Alcohol is a drug that acts as a depressant to the central nervous system (CNS). As such, it works to slow down both the body's mental and bodily processes. With the first drink of alcohol, the alcohol user may experience a blunting of feelings of anxiety and stress. Alcohol is commonly hailed as a "social lubricant", which means that the alcohol user will likely feel at ease around other people, and less bothered by how strangers perceive him.
Seeing as alcohol is legal and also widely accepted in modern society, it is often difficult to make out the differences between casual use and outright alcohol abuse. In general, any alcohol usage which results in negative consequences is indeed alcohol abuse. Some negative consequences of alcohol use include:
When alcoholism abuse becomes increasingly frequent, it often escalates into alcohol addiction. Also referred to as alcoholism, this form of substance abuse is often marked by intense cravings for alcohol and an inability to stay away from drinking. Even when the effects are very negative and your entire life is affected, you will still seek out alcohol. Signs of addiction will include drinking more than you intended to, wanting to stop drinking but lacking the willpower to follow through, developing alcohol tolerance, experiencing withdrawal symptoms when attempting to stop, letting personal relationships fray in favor of having more to drink and spending way too much time seeking out alcohol.
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Alcohol works by interacting with special receptor complexes that are located in the brain which are known as gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA) receptors. The receptors are activated by the GABA neurotransmitter, which is inhibitory, via an interaction which helps to define the baseline level of the central nervous system (CNS') neural activity.
Alcohol works by modifying the receptor proteins' responsiveness and, in doing this, enhances GABA's inhibitory signaling power. After a lengthy use of alcohol marked by consistently decreased CNS excitability, the brain ultimately by down-regulating the GABA receptor numbers.
These structural and neurochemical changes underlie what is referred to as tolerance—a phenomenon which, once established, leaves you needing more alcohol just to achieve a similar effect.
If you develop the habit of drinking alcohol heavily for weeks, months, or even years, you will likely develop both physical and mental problems when attempt to stop or considerably cut back on the amount of alcohol you take. This is what is known as alcohol withdrawal. Alcohol withdrawal symptoms can range from mild symptoms to serious ones.
If you only take alcohol once in a while, then it is highly unlikely that you will develop withdrawal symptoms once you cut back or stop. However, if you have gone through withdrawal at least once, then it is likelier than not that you will go through it again the next time you attempt to stop.
Alcohol has a depressive effect on the system. It slows down brain functioning and alters how nerves send and receive messages.
Over time, the CNS adjusts to having alcohol in the system all the time. Your body will have to work harder than usual in an attempt to keep the brain in a state of wakefulness and to keep nerve communication active.
When the alcohol levels drop suddenly, the brain maintains its now-default keyed-up state. This is what leads to withdrawal.
These can range from mild ones to serious ones. What your symptoms are will depend on how much alcohol you drank and how long you've been drinking. Mild alcohol symptoms may show up a mere 6 hours after you put down your alcohol glass. They may include:
More serious issues will range from hallucinations about half a day to a full day after your last drink to seizures within 48 hours after you stop. You will see, feel and even hear things that are absolutely not there.
Hallucinations aren't to be confused with delirium tremens. DTs will usually start 48-72 hours after your last drink. These are very severe symptoms where you may have vivid hallucinations as well as delusions. Only 5% of all alcoholics with withdrawal experience these. Those that do experience DTs may also have:
The alcohol detox (or detoxification) process is the natural process which occurs in your body in an attempt to flush out toxins and waste products from the system. These come from alcohol use and abuse. In a controlled treatment setting, detox is often done alongside medical observation, medication, and counseling.
People that have been drinking alcohol heavily for a long time period will be more likely to go through negative side effects when doing detox, some of which may be quite dangerous. Prolonged use and abuse of alcohol may lead to tolerance as well biological changes which give rise to a false homeostasis. Disrupting this established balance and restoring the alcoholic to a healthy state is a delicate process.
Alcohol detox will be the first step to fully treating alcoholism. When you start this process, alcohol will be completely cleared from your system. The withdrawal symptoms may come on strong at first but after two weeks or so of detox, they'll get increasingly blunted. However, based on the intensity and severity of your AUD, it could take longer. From this point, you will be in a better position to focus on the other recovery processes such as counseling, therapies and supporting options.
Some folks are apprehensive about quitting alcohol since they are worried that the withdrawal symptoms that arise during detox may be too much. While some may only be affected by the more minor symptoms, others may go through a rougher time.
Withdrawal symptoms may change, and this is why it is vital that you go through medically supervised detox - under the watchful eye of qualified medical professionals. The treatment professionals at an addiction rehab center will help you manage detox with varied medications.
Alcohol detox is the initial, preparatory step before a longer-term treatment program. Detox may be safely done at inpatient and outpatient centers, but full-on round-the-clock medical monitoring ought to be in place for heavy alcohol users. In many cases, the detox process will involve three steps:
i) Intake. The detox medical team will perform a comprehensive drug review, as well as evaluate the psychiatric and medical histories of patients so that they have a full picture of every situation.
ii) Medication. Many detox programs will include medications which mimic alcohol effects in a bid to mitigate alcohol's withdrawal symptoms.
iii) Stabilization. Here, the addicted patient will undergo a number of psychological and medical therapies which will aid them achieve a balance of both mind and body.
With withdrawal symptoms, they many appear as early as a mere two hours after your last alcoholic drink. While the most severe symptoms will start to dissipate within the first week, there are mild symptoms which may linger for several weeks, up to a year. There really is no sure-fire timeline as to what or when the withdrawal symptoms will surface. However, there is a general outline that you can expect to unfold.
The initial detox symptoms are mild in nature. However, they can worsen quickly as the hours roll on. Some of the initial symptoms include anxiety, shaking, headaches, irritability and nausea.
As you approach the end of the initial 24 hours of detox, the withdrawal symptoms may become more severe. Alongside the effects that you feel within the first 24 hours, additional symptoms may include hand tremors, disorientation and seizures.
Similar to the first full detox day, the more intense symptoms will carry on into the next day. Panic attacks and hallucinations are common as your body adapts and rids alcohol from your system.
For the rest of your first detox, varied symptoms of withdrawal may come and go. This is also the time period when you are most susceptible to fatal or life threatening symptoms, with the example of delirium tremens (DT).
When the first week wraps up, many of the withdrawal symptoms will taper off. There will be symptoms that may persist for some weeks, but many of them will be minor and will be easily blunted by medication.
However, even after the most intense symptoms have dissipated, there are people who may go through post-acute withdrawal syndrome (PAWS) - which is the prolonged symptoms of detox. The symptoms will typically include anxiety, sleeping problems, lethargy and delayed reflexes. These can persist anywhere from several months to a year.
Although not very common, the most serious withdrawal symptom is DT, delirium tremens. It may surface within two days to five days after your last alcohol indulgence. However, less than 5% of persons addicted to alcohol will experience this. Minor detox symptoms:
It is especially vital that alcohol detox be done in a facility, under the supervision of medical professionals. This is because some symptoms are very severe, and you could lose your life in an attempt to detox on your own.
A qualified medical professional - such as an addiction treatment expert - will be able to track your heartrate and blood pressure rate, ensuring that you remain stable. They will also be ready to listen to your account of the symptoms you are going through.
Several medications that are commonly administered in the detox phase are:
Benzodiazepines (benzos) are often the doctor's first resort when it comes to treating and blunting withdrawal symptoms. They are effective in calming your CNS and may also be prescribed to help with insomnia, muscle spasms and anxiety. Benzos come in two forms: short-acting and long-acting. Long-acting benzos will typically be administered for three days. Chlordiazepoxide (Librium) and diazepam (Valium) are the benzo types that are prescribed most often in inpatient rehab settings.
Naltrexone works by blunting alcohol cravings as you detox. And in case you relapse, this medication inhibits the usual high feeling you get from using and abusing alcohol. However, this medication has been known to stimulate withdrawal symptoms. As such, it is recommended that you wait 7-10 days before you take it.
Naltrexone can either be injected or taken in tablet form. The pill form is sold as Depade and Revia. The injectable form is sold as Vivitrol.
Long term alcohol use and abuse will rewire your brain and system. This medication works by helping the brain begin to function as it used to before alcohol abuse became the norm.
Researchers are presently looking into whether this medication helps to blunt PAWS symptoms, with the inclusion of lethargy, insomnia and anxiety. It also helps to blunt cravings. However, unlike Naltrexone, this one does not bring about unwanted feelings upon relapsing.
Unlike other medications, this one is effective in that it produces severe reactions if you relapse and take alcohol. If you drink alcohol while on this drug, you may experience such reactions as nausea, headache, facial flushing and low blood pressure.
These negative effects are meant to discourage you from taking alcohol as you detox. This medication does not blunt your alcohol cravings like the others do.
Attempting to detox cold turkey can be fatal, especially if you are a long-term alcohol abuser. This is why experts recommend that you only attempt the detox process under the watch of a medical professional. Some of the most severe alcohol detox side effects are:
It is recommended that you seek medical attention for an alcohol detox to mitigate these side effects.
Detox will work as your first step of treatment. It is not meant, and will thus not act as a cure for alcoholism. Alcohol detox will clear your mind and heal the body, allowing it to function more normally.