In spite of its widespread acceptance in society, the effects of alcohol can place more than a few people at risk of developing abuse and addiction problems. As of 2007, an estimated 18 million Americans, 12 years old and up struggled with an alcohol abuse disorder, according to the University of New Mexico.
Alcohol abuse can have any number of effects within a person’s life, affecting his or her work performance, damaging relationships with loved ones as well as causing considerable decline in health and overall function. Alcohol detox marks the first step towards overcoming alcohol’s hold over a person’s life.
Alcohol detox programs offer a range of treatment interventions designed to help drinkers break the body’s physical dependence on alcohol. Treatment interventions also address the psychological effects of alcohol and provide a person with the types of coping skills needed to continue on in the recovery process.
The need for alcohol detox becomes especially crucial in cases of chronic drinking, as long-term alcohol abuse tends to have a cumulative effect on a person’s overall well-being. For this reason, alcohol detox programs offer medication therapies to give long-term drinkers the best chance of a successful recovery.
Alcohol Abuse Disorder
Much like the different levels of drug addiction, alcohol abuse disorders can take various forms. From the frequent drinker, to the binge drinker, to the chronic drinker, alcohol abuse disorders can evolve from one state to another.
For people most susceptible to alcohol abuse, the effects of alcohol take a toll on the brain’s ability to function normally, especially in cases where a physically dependency is at work. In the process, the body’s structures and systems start to break down from alcohol’s deteriorating effects.
According to the U. S. National Library of Medicine, alcohol detox treatment helps ease a person through the uncomfortable withdrawal effects that develop during the detox process.
Signs of Alcohol Abuse
Alcohol abuse accounts for the highest number of treatment admissions compared to other types of addictive substances. According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, 41 percent of all admissions to drug treatment programs involve an alcohol-related problem.
Signs of alcohol abuse tend to follow a set pattern, with certain signs becoming more prominent than others in different people’s lives. Signs of alcohol abuse may include:
- Strong cravings – the longer a person continues using alcohol the stronger his or her cravings become.
- Consuming larger quantities – the more a person drinks the more dependent the brain becomes on alcohol’s effects. This quickly turns into a vicious cycle, as the brain requires increasing larger quantities of alcohol to function normally.
- Withdrawal effects – withdrawal effects develop whenever needed amounts of alcohol are lacking. Someone who experiences withdrawal effects on a frequent basis has developed a physical dependency on alcohol’s effects. Withdrawal effects may take the form of:
- Frequent mood swings
- Feelings of sadness and hopelessness
- Bouts of anxiety
- Excess sweating
- Inability to control intake amounts – a person will continue drinking regardless of the negative consequences that result. Negative consequences may take the form of:
- Relationship problems
- Problems at work
- Financial problems
- Poor health
Alcohol addiction treatment in general has a favorable success rate, though only one out of every 36 people needing treatment actually get help, according to the Florida Institute of Technology. The treatment planning process plays a pivotal role in determining success outcomes since this stage lays out the types of interventions used during the course of treatment.
With alcohol detox, the overall treatment plan is based on a comprehensive evaluation process. The evaluation identifies any areas in a person’s life that may contribute to alcohol abuse behaviors. Areas examined include:
- Medical history
- Mental health history
- Family mental health history
- Past history of alcohol or drug use
- Existing medical and psychological condition
Alcohol’s effects on brain chemical processes skew a person’s reasoning and decision-making abilities. In effect, ongoing alcohol abuse creates a diseased environment within the brain, an environment that develops an increasing dependency on alcohol’s effects.
Considering the condition many people are in, alcohol detox programs help a person develop and maintain the motivation to succeed in treatment. Interventions used include:
- 12-Step support groups
- Group counseling
- Daily exercise
- Extracurricular activities
As cravings and withdrawal effects tend to make the detox process seem longer than it is, helping those in recovery stay busy throughout the day goes a long way towards helping the process along.
As alcohol abuse disorders can vary in severity, the intensity of withdrawal symptoms a person experiences can range from mild to severe. As with any addiction, more oftentimes than not, withdrawal effects become the number one reason why people continue drinking.
In effect, withdrawal episodes become part of the addiction cycle driving a person to keep drinking in order to gain relief from uncomfortable withdrawal effects. For people struggling with mild to moderate drinking problems, alcohol detox programs can administer medications to help relieve specific symptoms, such as headaches, nausea and insomnia.
People most susceptible to alcohol abuse disorders likely have difficulty coping with everyday stressors and pressures in productive ways. While drinking may start out as a casual or social indulgence, over time, someone at risk of alcohol abuse starts to use drinking as a way to gain relief from life’s pressures.
Alcohol detox programs use psychotherapy as a means for helping a person develop more healthy coping behaviors in the place of using alcohol. Psychotherapy also helps a person work through any underlying emotional and/or psychological issues that drive drinking behaviors.
Over time, someone struggling with alcohol abuse will alter his or her lifestyle to accommodate a growing “need” for alcohol. In the process, a person’s way of thinking and interacting with others becomes skewed as a result of alcohol’s damaging effects.
For these reasons, attendance at support group meetings becomes a daily requirement within most alcohol detox programs. These meetings provide those in attendance with a safe place to share the difficulties and challenges they face in recovery. Meetings based on the 12-Step support model operate off certain principles that work to help alcoholics develop the mindset and motivation to maintain sobriety on a day-to-day basis.
While most alcohol detox programs follow a standard protocol in terms of helping a person make it through this difficult stage, people with a long history of drinking will likely require specialized treatment care. Since alcohol’s damaging effects on the brain and body become increasingly worse over time, additional physical supports are often needed to ensure a person’s overall safety as well as his or her success in treatment.
More oftentimes than not, chronic drinkers will require some form of medication therapy to help ease uncomfortable withdrawal symptoms. Alcohol detox programs also take into account the type and level of aftercare supports a person will require once he or she completes detox treatment.
The Effects of Chronic Drinking
Over time, alcohol causes widespread deterioration of brain cells, bodily tissues and organ structures. In spite of this damage, the brain’s physical and psychological dependency on alcohol demands ongoing alcohol use or else it loses its ability to regulate bodily functions altogether.
Alcohol’s effects cause the brain secrete large quantities of neurotransmitter chemicals, which accounts for the “buzz” drinkers experience. After so long, brain cells lose their sensitivity to alcohol’s effects so a person must ingest increasingly larger amounts of alcohol to produce the same desired effect.
While all this takes place, a person’s psychological and emotional stasis undergoes drastic change to the point where his or her actions and behaviors start to bring about negative consequences in daily life. Unfortunately, alcohol’s effects in the brain supersede any ability a person may have to stop drinking or even reduce or limit his or her intake.
Medically Assisted Detox
As chronic drinkers experience withdrawal effects on a frequent basis, these effects become all the more intense when a person enters alcohol detox. For this reason, someone entering alcohol detox treatment may want to seriously consider any medically assisted detox options made available.
Medically assisted detox treatment uses medications specifically formulated to support damaged brain cell structures and thereby reduce the severity of withdrawal effects a person experiences. Medications commonly used for this purpose include:
- Acamprosate Calcium
Both these drugss produce similar effects as alcohol without being addictive. In the process, the severity of withdrawal effects reduces considerably as these drugs help to restore normal brain functioning.
Since long-time drinkers are at the highest risk for relapse, other medication therapies can also be used to prevent the brain and body from responding to alcohol’s effects in the event of a relapse episode. According to the U. S. Department of Health & Human Services, medications commonly used include –
- Antabuse, also known as disulfiram
In spite of how long and grueling the alcohol detox stage may be, detox treatment marks but the first step towards living a clean and sober lifestyle. Once a person completes alcohol detox, ongoing treatment will likely be needed in order for him or her to maintain sobriety for any length of time.
Alcohol detox programs prepare aftercare plans or guidelines that list recommendations for ongoing treatment care. Ongoing treatment may entail:
- Medical treatment
- Residential treatment
- Outpatient treatment
- Ongoing psychotherapy work
- 12-Step support group attendance
Neglecting to follow through on an aftercare plan leaves those in recovery at high risk of returning to old drinking behaviors.