Alcohol Detox at Home

Alcohol Detox at Home | Recovery by the Sea

For those with an alcohol addiction, quitting for good can seem like an impossibility. Alcohol dependency results in highly unpleasant withdrawal symptoms and cravings upon cessation, and it is these effects that often compel would-be recoverers to relapse.

While staging an alcohol detox at home without medical supervision is not advised and in rare cases can be fatal, people do frequently choose this method. Those who, for whatever reason, must forego a clinical detox should be aware of the risks involved and under no circumstances should do it without someone else there in case of a medical emergency.

The Risks

Some people opt for an alcohol detox at home for comfort reasons. Keep in mind, however, that this “comfort” is often more psychological than physical. Moreover, physical comfort and safety are often better achieved with a clinical detox, as medications can be administered that alleviate many of the worst – and possibly life-threating – symptoms of withdrawal.

Unfortunately, there is much uncertainty associated with detox from alcohol. Relapse aside, there is also a very real possibility of severe depression, anxiety, and suicidal ideations. Finally, a condition known as Delirium Tremens (DTs) can occur. Symptoms include confusion, hallucinations, and seizures, and complications can ultimately result in death.

Preparation

If you do decide that detoxing at home is right for you, it’s critical that you do it safely. Here are some things to consider when undergoing an alcohol detox at home:

  • Remove all alcoholic beverages from your home – this may sound obvious, but it’s an essential first step when self-detoxing. Moreover, when you first begin experiencing withdrawal symptoms, you may not be able to control your cravings. It’s far better to avoid the temptation altogether.
  • Free up your schedule – For some, clearing one’s schedule for days or weeks may seem implausible, but it’s necessary for a detox to be successful. There will likely be benefits from taking time off work or school and relinquishing some responsibilities – at least temporarily – to focus on recovery.
  • Find support – Just because you’re undergoing an alcohol detox at home doesn’t mean you should suffer through it alone. Find a friend or family member who can keep you safe during the process and who can get help if withdrawal symptoms get too serious.

Nutrition and Hydration During Alcohol Detox

Alcohol Detox at Home | Recovery by the Sea

When your body is going through withdrawals, food will probably be the last thing on your mind. Alcohol withdrawal causes a wide variety of symptoms including fatigue, anxiety, depression, loss of appetite, nausea, and vomiting.

These symptoms typically last between 24-72 hours and may significantly curb your appetite.

Remember that these symptoms are normal, but make sure you drink plenty of fluids and stay hydrated during this time as it will help rid your body of toxins.

Water, juice, and broth are healthy choices during the early stages of withdrawal. Don’t forget, however, that eating healthy is an important part of your recovery because alcohol alters how your body breaks down and uses nutrients.

Once you can start eating again, it’s crucial to focus on consuming a healthy, balanced diet. Eat foods from all food groups in sufficient amounts to help meet your caloric needs. Eat as many fruits and vegetables as you can stand, but don’t neglect whole grains and lean protein.

Take Vitamin and Mineral Supplements

If you’ detox at a hospital or inpatient or outpatient addiction treatment center, you will usually be prescribed medications to help relieve withdrawal symptoms. At home, you won’t have that luxury. But there are vitamins and mineral supplements you can take, however, that can be beneficial and help remove toxins. Some of these include B vitamins, vitamin C, vitamin E, calcium, magnesium, and multivitamins.

Pros and Cons

Alcohol Detox at Home | Recovery by the Sea

Alcohol detox can be a hazardous process, which is why most medical professionals and addiction experts believe it is best handled in a reputable clinical environment.

Alcohol detoxification causes physical and emotional symptoms that can be severe, and in many cases, very challenging to suffer through without medical assistance.

While detoxing at home may seem like the best method financially, it’s also very risky. While an alcohol detox at home is most often discouraged by medical professionals, it can be done. If you opt to detox from alcohol at home, make sure you’re in a safe, alcohol-free environment and have access to support from family and/or friends who can help you get through it.

Please remember, if at any point the symptoms of alcohol withdrawal are too painful or severe, you should seek help from a medical professional immediately.

Treatment for Alcohol or Drug Addiction

If you are able to undergo a medical detox, this will be the first step in treatment for addiction. Those who detox at home should also strongly consider professional treatment following this process. Once the body has rid itself of toxins, those seeking a full recovery should seek participation in either an inpatient or outpatient environment that includes evidence-based approaches such as behavioral therapy, counseling, and group support.

Our programs are comprehensive, customized, and include medical and mental health staff who specialize in addiction. We can provide you with the tools and support you need to regain your life and enjoy longstanding sobriety, happiness, and wellness.

How Does Alcohol Affect the Brain?

How Does Alcohol Affect the Brain? | Recovery by the Sea

Short-term effects of alcohol use on the brain are evident – impaired people exhibit difficulty walking, slower reaction times, blurred vision, slurred speech, and memory problems. Some of these effects are identifiable after only a drink or two and rapidly abates once the drinking stops. But alcohol’s effect on the brain goes far beyond short-term manifestations.

Moreover, an individual who consumes an excessive amount of alcohol over an extended period of time may develop brain deficits that continue long after he or she becomes sober.

Researchers now know that heavy drinking can have extensive and longstanding effects on the brain, ranging from memory lapses to a permanent, debilitation condition that requires custodial or palliative care. In fact, even moderate drinking can result in temporary impairment.

Several factors influence how and to what degree alcohol impacts the brain, including the following:

  • How frequently and how much an individual drinks
  • The age that a person begins drinking, and the duration of regular drinking
  • The individual’s age, education level, gender, genetic profile, and family history of alcohol and drug use
  • If the person is at risk due to exposure to alcohol in utero
  • General health status and overall wellness

The following describes some common disorders associated with alcohol-related brain damage and the individuals at a heightened risk for impairment.

Blackouts and Memory Loss

How Does Alcohol Affect the Brain? | Recovery by the Sea

Alcohol use can lead to identifiable memory impairments after just a few drinks, and the extent of the impairment increases in correspondence with alcohol consumption. Large amounts of alcohol, particularly when drank rapidly and/or without food can result in a “blackout” – a period of time in which an intoxicated individual later cannot remember some of all events that transpired.

Blackouts are more common among social drinkers than once thought and can be a result of acute intoxication regardless of whether the consumer is dependent upon (or addicted to) alcohol.

In one study, nearly 800 college undergraduates were surveyed about their experiences with blackouts after a night of drinking. Of those who had ever drunk alcohol, more than half (51%) reported blacking out at some time in their lives, and 40% reported experiencing a blackout in the past year.

Among those who reported consuming alcohol in the two weeks before the survey, 9.4% stated they had a blackout during that time. The students said they learned later than they had engaged in potentially hazardous activities they could not remember including unprotected sex and drinking and driving.

Binge Drinking

Drinkers who experience blackouts generally consume too much alcohol too quickly, causing their blood alcohol concentration to increase rapidly. College students may be at an especially high risk for blackouts, considering a large number engage in binge drinking (defined as consuming four to five or more drinks in two hours for women and men, respectively.)

An equal number of women and men report experiencing blackouts, despite the fact that men tend to drink more often and more heavily. This fact implies that regardless of the amount consumed, women may be at a greater risk than men for experiencing blackouts.

A female’s propensity to black out more easily likely results from variations in how women and men metabolize alcohol. Women may also be more vulnerable than men to lesser forms of alcohol-related memory lapses or impairments, even when both sexes drink similar amounts of alcohol.

Are Women More Vulnerable?

How Does Alcohol Affect the Brain | Recovery by the Sea

Women are more susceptible to many of the physical and mental consequences of alcohol abuse. For example, women with alcoholism develop liver cirrhosis, alcohol-related heart disease, and nerve damage after fewer years of heavy alcohol consumption than do male drinkers. But what about brain damage?

In two studies, brain shrinkage (a common indicator of brain damage) was compared between alcoholic men and women and control subjects, and both revealed that drinkers had significantly greater shrinkage. Research has also shown that both women and men have comparable learning and memory impairments as a consequence of heavy alcohol consumption.

The main difference was that alcoholic females reported that they have been using alcohol excessively for only around half the time of the alcoholic males – suggesting that women’s brains, similar to other organs, may be more susceptible to alcohol-related damage than men’s.

Brain Damage via Other Causes

Individuals who have been consuming excessive amounts of alcohol for long intervals face the risk of developing severe and persistent brain changes – damage may be a consequence of alcohol’s direct effects or may result indirectly from poor health or liver disease.

Moreover, a deficiency in thiamine is a common result for individuals with alcoholism and results from poor nutrition. Thiamine (B1) is a key nutrient needed by all tissues, and the brain is no exception. Thiamine can be found in foods such as meat, whole grains, nuts, beans, and peas. In fact, many foods in the U.S. are often fortified with thiamine, such as bread and cereals. As a result, most people ingest a sufficient amount of thiamine.

Wernicke–Korsakoff Syndrome (WKS)

As many as 4 in 5 alcoholics, however, experience a thiamine deficiency, and some of these will eventually develop brain disorders such as Wernicke-Korsakoff syndrome (WKS.) WKS is a condition that includes two separate syndromes, a brief but severe disease known as Wernicke’s encephalopathy and a longstanding and debilitation conditions referred to as Korsakoff’s psychosis.

Wernicke’s encephalopathy symptoms include confusion, oculomotor disturbances (nerve paralysis of the eyes) and poor muscle coordination. For example, people with Wernicke’s may be too confused to navigate out of a room or may not even be able to walk.

A large percentage – around 80-90% – of alcoholics with Wernicke’s also develop Korsakoff’s psychosis, a long-term syndrome characterized by learning and memory impairments. People with Korsakoff’s are forgetful, easily frustrated, and have difficulty with coordination.

While these patients have trouble recalling old information, it is their difficulty in obtaining new information that is the most prominent. For example, these people may be able to discuss, in detail, an event earlier in their lives, but an hour later may not remember engaging in the conversation.

Liver Disease

How Does Alcohol Affect the Brain? | Recovery by the Sea

A relatively unknown consequence of liver dysfunction (e.g., cirrhosis) is damage to the brain. This damage can result in a severe and potentially fatal brain disorder referred to as hepatic encephalopathy, a condition that can cause altered sleep patterns, mood, and personality, in addition to anxiety and depression, shortened attention plan, and problems with coordination.

Researchers have studied the brain regions of patients with alcoholic liver disease and found that at least two toxic byproducts, manganese and ammonia, play a role in the development of hepatic encephalopathy. Liver cells damaged by alcohol use permit an excessive amount of these harmful substances to enter the brain and damage brain cells.

Treatment for Alcoholism

The best way to prevent alcohol-related brain damage, whether short- or long-term, is to stop drinking and participate in our evidence-based treatment program. Our center offers comprehensive, evidence-based therapies and counseling in both inpatient and outpatient formats.

Our professional staff specialize in addiction and can provide our patients with the tools they need to succeed at recovery and sustain long standing wellness and sobriety. Recovery from addiction is a lifelong process, but you don’t have to do it alone. With our help, you regain your sanity and enjoy the happy and fulfilling life you deserve.

Alcohol Dependence

Alcohol Dependence | Recovery by the Sea

Alcohol dependence, also referred to as alcoholism, is the most serious type of drinking problem. While there is no definitive number of drinks per day that is characteristic of alcohol dependence, health experts have designated a limit above which the risks of alcohol consumption increase markedly.

Alcoholism is relatively common, and in the U.S., it is estimated that about 1 in 16 develop a severe problem with drinking, and millions more engage in alcohol consumption that is considered “risky” by medical experts. A recent analysis showed that nearly one-third (30%) of U.S. residents reported experiencing an alcohol use disorder (AUD) at one point in their lives.

Key characteristics of alcohol dependence including the following:

Tolerance

Tolerance is a condition defined as the need to drink more alcohol than before to achieve the same effect, or the ability to drink more than others without getting as intoxicated. The development of tolerance often compels the drinker to consume increasing amounts and thus, significantly raises the risk of many alcohol-related problems, such as disease, injury, legal and financial issues, relationship conflicts, and overdose (alcohol poisoning.)

Withdrawal Symptoms

Alcohol Dependence | Recovery by the Sea

Someone with alcohol dependence, by definition, has come to rely on alcohol use psychologically, physically, and emotionally. Withdrawals occur when a regular alcohol user tries to cut back or quit drinking altogether. Over time, the brain becomes accustomed to alcohol’s presence, and when the drinker reduces or halts intake, the body’s adapted environment is altered dramatically, thus resulting in withdrawal symptoms.

Such symptoms include anxiety, depression, sweating, tremors and shakiness, insomnia, nausea and vomiting, and in serious cases, seizures, confusion, and hallucinations. Rarely, the effects of alcohol withdrawal syndrome can be lethal.

Other characteristics of alcohol dependence include:

  • The desire to stop drinking, but finding oneself unable to do so.
  • A loss of control over the amount of alcohol consumed.
  • A preoccupation with obtaining alcohol and drinking.
  • The neglect of other life activities, hobbies, and responsibilities.
  • Ignoring problems related to alcohol use, even those that are very obvious.

Alcohol Dependence: Adverse Effects in Every Aspect of Life

Alcoholism is associated with numerous psychological, interpersonal/social, economic, legal, and medical difficulties. Overuse increases the risk of depression and suicide and is related to violence such as homicide, assault, and domestic abuse. It also causes traffic accidents and personal injury (e.g., falls) and unsafe or criminal sexual behavior, resulting in pregnancy, STDs, or sexual assault.

Alcohol Dependence | Recovery by the Sea

Dependence on alcohol also increases the risk of liver disease, cirrhosis, heart disease, stroke, brain damage, pancreatitis, and several types of cancer.

Pregnant women who drink run of the risk of giving birth to a child with fetal alcohol syndrome, a long-lasting condition characterized by facial deformities and a host of physical, mental and emotional defects and impairments.

Contributing Factors

Problems related to alcohol use develop from a combination of biological and environmental influences.

Biology – People who drink and have a family history of using alcohol or drugs, such as opioids, are at a heightened risk for developing an addiction themselves. For example, a child who has a parent who is dependent on alcohol is has a four-times greater risk of developing their own dependency.

This is due in part to inherited genes that increase susceptibility, and frequently, alcohol is also used to self-medicate for underlying mental health conditions, such as depression, anxiety, or childhood trauma.

Environment – The experience of watching parents engage in alcohol use and the corresponding negative effects that it produces mentally and emotionally may contribute to the desire to use alcohol abusively oneself. Alcohol may also be a large (and often destructive) part of a person’s peer group and a person may use alcohol themselves to fit in or attempt to cope and get relief from stress.

Symptoms

Alcohol dependence can result in any of the following behavioral symptoms:

  • Experiencing long periods of intoxication
  • Drinking by oneself
  • Experiencing work or financial problems related to drinking
  • Carelessness about personal appearance/hygiene
  • Experiencing blackouts/memory loss
  • Drunk driving
  • Hurting oneself or someone else during intoxication
  • Hiding alcohol containers to conceal evidence of drinking
  • Exhibiting mood and personality changes

Alcohol dependence can result in any of the following physical symptoms:

  • Nausea or shaking upon waking
  • Malnutrition due to a poor diet
  • Abdominal pain, vomiting or diarrhea
  • Flushed face and palms
  • Numbness, weakness or tingling in the extremities
  • Frequent accidental injuries – particularly falls

Alcohol Dependence: A Real Life Case Study

Alcohol Dependence | Recovery by the Sea

Melissa is a 45-year-old whose parents were both heavy alcohol users and she witnessed them drinking as she was growing up. At the age of 13, her mother allowed her to have two beers – she enjoyed the feeling and never forgot it.

As a young adult, she abused alcohol occasionally at parties, clubs, and bars. In her late 20’s, she became a heavy wine drinker and started having blackouts. Around 30, she was diagnosed with depression and was put on antidepressants, but continued drinking to excess.

At age 35, she was arrested for a DUI. She was put on probation but continued to drink whenever she could. For the next ten years, she remained a “high-functioning” alcoholic, held down a job, and got a graduate degree.

At age 45, her addiction progressed to the point in which she was no longer capable of functioning. She stopped working and started drinking non-stop for several weeks. Eventually, she was able to enter a rehab program where she got clean and began to maintain a sober lifestyle.

Diagnosis

Although alcohol use disorder is quite common, only a small percentage of people identify the problem and seek help. For this reason, screening for alcoholism by health providers, friends, and family is to recognize and help those suffering.

The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA) recommends that primary care providers ask a very simple, but specific questions, including the following:

How many times in the past year have you consumed:

Five or more drinks in a day? (Men)
Four or more drinks in a day? (Women)

The objective in asking this question is to get a sense of whether or not the patient is at risk for incurring alcohol-related conditions. The recommended limits for men and women differ due to discrepancies in how alcohol is absorbed and processed by the body. Therefore, the risk increases for men who consume more than four drinks per day (or more than 14 per week) and women who consume more than three drinks per day (or 7 drinks per week.)

Of note, people who consume more alcohol than they should often feel defensive about their drinking and do so in secret, or minimize the problem. There is also a societal stigma attached to alcoholism, so it is very common for alcoholism to go unaddressed.

The CAGE test (an acronym for CUT DOWN, ANNOYED, GUILTY, AND EYE OPENER) may also be helpful, and questions may be easier for concerned loved ones to ask, since alcohol dependents may be hesitant to truthfully answer questions about quantity.

These questions include the following:

  • Do you ever worry that you should CUT down on your drinking?
  • Do you ever feel ANNOYED because other people have criticized your drinking habits?
  • Do you ever feel GUILTY about drinking?
  • Do you need a morning EYE OPENER drink to calm your nerves or to fight off a hangover?

Treatment for Alcohol Dependence

Alcohol dependence is a devastating and potentially life-threating condition that adversely affects the life of the person suffering as well those close to him or her. Treatment requires a full detox in a medical setting followed long-term intensive therapy in either an inpatient or intensive outpatient treatment program.

Our center offers a comprehensive approach that includes behavioral therapy, individual and group therapy, family counseling, and complementary practices such as yoga, meditation, and art and music therapy. After discharge, former patients can take advantage of our aftercare planning services, which identify local resources such as therapists, counselors, and 12-step meetings for ongoing treatment and support.

Recovery from alcohol addiction is a lifelong process but you don’t have to do it alone. We can provide you with the tools you need to maintain long-lasting sobriety and regain the life, health, and wellness that you deserve.

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