Many people do not fully understand the intricacies of alcohol addiction nor the process of recovery unless they have experienced it themselves. We are all aware of these concepts but we rarely discuss what recovery means in practical terms. This guide will delve into the meaning behind recovery and the process of alcohol detoxification, which is often the first step toward sobriety. We will also address withdrawal and the best methods for dealing with the symptoms. Finally, we will explain that relapse is often a part of the recovery journey and it is not a failure – simply a hurdle along the way. Let’s get started on this comprehensive guide to addiction and recovery.
Recovery from Alcohol Addiction
Before we dive into the ins and outs of alcohol detoxification and withdrawal, let’s address the term “recovery” in more detail. Recovery from alcohol addiction is not quite the same as recovery from a sickness. Unlike recovering from the flu, recovery from addiction does not mean that the symptoms will completely disappear, never to return.
Recovery from alcohol addiction is more of a continuous process and it is often less linear than recovery from the flu. There will be peaks and troughs and most recovered addicts find that they must continue to work to maintain their sobriety all of their lives.
That being said, recovery is an achievable goal for alcohol addicts, especially when they have a strong support system, which can include friends, family, and medical professionals.
Alcohol detox is often the very first stage of recovery. In this stage, an individual decides to stop consuming alcohol and start ridding their body of the substance. This brings people one step closer to living a life without being dependent on alcoholic beverages. It can be a hard process to undertake, both mentally and physically.
Fortunately, nobody has to undergo detox alone. There are facilities and support groups that facilitate the process of an alcohol detox under medical supervision. These alcohol detox programs help people deal with the emotional, psychological, and physical symptoms of detoxification. They provide therapy, medications, support groups, and encouragement that allow the individual to push through this first big step.
When the body begins to detox from alcohol, the addiction causes withdrawal symptoms to arise. It is important to note that withdrawal looks a little different for everyone and while we can map out a rough trajectory, we cannot predict the exact timeline or symptoms an individual will experience in withdrawal. Things like the age, addiction severity, and health of the individual will all play a part.
The most common symptoms of withdrawal include tremors, anxiety, irritability, nausea and vomiting, sweating, headache, insomnia, and seizures. Not everyone withdrawing will experience every symptom. If you are concerned about yourself or a loved one going through withdrawal, do not hesitate to call a medical helpline to assess the situation.
Moreover, remember that withdrawal is not always linear. Sometimes individuals will have to begin the process again due to a slip in sobriety. That is a natural part of the journey. That being said, here is a rough idea of the timeline from acute withdrawal to post-acute withdrawal.
The Withdrawal Timeline
The first few hours, days, and, for some, weeks of withdrawal are known as the acute withdrawal stage. Individuals in acute withdrawal tend to experience symptoms like anxiety, sweating, tremors, and insomnia within the first 6-12 hours.
Over the preceding 2 days, symptoms will worsen, potentially including hallucinations, delirium, seizures, and high blood pressure. Between days 2 and 7 individuals will experience the worst symptoms, often confusion, anxiety, tremors, and seizures. Between days 7 and 14, symptoms will fade, though anxiety, insomnia, and irritability are still common.
Post-acute withdrawal tends to kick in beyond the two-week mark. The symptoms experienced in this stage can last as long as two years. From the 2-week to the 6-month mark post-acute withdrawal syndrome (PAWS) may develop. Symptoms include insomnia, anxiety, depression, irritability, and fatigue. From the 6-month mark to the 3-year mark, symptoms should decrease in severity, though they may still be present.
Methods for Managing Withdrawal
While the withdrawal timeline undoubtedly poses challenges for recovering addicts, there are ways to manage some of the worst symptoms and maintain a healthy body and mind as you push through. Most important is the support you are provided by loved ones and medical professionals.
Having a strong emotional support network can make all the difference. As well as that, therapy and group sessions with other recovering addicts can be inspiring, cathartic, and helpful for finding coping mechanisms.
Detox centers or your local doctor can recommend a balanced, nutritional diet to help your body cope with the withdrawal symptoms. Many individuals experience deficiencies when withdrawing, but healthy meals and supplements can alleviate the symptoms. Plenty of fluids are also strongly advised.
Medications are also used frequently to manage withdrawal symptoms, particularly benzodiazepines, antipsychotics, and anticonvulsants. Always speak to a medical expert before taking medications, particularly when withdrawing from an addictive substance, as your body is already going through a lot and you need to ensure that you are taking the right medication and at the appropriate dosage for your needs.
Another stage in the recovery process that is not always addressed is relapse. It is not uncommon for recovering addicts to have moments of relapse and what you need to remember is that this happens. It is not a failure; it is not a defeat. You can always return to the detox and withdrawal stages and proceed once more to your recovery. With a good support system and the knowledge that recovery is not always linear, you can succeed.
As you can see, alcohol addiction and the recovery process are complex issues made easier by having a strong support network, professional help with detoxing, and coping mechanisms in place for withdrawal. We have discussed the idea that recovery is not always straightforward and can be a constant battle for some. The first step is often an alcohol detox, which can last weeks. The body goes through withdrawal symptoms, often including anxiety and nausea, and these symptoms can last up to two years. You can manage these symptoms with diet, fluids, medications, therapy, and emotional support. Finally, if you relapse, it is ok – you can always go back to the detox and begin again, with support and professional help.