Across the United States, almost 15 million people fight alcohol addiction every day. That addiction can wreak havoc on one’s life, impacting everything from their health and relationships to their finances and career. When someone decides to stop drinking alcohol, their first step may be to detox, but the possibility of experiencing severe withdrawal symptoms makes them stop and ask: Is detoxing from alcohol deadly?
Today, we’ll discuss everything you need to know about alcohol detox. By the end of this article, you’ll understand the process, the risks, and how Port St. Lucie Hospital can help you kickstart your recovery from alcohol addiction.
What Is an Alcohol Detox?
Before we can answer the question, “Is detoxing from alcohol deadly?” it may be helpful to understand what, exactly, an alcohol detox is.
A detox is a treatment program that results in the removal of an addictive substance from one’s body. In this case, that substance is alcohol, otherwise known as ethanol. Over the course of five to seven days, a detox patient will stop consuming alcohol, flushing it completely from their system as well as coping with the withdrawal symptoms that come with its absence.
Detoxing from alcohol is often the first step in overcoming addiction, and a very important one at that. It’s necessary due to a term known as alcohol dependence, which means that a body has grown so accustomed to the presence of alcohol that it can no longer function properly without it.
Alcohol dependence typically develops after someone has been drinking heavily for an extended period of time. The chemicals from alcohol end up in the bloodstream so frequently that the body assumes that state of being is the new “normal.” As a result, when the effects of alcohol wear off, the body ends up unbalanced, and alcohol withdrawal symptoms begin to appear.
Dependence is a common hurdle for people with an alcohol or drug addiction, and it is one of the primary reasons why it’s so challenging to break the cycle of addiction. Detoxing from alcohol eliminates dependence and enables people to continue their recovery from addiction.
What Are the Symptoms of Alcohol Withdrawal?
The answer to the question, “Is detoxing from alcohol deadly?” is more than a simple yes or no. The amount of risk involved depends on a variety of factors, including your relationship with alcohol and what withdrawal symptoms you exhibit.
Symptoms of alcohol withdrawal come in a wide range of intensities over the course of several days. To help organize them, the National Library of Medicine has separated alcohol withdrawal symptoms into four stages. Collectively, the stages cover the first 72 hours of detox, and the potential symptoms grow more intense as the stages progress.
Stage I of Alcohol Withdrawal
The first stage of alcohol withdrawal symptoms include those that typically appear within the first 12 hours. They are among the most mild of withdrawal symptoms, and while they can still be uncomfortable, they do not include anything life-threatening. According to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, approximately 90 percent of detox patients will only experience mild alcohol withdrawal symptoms.
Stage I symptoms of alcohol withdrawal include:
- High blood pressure (hypertension)
- Increased heart rate
- Rapid breathing
Stage II of Alcohol Withdrawal
Symptoms from the second stage of withdrawal cover the first 24 hours of alcohol detox. The most prevalent symptoms introduced at this stage are hallucinations, including those that are visual, auditory, and tactile. Hallucinations occur most often in detox patients who drank excessively for several years prior to treatment.
Stage III of Alcohol Withdrawal
If the onset of Stage III symptoms occurs, it is expected to do so within the first 48 hours of detox. Stage III is marked by the addition of tonic-clonic seizures, which present as major muscle contractions and unconsciousness. These seizures have a short postictal period, if any, meaning that the time it takes for a body to recover afterward is short.
Stage IV of Alcohol Withdrawal
People who ask, “Is detoxing from alcohol deadly?” are most likely concerned about Stage IV symptoms. At this stage, the most potentially life-threatening symptoms can appear. The vast majority of people who develop severe Stage IV symptoms will do so within the first 72 hours of detox.
Stage IV consists of several possibly dangerous symptoms, including:
- Very high blood pressure
- Respiratory failure
- Delirium tremens
The term “delirium tremens” refers to the most severe form of alcohol withdrawal. Many of its symptoms are attributed to a damaged or overactive nervous system, which can occur following the loss of a depressant like alcohol. Delirium tremens usually only occurs if someone suddenly stops drinking alcohol after drinking heavily for many consecutive years.
In fact, fewer than five percent of people who face alcohol withdrawal will develop delirium tremens. It is characterized by severe disorientation in addition to symptoms like worsened seizures, irregular heart rate, difficulty breathing, and cardiovascular collapse.
Is Detoxing From Alcohol Deadly?
One question remains: Is detoxing from alcohol deadly? Alcohol detox can be dangerous if attempted while alone. Abrupt, at-home detoxes pose the highest risk of resulting in alcohol withdrawal syndrome (AWS), which can cause fatal seizures and delirium tremens. One study found that just over six percent of hospitalizations for AWS lead to death. These individuals suddenly cut off their alcohol intake without the proper safeguards in place, and their bodies were unable to cope with the drastic change.
For this reason, it’s highly recommended to detox from alcohol at a specialized facility. Detox becomes a much safer process when completed under medical supervision. You can find this level of care at a treatment center like Port. St Lucie Hospital, where trained addiction experts track your vitals and symptoms every step of the way.
They possess the tools necessary to alleviate your discomfort as much as possible, all of which culminates in a secure, relaxed atmosphere where any sign of a dangerous withdrawal symptom will be dealt with quickly and efficiently. In this setting, with many medical professionals and dedicated resources available, detoxing from alcohol is almost never deadly.
Where Can I Detox From Alcohol?
Port St. Lucie Hospital offers a calm, sober environment in which individuals can detox from alcohol safely. We monitor patient status 24/7, and our team of licensed physicians and addiction specialists are among the most qualified to ease any discomfort throughout the process. For eligible and interested patients, we utilize medication-assisted treatment to further minimize the impact detox has on their bodies.
We also know that everyone’s experience with alcohol use disorder is unique. To reflect this, your detox will be catered to your individual situation and needs, and our planning won’t stop there. We will help you build a long-term plan to achieve sobriety, stability, and happiness.
Our admissions team is prepared to settle your concerns and answer any inquiries, from “Is detoxing from alcohol deadly?” to “What happens after detox?” Whether you’re ready to tackle alcohol addiction or still unsure about the process, we can help.