Before a client can start an alcohol rehab program, they need to be free from the influence of chemicals.
Detoxification (detox) is the process where they safely withdraw from alcohol. This is the first step in the recovery process. Once completed, clients can focus on their treatment and goals for an alcohol-free life.
What is Medical Alcohol Detox?
A medical alcohol detox is an inpatient detox program supervised by medical personnel. A physical exam and a health history are conducted to assess clients’ physical and mental wellbeing on admission to the detox center.
Specially-trained nurses monitor clients’ physical and mental states during the detox process. If necessary, medications are provided to treat alcohol withdrawal symptoms. The nurses can also provide non-medicinal comfort measures and advice to clients about coping with their symptoms during detox.
Therapists also work with clients to provide support during medical alcohol detox. Introducing a client to a therapist at this stage allows the two of them to start building trust, which is the foundation for a successful relationship once alcohol rehab starts.
Who Can Benefit from this Process?
Clients who can benefit most from medical alcohol detox have one or more of the following characteristics:
- History of high alcohol consumption
- Has attempted to stop drinking before, without success
- Has undergone detox more than once previously
- Has a history of severe withdrawal symptoms or DTs (delirium tremens)
- Takes other substances along with alcohol
- Lives with an acute illness
- Has a chronic health condition that is not being well controlled (diabetes, congestive heart failure, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, etc.)
- Is living with a mental illness (dual diagnosis)
- Doesn’t have a reliable support network
Alcohol Withdrawal Syndrome
When someone consumes significant amounts of alcohol for more than two weeks and then stops drinking, they will likely experience withdrawal symptoms. These symptoms will probably start to occur between six and 24 hours after consumption of the last alcohol drink.
Alcohol withdrawal affects the body’s autonomic nervous system, central nervous system and cognitive function. The autonomic nervous system is responsible for functions that occur automatically (breathing, heart rate and digestion). The central nervous system is the brain and spinal cord. Cognitive function refers to reason, paying attention, memory, and language ability.
If someone stops or cuts back on their alcohol consumption and has two or more of the following symptoms, they are experiencing Alcohol Withdrawal Syndrome (AWS):
- Hallucinations (auditory, tactile or visual)
- Rapid Heart Rate
Three Stages of AWS
There are three stages of AWS. During the first stage, symptoms are mild and include anxiety, headache, stomach disturbances, heart palpitations, and hand tremors.
A client’s condition can change to Stage 2 (moderate) without warning. Symptoms at Stage 2 include confusion, high blood pressure, irregular heart rate, and fever. At this point, appropriate medical care is needed to treat the symptoms to avoid moving to Stage 3 (Delirium Tremens).
Someone experiencing DTs (Delirium Tremens) is disoriented. They may be experiencing visual as well as auditory hallucinations, having difficulty paying attention to medical staff who are asking questions or giving instructions, and experiencing seizures.
Advantages of Medical Alcohol Detox
There are a number of advantages for clients who enter a medical alcohol detox program.
- Medical alcohol detox occurs in a safe, non-judgmental environment.
Clients are supported in their decision to detox from alcohol by compassionate staff who will provide help and support on an individualized basis.
- Medications are given to keep clients as comfortable as possible.
There is no need to fear going to detox because medical staff have a number of options available to keep clients comfortable during detoxification. The medical staff will monitor clients’ conditions to attempt to avoid seizures and other serious withdrawal symptoms.
- Clients meet with a therapist during this stage.
Working with a therapist when entering detox gives clients a head start on the work involved in treating their alcohol addiction. The client can move seamlessly into the alcohol rehab stage of their program once they complete detox.