Just over half of the world’s population have drunk alcohol at some point in their lives and alcohol is a common and generally accepted social lubricant. To make matters worse, statistics say that we’re drinking more and more each year. But when consumed in high amounts or for prolonged periods of time, it can cause serious physical, emotional and mental harm.
According to the WHO, harmful alcohol use is responsible for 5.1% of the global burden of disease and is a leading risk factor for premature death and disability in those aged 15 to 49. Problem drinking, or Alcohol Use Disorder (AUD), negatively affects the brain, nervous system, heart, liver and pancreas, and can lead to several types of cancer. It can also increase blood pressure and cholesterol and weaken the immune system.
“As many as 800 people [are] dying every day in parts of Europe due to alcohol-attributable harm, we must do more to continue the fight,”
-Dr Zsuzsanna Jakab, Deputy Director-General of WHO
AUD is a chronic, relapsing brain disorder characterised by the inability to stop or control drinking despite negative social, professional or health effects. It includes both binge drinking (drinking more than 4 drinks for a woman or 5 for a man within 2 hours) and heavy drinking (drinking more than 7 drinks a week for a woman or 14 for a man).
Many people who develop AUD suffer from alcohol withdrawal when trying to quit, making attempts at recovery physically unpleasant and potentially dangerous. However, there are many options available for people who are struggling to get a handle on their drinking and, with the right support, it is possible to recover from Alcohol Use Disorder.
The first step for someone wanting to seek treatment for their alcohol use is to detox from physical dependency. Withdrawal from alcohol can be severe and potentially life-threatening, so it’s important to be aware of what alcohol detox does to your body before attempting a detox programme and always doing so under the care of a medical team.
What causes alcohol withdrawal?
When a person consumes alcohol in large quantities over time, the body becomes accustomed to its effects and the brain chemistry changes. The production of neurotransmitters in the brain is altered and the person will need to consume greater and greater amounts of alcohol to get the same effects, resulting in addiction. When the alcohol is suddenly stopped, severe and dangerous side effects may be experienced as the brain struggles with the new chemical imbalance.
Alcohol withdrawal symptoms
Alcohol withdrawal is different for everyone and is influenced by a number of factors including the length of time drinking, the amount of alcohol consumed, medical history, the presence of other addictions and co-existing mental health issues. Symptoms can also increase with each subsequent withdrawal episode; an effect known as kindling.
Someone detoxing from alcohol may begin to feel withdrawal symptoms as soon as 2 hours after their last drink, with the worst effects occurring within the first 2 days. The timeline of symptoms typically follows the following pattern:
6 to 12 hours after last drink
Nausea and vomiting
12 to 24 hours after last drink
48 to 72 hours after last drink
Rapid or irregular heartbeat
High blood pressure
Delirium tremens (confusion, fever, hallucinations, seizures)
Why medically supervised alcohol detox is safer
Withdrawing from alcohol or drugs can be painful and dangerous. That’s why it’s really important to undertake detox in a safe and comfortable environment with experts on hand to supervise the process.
The most serious form of alcohol withdrawal is delirium tremens (DTs), which occurs a day or two after a person’s last drink and affects 3-5% of people. It can be fatal if untreated, which is the reason why you should never attempt to detox from alcohol “cold turkey”.
The most severe symptoms of alcohol withdrawal should begin to taper off within 5 to 7 days of a person’s last drink, but some may continue for weeks or even a year following cessation. This is where a structured treatment programme can help a person manage the ongoing effects of alcohol withdrawal and provide the emotional, physical and psychological tools needed to live a life free from addiction.
What happens during alcohol detox?
Detox usually takes up to 10 days and allows a person to safely clear their body of addictive substances in readiness for the process of tackling their psychological addiction. Patients may detox from alcohol alone but in cases of multiple substance abuse, may also detox from drugs at the same time.
The first step in an alcohol detox programme is an in-depth assessment with a treatment professional or team. They will carefully review the patient’s medical and psychiatric history, run tests to determine levels of drugs and nutrients in the system, and plan a short-term medication protocol to help ease detox symptoms and make the process more comfortable. This information will also help inform the long-term treatment plan should the client move into a rehab programme after completing their detox.
The next step is to monitor and stabilise the patient to prevent harm and ease the effects of withdrawal. Drugs are selected based on the substances the client is withdrawing from and may include naltrexone, barbiturates or benzodiazepines. The goal is to keep the person safe and assist them in making it through the detox process.
The final stage prepares patients for entry into a full rehab programme, where psychiatric and other therapies are used to give the life skills and tools needed to identify triggers, prevent relapse and maintain a healthy lifestyle.
“Getting sober is the start of a journey towards a happy and fulfilled life. The underlying causes of alcoholism are likely to be linked to a combination of factors. These can include underlying psychological issues, and lifetime experiences such as trauma.”
Dean Gustar, Senior Clinical Operations Manager at The Kusnacht Practice
What happens after detox
Detox on its own is usually not enough to guarantee recovery. As many factors come into play in addiction, including genetics, childhood trauma, lifestyle, and personal experiences, a holistic approach is needed to identify the root cause of a person’s alcohol abuse and give them the best possible chance of success.
Alcohol rehabilitation at The Kusnacht Practice is highly tailored to each individual and lasts several weeks or months, followed by aftercare. Rehab typically involves four major pillars of treatment: psychotherapy, complementary treatments, spiritual counselling in the form of The 12 Steps, and Biomolecular Restoration (Bio-R®).
Bio-R® is a unique technology used exclusively by The Kusnacht Practice, not available through other clinics or health centres. This highly-personalised medical approach improves physical and emotional wellbeing through the use of micronutrients to correct imbalances in biochemistry. Through blood samples, saliva, stool, nutrigenetics and other tests, doctors are able to create a formulation tailored to the exact requirements of each client, greatly enhancing the chances of lasting recovery.
If you or someone you love is suffering from alcohol addiction, a tailored and medically supervised detox programme is the best option to withdraw from alcohol in a safe and comfortable way.
At The Kusnacht Practice, we provide a bespoke alcohol rehabilitation programme in a private, luxury setting, allowing you to put your recovery first and get your life back on track.
NOT SURE IF YOU HAVE A PROBLEM WITH ALCOHOL?
Try our self-assessment tool.