In 2018, the National Survey on Drug Use and Health revealed that 86.3% of individuals aged 18 or older had consumed alcohol at some point in their lives. Approximately 70% reported drinking in the past year, with 55.3% indicating consumption in the past month. Binge drinking, reported by 26.45% of respondents, and heavy drinking, reported by 6.6%, raise concerns about alcohol use disorders. According to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA), an estimated 15 million Americans qualified for an alcohol use disorder in 2018, including 401,000 adolescents aged 12 to 17.
To diagnose an alcohol use disorder, individuals must meet at least two out of 11 criteria requirements within a 12-month period. If uncertain, individuals can self-assess by answering questions such as:
If individuals answer positively to more than one of these questions, seeking assessment from a medical professional, such as a primary care physician or treatment center, is recommended.
Withdrawal from alcohol occurs as the brain reverts to its default state when the substance is no longer present in the bloodstream. For heavy drinkers, withdrawal symptoms are more pronounced due to the sedative effects of alcohol. Symptoms may include trembling, insomnia, anxiety, and other physical and mental manifestations. It’s crucial to note that withdrawal experiences vary among individuals, with some facing hallucinations or seizures. Medical professionals can easily diagnose alcohol withdrawal in heavy drinkers, helping identify potential organ damage through blood tests.
Withdrawal symptoms typically begin eight hours after the last drink, with shakes being common for heavy drinkers. The most intense symptoms occur 24 to 72 hours after the last drink, with about 30% of individuals experiencing hallucinations and an increased risk of cardiac issues and delirium tremens. Between five to seven days after the last drink, withdrawal symptoms start to fade, but psychological effects may persist for weeks. Treatment aids in managing this phase, and the entire withdrawal process averages seven to 10 days.
Delirium tremens occurs in 5% of heavy drinkers attempting to quit and can be fatal in 3-15% of cases annually. It is associated with brain adjustments to compensate for the depressant effects of alcohol, leading to symptoms like oversedation, respiratory arrest, cardiac arrhythmias, and aspiration pneumonitis. Individuals at higher risk include those who are middle-aged or seniors, have experienced seizures during previous withdrawal attempts, have co-occurring mental health disorders, liver issues, intense alcohol cravings, daily heavy drinkers, or those who have experienced delirium tremens before.
Due to the potential risks of alcohol withdrawal and detox, individuals are encouraged to enter a medical detox program. While some attempt home detox or cold turkey methods, the safest option is professional monitoring in an inpatient residential program. Facilities like New Day Recovery provide experienced staff, a low patient-to-staff ratio, and 24/7 medical supervision. Residential rehab programs offer amenities for a comfortable recovery, nutritious meals, and structured environments away from potential triggers.
In severe cases, individuals experiencing delirium tremens may require pharmacotherapy treatment or transfer to a hospital’s intensive care unit. Prompt and professional medical intervention is crucial in preventing fatal outcomes.
Fatal cases of alcohol withdrawal have occurred, primarily due to severe dehydration leading to seizures. Dehydration, combined with withdrawal symptoms, poses serious risks. Medical staff in a supervised detox program can detect and address potential complications, ensuring a safer detox process.
The detox process, while challenging, marks the beginning of sobriety and an opportunity to regain control of life. Two methods of detox include abrupt cessation or tapering off with smaller, less frequent doses. The chosen method depends on individual health, circumstances, and medical history. Attempting “cold turkey” detox at home carries risks of relapse and potential poisoning when reintroducing alcohol into the system. Medical detox programs provide a monitored environment for safer detoxification.
Despite alcohol’s prevalence, excessive consumption leading to a disorder is preventable. With rising binge drinking rates among young people, seeking help is essential. Facilities like New Day Recovery are dedicated to helping individuals safely withdraw and detox from alcohol. Entering a medical detox program offers professional monitoring and support, facilitating a safer path to recovery.