours after the last drop of alcohol is consumed. That exact time, however, can depend on a number of different factors. Those who drink every few hours on a normal day might experience withdrawal sooner, while those who drink once a day will experience the onset later.

The beginning of the withdrawal is very mild, and symptoms might even be normal for those struggling with an alcohol addiction. After all, these same symptoms might kick in after a long night of sleep or even an eight-hour shift at work. Whenever it starts, patients should already be in a secure detox facility to ensure safety and comfort throughout the process.

How Long Does an Alcohol Withdrawal Last?

The duration of alcohol withdrawal is different for every patient. On average, however, the whole process will take just one week.

Symptoms of withdrawal can begin within hours, and they will gradually increase in intensity from there. The peak of withdrawal is usually anywhere from 48 to 72 hours into the process. After that, any discomfort will begin to decrease. By day five or six, symptoms should be largely gone.

The exact duration of withdrawal has a lot to do with the individual patient. Withdrawal may be longer for those who have been heavy drinkers for years or who drink excessive amounts of alcohol daily. It might also be longer for those with health conditions that add stress to the body.

In some cases, certain symptoms of withdrawal will reappear later. This is known as PAWS, or post acute withdrawal syndrome. This might crop up eight to ten weeks after the detox, and it is a minor hurdle on the way toward a lifetime of sobriety.

Is Detox Suitable for Everyone?

Since withdrawal is accompanied by symptoms, it begs the question of safety. Anyone who wants to recover from addiction needs to complete a withdrawal in a safe detox center. However, those with any kind of health concerns should never, ever attempt the process on their own.

In a detox or treatment facility, patients start the process with an intake assessment. This is a full physical examination, and it includes questions about mental health, addiction history, and family medical history. Through the intake assessment, patients can help create a plan for the safest possible detox.

Detox and withdrawal are suitable for everyone, but adjustments might have to be made. In extreme cases, patients might need to detox in a hospital setting. Having medical care available is key regardless of personal health or fitness.

What Withdrawal Symptoms Should Patients Expect?

Patients should expect to deal with a variety of withdrawal symptoms when detoxing from alcohol. While this can be uncomfortable, it is often very similar to a bad cold or a case of the flu.

The physical symptoms may include abdominal pain. Nausea and vomiting are possible. Some patients also sweat excessively and struggle to regulate their temperatures. Muscle aches, high blood pressure, high heart rates and tremors may be possible.

Symptoms typically go beyond just the physical. Feelings of depression and anxiety are common among many patients. Insomnia is also a frequently reported issue, as is general fatigue during the day. Mental confusion and grogginess are certainly possible.

Although these symptoms are likely, no patients have to experience the full gamut in a detox facility. That’s because detox and treatment centers provide resources to minimize discomfort. From IVs to battling dehydration to prescription medications, there are many safe ways to increase comfort during withdrawal.

Once Withdrawal is Over Is the Addiction Treated?

Once the process of withdrawal ends, there is still more work to do. Addiction to alcohol doesn’t end just because a person gets sober. The next steps might include getting mental health treatment, getting individual counseling or attending an inpatient rehab facility.

The process of withdrawal can be unpleasant at times, but this step of addiction treatment just can’t be skipped. Learning more about the process is a great way to prepare for it, whether you are planning a detox or you’re helping a loved one get sober.