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What is the Best Way to Treat Alcohol Withdrawal?

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what is the best way to treat alcohol withdrawal

If you drink a lot of alcohol for several weeks, months, or years in a row, you may be both physically and mentally addicted to it. Alcoholism is a dangerous condition that affects the way you think, feel, and behave. Without treatment, addiction to alcohol can have devastating effects on your physical and emotional health.

Unfortunately, many people are scared to stop drinking because they know what will happen when they quit: they will go into withdrawal. Alcohol withdrawal is not only painful, but it can be life-threatening. People struggling with alcoholism often delay seeking treatment because they don’t want to go through the detoxification process, but there are effective treatments available.

Alcohol Withdrawal Symptoms

Alcohol has a depressant effect on the system, slowing down breathing, respiration, and more. It also changes the way your brain and nerves send signals to each other. After prolonged alcohol abuse, your body adjusts to having to work harder to compensate for the depressant effects of alcohol. Then when the amount of alcohol in your system suddenly drops, your brain stays in an overactive state, resulting in undesirable symptoms of withdrawal.

Alcohol withdrawal symptoms may begin as soon as six hours after your last drink and can last for a week or more. Symptoms of alcohol withdrawal include:[1]

  • Anxiety
  • Headache
  • Trembling
  • Shaky hands
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Sweating
  • Insomnia
  • Hallucinations
  • Seizures
  • Confusion
  • Increased heartbeat
  • High blood pressure
  • Fever

Never Detox From Alcohol Alone

Detoxing from alcohol at home or without professional help can be dangerous. If symptoms such as seizures or hallucinations appear, your condition could become severe, and you may not have the capacity to seek help for yourself. It’s important to get help before advanced symptoms have the opportunity to appear.

The most severe form of alcohol withdrawal, known as delirium tremens or DTs, is characterized by extreme confusion, hyperactivity, and cardiovascular emergencies. While DTs only occur in 3-5% of people who have an alcohol use disorder, they are fatal in approximately 37% of cases that do not receive treatment.[2]

How to Treat Alcohol Withdrawal

The best way to treat alcohol withdrawal is with medical support. Alcohol detox centers can prescribe medications, monitor your symptoms, and help you achieve maximum symptom relief. Treatment begins with an evaluation to assess your drinking history and medical history so a custom treatment plan can be created based on your needs.

Medication: Benzodiazepines and Beyond

Medications can effectively reduce the severity of alcohol withdrawal and prevent complications like seizures. Benzodiazepines have the best track record for treating alcohol withdrawal, followed by anticonvulsants and barbiturates. Benzodiazepines are a class of central nervous system depressants that affect many of the same receptors as alcohol does.

During alcohol detox, doctors typically prescribe a long-acting benzodiazepine such as Valium (diazepam) or Librium (chlordiazepoxide) to treat symptoms of acute alcohol withdrawal. The dose provided is usually highest on the first 1-3 days, then the dose will slowly be reduced, allowing the body to gradually adjust to the changes it is experiencing.[3] A gradual dose reduction is a method known as tapering. Tapering can prevent many symptoms of alcohol withdrawal, prevent seizures, hallucinations, and DTs, and provide comfort to those starting their recovery journey. Benzodiazepines can also reduce anxiety and promote restful sleep.

If benzodiazepines alone are insufficient in managing symptoms, barbiturates such as phenobarbital or other anticonvulsants may be administered.

Medical Stabilization

Alcohol withdrawal symptoms can change unexpectedly, so it’s important to receive medical support for the duration of your symptoms. Throughout detox, doctors, nurses, and support staff will monitor your vitals and observe your symptoms to ensure your safety.

Depending on your situation, you may also be given vitamins or supplements to promote optimal physical and mental health.

Self-Soothing Techniques

While medications and medical care are the best ways to treat alcohol withdrawal, it is also helpful to practice self-soothing techniques and proper self-care. The following tips will help you be successful during detox.

  • Staying in a quiet place with soft lighting
  • Eating healthy food and drinking plenty of liquids
  • Getting some light exercise if you feel up to it
  • Getting plenty of quality sleep
  • Talking to loved ones or a support group
  • Relaxation techniques such as yoga or meditation
  • Write in a journal or read a book to keep your mind busy
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Get The Care You Need and Deserve

Woburn Wellness Addiction Treatment is a leader in the addiction treatment field, with proven success in facilitating long-term recovery. Our team of top clinical & medical experts specializes in treating addiction coupled with mental illness, ensuring that each person receives individualized care. Call us – we’re available 24/day, 7 days/week.

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Find an Alcohol Detox Center in Massachusetts Today

If you or a loved one are struggling with alcoholism, you’ve found yourself in the right place. Woburn Wellness offers several evidence-based alcohol rehab programs that can provide you with the tools necessary to achieve and maintain sobriety. Before starting one of our programs, we’ll help you locate the best alcohol detox center for you, so you can detox safely and prepare for your recovery journey. Don’t wait any longer to get the help you need. Call today to get started.

References:

  1. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6761824/
  2. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK482134/
  3. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4085800/
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Medically Reviewed By

Inessa Maloney, MS, LMHC Clinical Director
Learn about Inessa Maloney

Inessa Maloney, MS, LMHC has been dedicated to the mental health and substance abuse field for a decade, providing her expertise to guarantee quality and accuracy.

  • Specializes in outpatient services with a focus on substance abuse
  • Expertise in reality-based therapy, CBT/DBT, and motivational interviewing
  • Holds a Master’s Degree in Professional Counseling
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