How Long Does It Take To Detox From Alcohol And Get Past Alcohol Withdrawal?
The alcohol detox timeline for alcohol withdrawal symptoms will look different for different people, depending on factors such as their overall health, age, alcohol consumption, and for how long they have engaged in alcohol abuse. The detox process for alcohol dependence must be customized for each individual.
For someone who quits alcohol cold turkey, a specialized alcohol detoxification program at a detox center can help to manage severe alcohol withdrawal symptoms.
Severe symptoms relating to delirium tremens are rare, but can be life-threatening. A good detox program will provide medical care and nutritional support to protect the patient from the dangers of alcohol withdrawal syndrome.
For many heavy drinkers with a high level of alcohol intake, physical symptoms will start with at least mild symptoms at around eight hours after stopping drinking alcohol. The symptoms of acute alcohol withdrawal will worsen over the next few days, reaching a peak at about 72 hours.
Over the next few days, beyond the peak of severe withdrawal symptoms and alcohol craving, the symptoms of acute withdrawal will begin to gradually subside. During a medical detox, vital signs, including blood pressure, are monitored, and the patient is observed for signs of dangerous reactions, such as delirium tremens.
Quitting drinking after years of alcohol dependency is often best managed in a medically supervised detox. The alcohol detox program provided in a treatment facility will offer the safest environment for the patient. The program may last at least a week to help the patient get through the most dangerous time period after quitting alcohol.
After attending an alcohol detox center, the patient may then move on to alcohol rehab for long-term care, including group therapy and other therapeutic options. Some rehab programs provide a variety of activities, including art, equine therapy with horses, massage, and more.
What is post acute withdrawal syndrome (PAWS)?
Addiction treatment for alcohol addiction may start with a detox program to address withdrawal symptom issues, but the treatment process is ongoing. In addition to addressing underlying mental health issues, the treatment provider must also help their patients with long-term symptoms that may arise weeks, months, and even years after quitting alcohol.
Other forms of substance abuse other than alcoholism also share the issue of post acute withdrawal syndrome, which is the name given to long-term symptoms. PAWS symptoms can peak at six months for some people, making relapse a serious danger.
Some symptoms to look out for include fatigue, stress, insomnia, depression, anxiety, and even alcohol cravings. Some experts refer to the cravings that can occur months after quitting alcohol as the alcohol deprivation effect.
Fortunately, there are alternatives to rapid alcohol detox and rehab that can minimize or even eliminate many of the alcohol withdrawal symptoms, including post acute withdrawal symptoms. Many of the issues faced by the alcoholic quitting drinking cold turkey are related to the sudden removal of alcohol from their system.
Is it possible to do alcohol withdrawal treatment at home?
The detox process can be managed at home in some cases. The patient must be carefully managed by a private doctor who is available throughout the alcohol detox timeline to provide guidance.
It is also helpful to have a loved one nearby to help assist the patient with administering medical treatment and to get help if alcohol withdrawal symptoms become severe, requiring a visit to the hospital. With the right circumstances, it is possible to skip the alcohol detox center altogether.
Another option is to avoid quitting cold turkey, using medical treatment to quit alcohol gradually. The key is to use a process known as pharmacological extinction to train the brain to lose interest in alcohol.
For many people, this is one of the best ways to quit drinking. The process is known commonly as The Sinclair Method.
What is the Sinclair Method, and how does it alter the quitting alcohol timeline?
The Sinclair Method (TSM) involves a doctor prescribing the medication, naltrexone, to their patient with special instructions. When the patient plans to have a drink, they are instructed to take a naltrexone tablet one hour before consuming the drink.
That is TSM in a nutshell. Of course, patients will have many questions, and there are also additional details to cover, so it is important that the doctor providing TSM have extensive experience, working with patients who have successfully used TSM to reduce drinking or quit drinking.
The quitting drinking timeline is significantly altered with TSM, because there is no abrupt removal of alcohol from the body. The severe alcohol withdrawal symptoms simply never occur because there is not a sudden withdrawal of alcohol from the system.
Additionally, the post acute withdrawal syndrome and alcohol deprivation syndrome are either not a problem or far less of a problem. This is because the process of reducing alcohol consumption occurs over a long time period.
In addition to the benefits of a gradual taper of alcohol intake, each time the patient consumes alcohol after taking naltrexone, they are further removing the habit of obsessing over alcohol from their brain. The compulsion to keep drinking is also reduced, so it is much easier for alcoholics to stop at one or two drinks.
Are there new treatments on the horizon for treating alcohol abuse?
A hot topic in the area of treating alcohol misuse as well as drug addiction is the use of psychedelic therapy. The process involves using a psycehdelic drug, also known as a hallucinogen, for what is known as psychedelic assisted therapy.
The psychedelic substances that have been investigated for treating alcohol dependence include the psilocybin mushroom, ketamine, ibogaine, LSD and others, including the ibogaine derivative, 18-MC. Yet, studies are not providing their subjects with actual magic mushrooms to chew on. Most often, the psychedelic substance is a synthetic powder, placed inside of a capsule to be swallowed with water.
How does the psychedelic experience help to overcome alcoholism?
It is still very early in the research of these protocols of using a psychedelic drug to help a person stop drinking, but results so far are promising. Scientists are not completely certain why the therapy works.
To some degree, the substances have effects on the brain even when microdosed, at level below what would induce a full psychedelic experience. However, it appears that the altered perception of reality and the big picture perspective provided during a guided psychedelic session helps the process significantly.
Experts believe that psychedelic treatment in a clinical setting can provide very long-lasting results. For example, someone with major depression might have significant relief from their depression for months, and even years after psychedelic assisted psychotherapy.
It is important for people to understand that psychedelic medicine is still in its infancy. Early studies for mental illness, alcoholism, opioid addiction, and other conditions are being looked at, but these therapies are not at all approved yet for use.
In fact, drugs such as ibogaine, ayahuasca, MDMA, and LSD (lysergic acid diethylamide) are illegal for now, except for use in clinical studies. Also important is the fact that use of these substances is highly dangerous without being monitored in the appropriate clinical setting.
Is Alcoholics Anonymous helpful in getting through early addiction recovery?
Typically, an article like this on an alcohol recovery blog might cover the topic of the AA program earlier, before discussing medication-assisted treatment protocols, such as TSM, or upcoming therapies, such as psychedelics.
While AA membership can provide positive support for many people in recovery from alcohol addiction, there are people who find that going to an AA meeting makes them feel worse and may put them at higher risk for resuming their drinking problem.
The primary purpose of being an AA member in the AA tradition is for a person to hand over their will to a higher power. Then, entrusting their care to their higher power, they may then work the steps of AA with their sponsor.
The AA program is primarily a program of complete abstinence from alcohol, must like the Narcotics Anonymous program is similarly focused on complete abstinence from all mind or mood altering substances.
Generally, an AA group would likely frown upon the Sinclair Method, which involves the recovering alcoholic continuing to consume alcohol. Still, even people who follow TSM often get to a point where they no longer choose to drink, and they may enjoy the support that comes from being in the fellowship.
Currently, many support groups are not meeting in person due to COVID-19. Going to a meeting these days usually means an online meeting.
If you are interested in learning more about the the AA program, you might consider purchasing the Big Book of AA. There are also various AA-related books containing daily reflections that can be a great way to start your day with a spiritual message.
Many people who go to AA to maintain their sobriety started out by going to meetings while in a treatment center. After attending a motivating speaker meeting while in rehab, a person may be highly motivated to continue going to meetings.
What is the timeline for quitting drinking for occasional binge drinkers?
People who go out on an occasional heavy night of drinking are sometimes referred to as “gray area drinkers.” While they may not feel that they reach the level of full alcoholism, they are concerned about how much they drink on the occasion that they do go out and drink.
The detox process for quitting alcohol for a binge drinker all depends on the level of excessive drinking and the drinker. If a person engages in extreme binge drinking every single weekend for years, the detox may be very similar to that of anyone else with alcohol use disorder.
Even an occasional binge drinking episode can be dangerous. Heavy drinking can lead to alcohol poisoning, which often ends tragically.
Binge drinking is a major problem for young adults going away to college. Underage drinking and excessive alcohol consumption is an issue that must be addressed on many college campuses.
In addition to the risk of alcohol overdose, there is also the risk of risky behavior with frequent binge drinkers. Occasional binge drinking can also develop into a serious drinking habit over time.
Fortunately, naltrexone treatment works very well for the gray area drinker and for binge drinking. College students who do not want to experience negative consequences associated with being an occasional heavy drinker may want to ask the campus health center about obtaining a prescription and instructions on how to use naltrexone.
Using the harm reduction method of pharmacological extinction with naltrexone, binge drinkers can reduce their alcohol consumption dramatically in a short time. Then, they can make the decision if they are going to quit drinking altogether or simply keep their alcohol intake to a minimum.
What is the timeline for being cured of alcoholism?
There is an excellent book out on the topic of the Sinclair Method, named “The Cure For Alcoholism.” While the book is very good, the title could be a bit less sensational.
Is there really a cure for alcoholism? Can someone who has no control over alcoholic drinks eventually get to a point where they can engage in moderate drinking without ongoing medical treatment?
The fact is that alcoholism, or alcohol use disorder, is a chronic condition that is generally believed to be incurable. What is meant by the title of that book is that alcohol intake can be controlled with continued medical treatment.
A person who follows TSM can choose to give up alcohol completely, or they may choose to continue with occasional moderate drinking, while still always taking their medication before having a drink. Unfortunately, there is likely no point where a person can resume moderate drinking without taking the medication.
Eventually, their alcoholism would return, leading them back to excessive drinking and problems related to heavy alcohol intake. Hence, the timeline for the cure for alcoholism is indefinite for now. Hopefully, future treatments will address the issue and possibly lead to a true and definitive cure for alcoholism.