Treatment Methods for Alcohol Detox Symptoms
Chronic drinkers, binge drinkers and people with long histories of alcohol abuse know all too well how excruciating alcohol withdrawal effects can be. These same effects drive many a person to keep drinking if only to gain relief from withdrawal. According to the University of New Mexico, as many as 18 million Americans struggled with alcohol abuse disorders in 2007.
As uncomfortable as withdrawal effects can be, they pale in comparison to alcohol detox symptoms. Over the course of drinking, chemical functions throughout the brain and body realign to accommodate alcohol’s effects.
During the detox process, the absence of alcohol’s effects leaves brain and body functions in a state of near shock. For these reasons, alcohol detox programs administer one or more treatment methods that help to support damaged chemical processes and relieve the discomfort that comes with alcohol detox symptoms.
Alcohol Detox Symptoms
By the time a person enters alcohol detox, alcohol’s effects have come to regulate neurotransmitter production in the brain. In effect, alcohol slows brain electrical activity as well as brain chemical processes in general.
Over time, the brain stops producing neurotransmitter chemicals on its own and becomes increasingly dependent on alcohol’s effects. In the absence of alcohol, the brain struggles to pick up where alcohol’s effects leave off, which in turn gives rise to alcohol detox symptoms.
According to the National Center for Biotechnology Information, alcohol detox symptoms can start anywhere from six to 24 hours after a person’s last drink. Alcohol detox symptoms most often experienced include:
- Muddled thinking processes
- Nausea and vomiting
Treatment methods used work to support damaged brain chemical processes and essentially pick up where alcohol’s effects leave off in terms of helping the brain regulate bodily functions. Medications such as benzodiazepines, barbiturates and anticonvulsants are commonly used as methods of treatment.
The brain’s attempt to resume normal function creates a state of hyperexcitability that sets off many of the symptoms experienced in detox. Benzodiazepines have a calming effect on brain activity, which helps reduce the severity of withdrawal symptoms. For these reasons, benzodiazepines are the first line of treatment used in detox.
Benzodiazepines used include:
While barbiturates in general carry a high addiction potential, they still do a good job at relieving alcohol detox symptoms. Because of their high addiction potential, only highly supervised treatment settings use barbiturates as a treatment method. Phenobarbital is the most commonly used barbiturate for this purpose.
In cases of mild to moderate alcohol withdrawal, anticonvulsant medications have been shown to work almost as well as benzodiazepine drugs. Anticonvulsants also work to reduce the brain’s state of hyperexcitability, much like benzodiazepines and barbiturates do. Tegretol and Depakote are the two most commonly used anticonvulsant medications.
While medication treatment methods work well at alleviating alcohol detox symptoms, these approaches only address the body’s physical dependence on alcohol. Alcohol addiction stems from the brain’s psychological dependency on alcohol’s effects. For this reason, anyone wanting to stop drinking altogether will require ongoing psychosocial treatment to overcome the mindset that drives drinking behaviors.