Updated: June 12, 2023, at 11:46 a.m.
Alcohol addiction affects millions of adults in the U.S., with severe health consequences, leading to tens of thousands of deaths each year. The National Institute on Alcoholism and Alcohol Abuse (NIAAA) reported that, as of 2021, over 28 million adults ages 18 and older had alcohol use disorder (AUD). Additionally, excessive drinking leads to over 140,000 deaths every year, says the NIAAA and people who drink excessively cut an average of 30 years off their lives.
If you’re one of many making the brave decision to quit, know that you’re not alone. But be aware, the first step – alcohol detox – isn’t easy. Your body and brain have grown used to alcohol, and withdrawing can trigger intense symptoms. But the benefits of quitting alcohol far outweigh the initial discomfort.
Stick with us as we guide you through practical tips to navigate alcohol detox safely and effectively.
The Science Behind Alcohol Dependence
Individuals addicted to alcohol may feel like they have to drink to feel normal, not overly anxious, or calm in social settings, or to get to sleep. Alcohol activates the gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA) receptors in the brain. A neurotransmitter, GABA, is one of the most important chemicals in the brain, and it’s highly involved in signaling among neurons. Alcohol mimics GABA and slows the brain’s processes. This slowing leads to intoxication and symptoms like slurred speech, slow thinking and reaction times, weakness, sleepiness and pleasant relaxation.
Alcohol dependency means the brain doesn’t produce enough GABA to safely regulate neurons. This leads to withdrawal symptoms like:
- Physical shaking
- Rapid heartbeat
Alcohol Withdrawal Can Be Dangerous
Alcohol withdrawal symptoms are uncomfortable — and some can be life-threatening. This means detoxing at home is risky, not just because you’re more likely to relapse back into alcohol use, but also because you might need hospitalization or may even die.
Alcohol withdrawal symptoms can include:
- Physical shaking
- Nausea and vomiting
- Rapid heartbeat and breathing rate
Should You Detox From Alcohol Cold Turkey?
Without medical supervision, alcohol withdrawal symptoms will feel intense. They typically begin six hours to three days after the last drink. If a person tries to quit “cold turkey,” the symptoms may cause them to return to drinking — or relapse — in order to cope, which puts them at risk of alcohol poisoning.
A person may also develop alcohol withdrawal syndrome or delirium tremens (DTs) — life-threatening conditions that can lead to lasting harm and even death.
Symptoms of DTs
- Sudden, severe confusion (delirium)
- Tremors all over the body
- Changes in cognition and mental function
- Extreme agitation and mood swings
- Fear or paranoia
- Bursts of energy followed by extreme fatigue
- Restlessness and excitability
- Sensitivity to light, touch, sounds, and other sensory input
- Stupor, or appearing conscious without response
Long-term alcohol abusers are at a greater risk for DTs. Resulting seizures, paranoia and hallucinations are dangerous and require hospitalization if they occur. This will likely happen 12-48 hours after the person stops consuming alcohol.
Does Melatonin Help with Alcohol Withdrawal?
It’s common to have sleep issues during alcohol withdrawal, and many wonder if melatonin can help. According to a pilot trial published in Scientific Reports, melatonin can be a valuable tool for those seeking treatment for alcohol use disorder (AUD) with sleep problems. As a natural hormone that regulates sleep-wake cycles, melatonin was found to significantly improve the quality of sleep in participants struggling with AUD.
While it’s not a cure-all for withdrawal symptoms, using melatonin for alcohol withdrawal can support better sleep, which is critical during the recovery process. However, it’s important to consult a healthcare provider before starting any new treatment regimen.
Related Story: Is It Dangerous to Mix Melatonin and Alcohol?
Why Medically Supervised Alcohol Detox Is The Best Course Of Action
With medical supervision at a certified inpatient rehab facility, the detox process is manageable and can help the brain to relearn to produce GABA without the presence of alcohol. Medical supervision also helps prevent relapse, which can lead to overdose and death, as well as reduce discomfort and risk, and help individuals overcome their physical dependence on alcohol. In fact, most people who develop alcohol withdrawal syndrome recover with supervised medical treatment and therapy. But the first step is simply to seek treatment.
If you’d like more information about alcohol detox, call the Landmark Recovery admissions team today at 888-448-0302. We offer medical detoxification, residential treatment, IOP, and more. Let us help you begin your transition to sobriety today.
About The Author
Freelance writer D.D. Kullman is a tennis player, snow skier, animal lover, and early tech adopter. She lives in Phoenix, Arizona with her husband, Joe, and Sheltie, Koko, and is an adjunct instructor at Grand Canyon University.
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