The choice of which rehab program may be determined by: your needs, your ability to pay, your insurance, and/or your general personal preferences. Before you make a choice, do your homework. Find out what is available in your town, city, municipality, or state. Compare programs, costs, and what is offered. Check out staff and facility reputation.
Detoxification, or detox, is an important part of getting sober. But it is merely a period of about a week when your body gets the alcohol out of your system. While difficult, it is but the first step in the healing process that involves getting at the root of your drinking and making important changes in your lifestyle.
This guide looks at various parts of alcohol rehab and pays particular attention to an increasingly popular trend: self-detoxification.
What is Detoxification?
Detoxification is a process of ridding your body of such harmful substances as alcohol, drugs, nicotine, caffeine or other addictive source. Most often the term is used in relation to drugs or alcohol.
Alcohol Abuse vs Alcoholism
The difference between alcoholism and alcohol abuse is degree. Alcoholics are addicted. Alcohol abusers may be week-end bingers. They have ability to resist drinking and often hold down responsible jobs. Both alcoholics and alcohol abusers have health and relationship problems associated with their drinking. Since the difference is one of degree, abusers can frequently deteriorate into alcoholics in need of detoxification.
When is Detoxification Indicated?
When symptoms of alcoholism become so severe that they are affecting personal health and/or domestic relationships and/or workplace effectiveness, it is time to consider detoxification. The following are frequent symptoms that a person has become an alcoholic:
There are several symptoms which indicate your body is in need of detoxification.
Alcohol addiction and alcohol abuse are alike but different in both symptoms and treatment. Some symptoms of addiction are genetic. Some of them have to do with the environment in which an alcoholic finds himself—like his work, his social circle and the proximity of drinking establishments. Some symptoms of alcoholism are exacerbated by one’s emotions. Often genetic, social and emotional factors are interconnected
Some people are more prone to alcoholism on two fronts: There is a definite genetic link. This certainly does not mean you will be an alcoholic if your parent is an alcohol abuser. Indeed, research has shown that genetics is a major factor in half of alcoholism occurrences. Certainly environment plays a part and may be tightly linked to genetics.
The second factor is ethnic and/or cultural. It is a proven fact that some groups are more susceptible to alcohol abuse. In 2001, The National Institute on Alcoholism and Alcohol Abuse conducted a study of America’s four most prevalent ethnic minorities. They looked at the alcohol consumption patterns of: Hispanics, Blacks, Asian Americans, and Native Americans. They compared their alcohol consumption to whites who comprise the majority group in the United States. Alcohol norms of the ethnic group proved to be a strong factor in alcohol abuse. Other factors that influenced individual drinking patterns within the ethnic group were level of education and degree of acculturation into the majority white group.
Studies found that those who had mental health issues including PTSD, anxiety, depression, bipolar disorder and schizophrenia are at higher risk for alcohol abuse.
In assessing alcohol abuse, therapists and medical practitioners look for evidence of:
- A Pattern of Neglecting or Forgetting about Responsibilities
Alcoholics also neglect home responsibilities. They promise bosses, colleagues, spouses and children that they will reform only to break promises and miss appointments. Alcoholics often forget events or are too hung over to attend. They often seem confused, depressed, agitated or overwhelmed by real-world obligations.
- Potential Dangerous Alcohol Consumption Situations
- Legal Difficulties
- Alcohol as A Stress Reliever
- Alcohol-Related Domestic Problems
- Higher Tolerance
- Inability to Quit—Regardless of the Consequences
What is Self-Detoxification?
Self-detoxification is often called rapid detox or going cold turkey. In self-detoxification an individual makes the decision to quit alcohol abuse without medical assistance. In self-detox they alone will face withdrawal symptoms. They might call on a mentor, a friend, or family member for help but self-detox does not make use of a medical facility or its staff.
Why is Self-Detoxification Popular?
It is our nature to try to lick a problem with the least amount of energy, cost and time. That makes self- detoxification—on paper—a tidy way to fix a problem. With self-detoxification there is no time lost to work that other detox methods most often require. Thus both financial and job security concerns are covered.
Like any illness, a natural tendency is to keep others from finding out. This is particularly true or “invisible” ailments like substance abuse, PTSD, and mental illness. In self-detoxification there is less likelihood of others discovering your secret. Alcohol self-detoxification allows for a “cold turkey” approach to confronting the problem or gradually cutting back as individual needs and preferences.
Social media and modern technology have made self-detoxification appealing. Hundreds of sites tell you how do self-detox. Many more offer products designed to make self-detoxification seem easy and relatively painless. These sites convince those wishing to undergo detoxification that a do-it-yourself choice is a good option. We are living in a DIY era. Hence, it seems reasonable to consider this option and to regard it as perfectly safe and appealing in its simplicity.
How is Self-Detoxification Dangerous?
Alcohol withdrawal can be fatal. Attempting to go “cold turkey” in the face of high and sustained alcohol use can result in such severe reactions as hallucinations, delirium tremens (DTs), and even heart failure.
Physical withdrawal symptoms may include any of all of the following:
- Uncontrollable shaking and/or shivering
- Vomiting, a feeling of nausea
- No appetite
- General restlessness
- Muscle cramps and pains
- Lack of energy
- Rapid heartbeat, heart palpitations
- Panting, feeling as if you cannot breathe
- Blood pressure spiking
- Sweats and chills
- Lethargy aches
As well as physical dangers of self-detoxification there are mental health concerns as well. Psychology Today notes that detox can be the trigger for severe emotional reactions that can be life threatening. These include:
- Severe depression
- Removal from reality, depersonalization
- Feelings of doom
- Extreme mood swings
- Hearing voices
- Fuzzy thinking
- Negative, self-defeating thoughts
- Thoughts of suicide.
Besides the physical and/or mental dangers, self-detoxification does not have any follow-up. Research shows that—even on the off chance that self-detoxification was successful—those who receive addiction treatment within a month of detoxification have a greater likelihood of remaining sober.
Other considerations make self-detoxification less appealing than more traditional methods. If you are trying to get sober you may have little understanding of the amount of effort and time involved. Self-detox has a high rate of failure. Moreover, self-detox without follow-up counseling and support is even less likely to succeed. Given the amount of effort and extreme discomfort, most alcoholics who try self-detox just give up. In giving up they seriously jeopardize all future attempts at detoxifying by any method. Attitude and confidence are so important in any attempt to detoxify.
You can run into severe physical and/or emotional symptoms that may require medical or psychological intervention as a life-saving measure. Not being in a medical facility might prove dangerous—even fatal. Time and resolve can both be wasted. Self-detox seldom works. At best, it is a brief “time out” from drinking and at worst it can pose life-threatening problems.
Most people are not prepared for the high intensity of the cravings associated with going “cold turkey”. They mostly simply fold when faced with these strong longings. Becoming a recovering alcoholic is a process. Thus “going cold turkey” is, at best, a step in this process. If self-detox is all you are counting on, the process is flawed. Self-detox fails to plan for other necessary supports on the way to sobriety.
If any medications are planned during the self-detox period, it is extremely dangerous to self-medicate. The absence of medical professionals and a medical facility makes medication use that much more dangerous.
Self-detox often puts your family and/or friends and/or neighbors in an untenable position. If they are not trained medical personnel and do not have the benefits of a medical facility, facing your extreme symptoms may be devastating for them. Moreover, should your reaction to detoxification be fatal, their emotional state may be permanently affected. It is unfair to both you and acquaintances to deal with such a serious event without medical knowledge and expertise and without a medical setting appropriate for detoxification.
What to Expect in a Self-Detoxification
One of the scariest parts of any detoxification is delirium tremors or DTs. They are your body’s protest to not receiving the alcohol to which it had become accustomed. Aside from a reaction to medication, DTs are the most dangerous part of any detoxification and all the more dangerous if undergone without medical personnel and medical facility.
As many as one in ten detoxing alcoholics die as a result of DTs. The rate for those using self-detox is thought to be a high as one in three. Not every detoxing alcoholic suffers DTs. Those who have been heavy drinkers for over a decade are most at risk for them. DTs usually occur in the first seventy-two hours of a detoxification procedure. They can last up to ten days.
Signs of DTs
Not everyone who experiences DTS may have all symptoms but these should be expected:
- Grand mal seizures. The detoxing person may shake violently and lose consciousness during a seizure. Seizures can last a few seconds to several minutes.
- Higher-than-normal temperature.
- Faster-than-normal pulse rate.
- Vivid hallucinations like insects crawling on your skin or pink elephants dancing around the room or giant rats eating your flesh.
- Confusion, disorientation about where you are and/or who people are.
- Agitation, anger, anxiety, resentment, profanity—even physical aggression toward those who are trying to help.
How Self-Detoxification Works
As long as your doctor says it is safe, you can try to self-detox. Here are the steps:
- Conduct a Self-Assessment
- Do you drink in the morning?
- Are you frequently still drunk in the morning?
- Do you often find yourself drinking alone?
- Do you experience feelings of guilt after drinking?
- Do you try to hide your drinking from others?
- Is it hard for you to stop at one drink?
- Do you experience withdrawal symptoms after not drinking for several hours?
- Does withdrawal include sweats, shakes, anxiety, and/or nausea?
- Do you believe your drinking is affecting your domestic life and/or work?
- Set a Goal
- Make a Public Announcement
- Be Aware of Saboteurs
- Declutter for the Cause
- Seek outside Support
- Make an Appointment to See your Doctor
You may also need your doctor to write a letter requesting medical leave so you do not lose your job.
- Find a friend or Relative to Coach You
- Do Your Research
- Severe headaches
- Nighttime chills and/or sweats
- Racing heartbeat
- Nausea, vomiting.
- Shivers and/or Shakes
- Confusion, irritability, depression, and anxiety.
- Imaginary voices
- Know when it is Time to Seek Medical Help
- Temperatures higher than 101
- Vomiting or dry heaves.
- Violent outbursts.
- Stock Up
- Fresh fruits and vegetables.
- Chicken, fish, peanut butter—other high protein foods.
- Oats, oatmeal individual packets to microwave
- Oat crackers
- Soup—other soft foods like yogurt and cottage cheese.
- Vitamin supplements—B, C, and magnesium supplements. Ask your doctor.
- Book off Work
- Learn Grounding Techniques
When faced with a craving, you use your senses. Notice what’s right in front of you while you wait for the craving to pass. You can use a variety of techniques including guided visualization and meditation and yoga as well.
In grounding you note all the details of your environment—how bright and thick and soft the carpet is. How blue are the walls? Is the ceiling cracked? How does the air smell?
Distract yourself with some simple exercise.
Visualize your favorite foods or your favorite TV show.
Repeat a mantra like “I think I can!”
- Stock Up
- Pay attention to Diet
Through sweats, chills, nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea you lose water. It is critical that you drink gallons of water to rehydrate and occasionally a sports drink to replace electrolytes.
- Get Some Fresh Air
- Use Exercise as a Distraction
- Continue to Assess your Situation
- Reconsider Medical Assistance for Another Detox
- Expect After Effects
- Follow up Self-Detox with Counseling
- Join a Support Group
- Learn New Hobbies and Take up New Interests
- Find New Social Groups
- Avoid Replacing your Addiction
Learn distracting activities like a bike ride, or going for a drive, or playing a video game or listening to music or working out to forget about the alcohol craving. Be honest with people. Don’t try to hide your cravings. Call your support person or group whenever you have a craving.
Remember why you quit drinking.
- Expect and Manage those Cravings
- Find New Social Groups
- Be Prepared for Setbacks
- Helpful Hints for those Attempting a Self-Detoxification
Don’t put up with severe symptoms. If you are experiencing anything beyond mild discomfort, seek help medical help at a reputable facility. Be honest with staff about what you are attempting to do.
Before you attempt self-detox get your doctor’s advice. Your doctor has an accurate assessment of your overall health. He may caution you against it for unrelated medical reasons.
Make sure a friend, colleague, neighbor, or family member will be available to monitor how you are doing and seek medical help if you hit a crisis situation. Choose someone who doesn’t panic but also will not hesitate to call for professional help. The extent, severity, and frequency of symptoms such as tremors, chills, sweats, and or dehydration will vary with each person. The extent and longevity of abuse are factors. So too is the individual’s age and general health. Risks of self-detox for serious alcohol abusers are severe enough that self-detoxification should never be attempted alone.
Set up your environment for success. Get rid of any alcohol and drugs. Tell your drinking buddies about your plan and ask them to stay away. Disconnect the doorbell and unplug the phone. Remove all disruptive distractions. You may even wish to go as far as staying at a different, undisclosed location like a friend’s or your parents’ house.
Don’t self-detox on the spur of the moment. Plan ahead. Choose a time when you can complete the detox. Allow yourself a week to complete a self-detox.
Get easy-to-digest energy foods to sustain you during the addiction withdrawal process. Most people lose their appetite but it is important to have such things as soup, crackers, yogurt, oatmeal, and trail mix.
Be sure to set up an environment where you can get fresh air in the backyard, or garden, or balcony or patio.
Build in light exercise like a treadmill or spinning bike or an exercise DVD you can pop into the TV.
Plan and build in distractions like movies or books or crafts or hobbies or solitary card games.
Plan on staying close to home during your detox.
Dehydration caused by nausea, vomiting, and/or diarrhea is a real concern. Have plenty of water and some sports drinks to replace fluids and electrolytes. Do not overdo the sports drinks. Limit to suggested consumption and be sure to drink lots of water.
Write a letter to yourself stating all the reasons you want to quit. Describe how your life will be after the detox. Post this where you can read it during the withdrawal process as motivation to tough it out.
DT symptoms are an immediate red flag. Make sure your monitor knows to seek immediate medical intervention if DT symptoms appear. The first seventy-two hours are crucial. This is the time of the most severe symptoms.
How to Detox from Alcohol Safely under Medical Supervision
Alcoholics have several treatment options which involve medical supervision of varying degrees:
Medicinal treatment involves healthcare professionals and perhaps rehab settings including these steps:
Detox often occurs as a medical emergency prompted by drinking large amounts of alcohol and/or drinking over a long period of time such that the alcohol is threatening things like cirrhosis or seizures, or hallucinations, or insomnia, or delirium.
In cases that warrant it antidepressants like Benzodiazepines are used treat withdrawal symptoms in the detox stage and gradually discontinued to avoid a drug dependency.
Counseling is provided after detox. During the post-detox recovery stage , medicines like: Disulfiram, Naltrexone, Topiramate, and Acamprosate are given. These can produce side effects in some people. Medication side effects may include any or all of: vomiting, blurred vision, a feeling of general unwellness, irritability and insomnia.
Alcoholics are “recovering”. They are never “cured”. Maintenance support may include such sobriety encouragers as: Alcoholics Anonymous; family, colleagues, and friends; neighbors or mentors.
Peer support groups can be invaluable. These people have experienced what the alcoholic is suffering. They are non-judgmental and encouraging. Support groups include:
Alcoholics Anonymous (AA)
AA runs group support groups in most towns, cities, and villages. They meet at various times so alcoholics can fit meetings into their schedules. It is based on The 12 Step Program and a sponsor for each member. The sponsor is a recovering alcoholic available 24/7. AA believes in the healing of a “Higher Power”.
Secular Organizations for Sobriety (SOS)
This international organization has a science-based, self-empowerment aimed at abstinence and recovery.
Self-Management and Recovery Training (SMART)
SMART is an individually-focused group. Its goal is abstinence through self-empowerment and self-directed and self-initiative.
Individual counseling explores individual problems and challenges with a trained professional who is knowledgeable in the field of alcohol addiction.
Group counseling is significantly less expensive. Many alcoholics struggle with the same problems. Group counseling may create a safe environment for idea and strategy exchange. It helps the recovering alcoholic realize he is not alone or unique in his problems or fears.
Alcoholism affects all members of the family. An alcoholic’s rehabilitation is dependent on family support which is aided by family counseling.
Nutrition and Diet
Diet and nutrition counseling seeks to rebuild the alcoholic’s depleted system including supplements of vitamins, iron, and folic acid.
Intensive Outpatient Program (IOP)
Intensive Outpatient Programs involve several hours per week. They may be as long as ten or fifteen hours three or four days a week. A structured environment and a program like the 12 Steps are run by clinical treatment professionals trained to help alcoholics individually or in small groups. The goal is to achieve and maintain sobriety.
Discussions include identifying triggers, coming up with strategies to deal with triggers and craving and how to communicate effectively. Clients are encouraged and assisted to find positive ways to deal with their lives and to create a healthier lifestyle.
IOPs are more costly than group or individual counseling because of the intensity, the clinical setting and the trained professionals required.
Partial Hospitalization Programs
Partial Hospital programs tailor the treatment to the alcoholic’s specific needs. The setting is supportive and structured. During the mornings, the patient might attend group sessions. There they are taught healthy living skills. In the afternoon, they might go to two more groups. Breaks and lunch are built in between sessions. Patients all meet individually with a doctor and a counselor. The partial hospitalization program runs Monday to Friday. There is also backup support for night and week-ends. The client is at home nights and week-ends.
Inpatient Residential Treatment Facilities
This involves round-the-clock patient treatment and care. The program runs: thirty, sixty, ninety days or even longer if the client’s condition and recovery require it.
Patients get counseling, medical treatment, health and nutrition education, coping strategies, trigger recognition, and communication skills while they are living in the treatment facility.
The cost of these programs is higher. Residential facility costs include accommodation, meals and twenty-four-hour care by trained alcohol rehab professional. The environment is not a “normal” family living arrangement but sometimes the client needs this complete removal from a life that was nurturing or exacerbating his self-destructive alcohol use.
At the end of a residential program, the recovering alcoholic has to reintegrate himself into his home and community. Counsellors provide assistance but often reintegration is difficult.
Costs for residential facilities vary widely with the facility, the location and what amenities are provided. Ultra-luxurious facilities may cost from $20,000 to $80,000 a month. Do the research and select one that fits your needs and your budget. Check to see if your workplace Employee Assistance Program and/or medical health insurance may help with the costs.
Sober Living Program (SLP)
Make sure you have food and water. Shopping will be way down in your priorities for at least the next week. You may not feel like eating but you need to keep hydrated and keep your strength up. Get several gallons of water. Freeze individual servings of easy-to-digest dishes. Choose healthy foods high in nutrients. These should be on your list:
This is a program of individual counseling sessions to help alcoholics get sober. Brief interventions may last minutes or a few hours. Their aim is to moderate alcohol consumption, and eliminate destructive binge drinking. It encourages abstinence. By reducing drinking Brief Interventions hopes to decrease such side effects as: medical problems, death or injury related to drunk driving, domestic violence, and fetal alcohol syndrome. Demands are moderate, brief and intensive.
Choosing the Best Detox Program
The best program depends on the individual’s:
- severity of alcohol abuse
- personal needs
- demands of the program
- individual preferences to be at home or in residence or somewhere in between
- related or co-occurring medical, emotional, or mental problems
- factors like cost, distance, home responsibilities…
- individual commitment to succeeding at alcohol rehab.
When you are researching programs, look at such factors as:
- The clinical environment- where is it? Can I get there easily? Is this somewhere the setting would enhance my rehab?
- What are the components of the treatment program? Are these thing I want/need?
- What do I know about the expertise, skills, reputation of the clinicians?
- What is the patient-staff involvement?
- Can I build in time required for this treatment?
- What follow-up counseling and strategies exist?
- Do treatment components match my personality?
Not sure where to start?
Speak to one of our treatment counselors and plan your roadmap to recovery.
Call (866) 921-8893 to speak with a treatment counselor near you.