Alcoholics often need alcohol detox in order to rid their bodies of the substance.
Unlike detox for other substances such as opioids, alcohol detox is a dangerous thing and can be fatal. The dependence a body develops on alcohol cannot be reversed quickly without side effects, so it is important that it is done under the watchfulness of a professional.
Many people that abuse alcohol do so on an irregular basis, and these people may not need detoxification. If a person can go a week in between binge drinking episodes, their body is probably not dependent on alcohol. But someone who drinks multiple drinks daily is very likely to have severe withdrawal symptoms, and should seek professional help.
When a person becomes dependent on alcohol, their brain shows an overall decrease in excitability. If that person would stop drinking, the brain receptors that were inhibited by alcohol are no longer affected, and the result is brain hyperexcitability, which is shown by tremors, seizures, anxiety, and irritability. Other symptoms of alcohol detox include hallucinations, shakes, and possible heart failure.
Medications for withdrawal symptoms
There are some medications that are commonly used to suppress alcohol withdrawal symptoms. These are benzodiazepines, such as Valium and Ativan, that are given to reduce unpleasant symptoms, and in some cases, save the life of the patient if delirium tremens occur. The thing physicians need to be careful about with benzodiazepines is that the alcoholic does not become addicted to the drugs.
There have been many hours and dollars put into developing new medications to help those struggling with alcoholism and alcohol detox. Baclofen has been shown to relieve severe withdrawal symptoms, and gabapentin and vigabatrin also have been used to improve withdrawal symptoms. While these drugs have been successfully used to treat other ailments, there is much research that will need to occur for these and any other medications before we know just how successful they will be to treat alcoholism.
Other medications can help a person stay sober, such as antabuse or naltrexone. Antabuse causes a strong, long lasting hangover immediately after consuming alcohol, which deters a person from drinking. Naltrexone is an antagonist for opioid receptors and it is used to decrease cravings for alcohol.
Once a person has gotten through the alcohol detox safely and is sober, it is important for the person to go through treatment for alcohol abuse. This may involve daily therapy to give them ways to deal with stress and the temptation to use alcohol. It may mean learning life skills to find a good job and hobbies that keep them busy and away from alcohol. Many people have found help in Alcoholics Anonymous and their 12 step program which emphasizes the importance of taking care of yourself and finding your inner strength. Whatever method a person chooses, staying sober will take much encouragement and support.
Bayard, Max Alcohol Withdrawal Syndrome
Getting Treatment for Alcohol Withdrawal Symptoms March 24, 2009