Alcohol detox occurs when an alcoholic who has developed a strong physical tolerance to alcohol stops or dramatically reduces his alcohol consumption. Within twenty-four hours of his last drink, an alcoholic will experience fevers, tremors, high blood pressure and excessive perspiration. He will also experience gastric distress, characterized by nausea, vomiting, or diarrhea. He will appear agitated and restless, and will not be able to concentrate or form coherent thoughts. In its most severe form, alcohol detox will manifest itself with delirium tremens, in which the alcoholic can experience hallucinations and seizures.
These physical symptoms may last for two to seven days, after which the alcoholic will need to re-establish his regular metabolic processes. Alcohol detox typically causes secondary problems, including dehydration and malnutrition. At this stage, an alcoholic’s best option is to maintain a balanced diet and to consume liquids that can help to replace electrolytes that were excreted during the detox and withdrawal.
Alcohol detox symptoms may be worse for individuals who combine alcohol and other drugs. The effects of alcohol are tied into a person’s dopamine reward system, and the physical withdrawal symptoms are an element of the alcoholic’s brain being starved of dopamine. Other drugs will affect different neurotransmitters, even further confusing a brain that is cut off from its soothing elements. Medical personnel who are monitoring individuals who are going through an alcohol detox should remain aware of the possibility of simultaneous detox symptoms that may be caused by other substances. A detox and rehab center will generally take a full medical history of a patient when they check in to flag these possibilities.
An alcoholic who passes through a detox phase will not be cured of his alcoholism. Detox reduces the physical connections to alcohol but it does not alleviate the psychological cravings that will continue to affect an alcoholic, sometimes for the remainder of his life. Detox symptoms may be easier to recognize than these cravings. Alcoholics will generally have specific triggers that give rise to these cravings, including job or family stress, or relationship problems. A person who is living with an alcoholic who has gone through detox should familiarize himself with that alcoholic’s possible triggers. Counseling and therapy will give an alcoholic the tools he needs to counteract these triggers, but third party support from family and friends can be crucial to implement those tools.