What Happens to Your Body When You Detox from Alcohol?

One of the most common questions people have when they are ready to seek help for their addictions is, “what happens to your body when you detox from alcohol?”

To start off, let’s discuss the difference between alcohol withdrawal and alcohol detox. Often, we use the two words interchangeably, which shines a light on the prevalence of the stigma of addiction. The difference is that Detox is a process of eliminating toxins (in this case alcohol) from the body, whereas withdrawal is a “syndrome of often painful physical and psychological symptoms” that occurs when a person discontinues a regularly used substance.

Symptoms of withdrawal include:

  • Irritability
  • Anxiety
  • Depression
  • Extreme fatigue
  • Sweating
  • Vomiting
  • Nausea
  • Rapid heart rate
  • Dehydration
  • Tremors
  • Seizures

In some cases of withdrawal, especially when alcohol or opioids are involved, death can occur if not handled and treated properly.

Medical detox is a medically supervised set of interventions in a safe, supervised environment where individuals experience withdrawal from substances they chronically use. It is managed by special protocols to help minimize the physical harm caused by the substances.

The goals of detox are:

  1. “To provide a safe withdrawal from the drug(s) of dependence and enable the [individual] to become drug free.”
  2. “To provide a withdrawal that is humane and protects the dignity of the individual”,
  3. And “to prepare the patient for ongoing treatment”. [Source]

What Happens to your body when you detox from alcohol?

  1. The first 6 – 12 Hours After Last Drink

The first few hours of detoxing from alcohol involve minor withdrawal symptoms. This can be a very uncomfortable experience involving mild anxiety, diaphoresis (excessive sweating), palpitations, nausea, vomiting, tremors and headaches. Alcohol withdrawal symptoms can vary depending on the amount of alcohol consumed and the duration of drinking episodes.

  1. 12 – 24 Hours After Last Drink

Alcoholic Hallucinosis can occur during this time. Alcoholic Hallucinosis is a complication of cessation from heavy drinking that most often includes auditory hallucinations which can seem threatening, as well as delusions and mood disturbances.

  1. 24 – 48 Hours After Last Drink

After 1 – 2 days generalized tonic-clonic (formerly grand mal) seizures can occur. This type of seizure is most commonly associated with epilepsy and affects the entire brain. This is the most dramatic component of alcohol withdrawal syndrome.

  1. 48 – 72 Hours After Last Drink

During this time delirium can set in. Visual hallucinations, disorientation, tachycardia (rapid resting heart rate), hypertension, low-grade fever, agitation and diaphoresis (excessive sweating) are most commonly present during this time.

Other Symptoms

What makes withdrawal dangerous to go through without medical support is delirium tremens. This is a very severe form of alcohol withdrawal that can progress to cardiovascular collapse and death if not treated properly and safely.

While in Detox

If you are in a facility like Sunshine Coast Health Centre, your time in Detox is monitored and treated by nursing staff who will care for your physical and mental health throughout your withdrawal to make you as comfortable as possible. Our nurses follow guidelines (also known as withdrawal protocols) to monitor your vital signs and ensure your withdrawal from alcohol is proceeding safely.

Detox is not a cure for addiction and therapy and additional treatment are highly recommended following alcohol detox. Everyone experiences withdrawal from alcohol differently, so treating physical withdrawal symptoms in a detox facility like ours will make the transition to treating your addiction to alcohol easier.

For more information about our detox program visit www.sunshinecoasthealthcentre.ca/detox/ or call 1.866.487.9010.

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