Dangers of Alcohol Withdrawal and Why Detoxing at Home Can Be Fatal

Dangers of Alcohol Withdrawal and Why Detoxing at Home Can Be Dangerous

Why You Shouldn’t Do It Alone

Alcohol Withdrawal Symptoms

Alcohol detox is the process of ending one’s dependence on alcohol. As the first step in alcohol addiction recovery, alcohol withdrawal can be dangerous, which is why you should avoid going through this process without proper medical care. Finding treatment for alcohol detox is often the best way to begin recovery from an alcohol use disorder.

 

As stated by the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, an estimated 16 million Americans are suffering from an alcohol use disorder. The issues that occur as a result of this type of disorder can be extensive and may potentially include dependence and withdrawal symptoms.

Alcohol dependence usually occurs in someone who has been drinking often and regularly for many years. According to the National Library of Medicine, the more of a regular drinker you are, the more likely you are to experience alcohol withdrawal if you suddenly stop drinking.

Symptoms usually begin to occur about eight hours after the individual had their last drink and peak between 48 and 72 hours later. The common alcohol withdrawal symptoms include:

  • Anxiety, confusion, and nervousness
  • Feelings of sadness or depression
  • An inability to think clearly
  • Irritability
  • Mood swings
  • Uncontrollable shaking of the hands and other parts of the body
  • Exhaustion or fatigue
  • Cold or clammy hands and skin
  • Difficulty sleeping due to insomnia or nightmares
  • Headache
  • Dilated pupils
  • Fast heart beat
  • Loss of appetite
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting

If you begin to experience any of these symptoms after you have stopped drinking, it is important to seek help right away. Sometimes, alcohol withdrawal can be mild and easily treated, but other times, it causes a severe syndrome known as Delirium Tremens. This syndrome is a type of medical emergency that requires hospitalization immediately.

 

Percent Of Untreated Patients Who Experience Seizures
5
Fatality Rate For Delerium Tremens
25
Million Americans Suffering With Alcohol Use Disorder
16

According to the NIAAA, five percent of untreated patients experience seizures, and death may occur in 5-25 percent of patients who experience Delirium Tremens. As such, it is important to avoid these worst-case scenarios by seeking treatment, especially when you cannot predict whether or not they will occur.

 Alcohol Detox Side Effects

The side effects of alcohol withdrawal can be extremely dangerous, which is why detox should take place in a medical center. Potential side effects of alcohol detox are:

  • Dehydration – This can be caused by the severe nausea and vomiting that sometimes occurs as a side effect of alcohol detox.
  • Strange behavior – Some individuals start to act strangely or will even become hostile as a result of alcohol withdrawal. This can lead to dangerous outcomes if the individual is not in a safe, controlled environment.
  • Seizures – Seizures are a potential side effect of alcohol withdrawal as well. They can be incredibly severe and can cause a number of complications if the patient is not in a safe space surrounded by medical professionals.  They can also be fatal.
  • Delirium tremens – Delirium tremens is a syndrome that can arise from a particularly intense case of alcohol dependence. As stated by the NLM, symptoms can include:
  • Hallucinations
  • Anxiety
  • Fear
  • Seizures
  • Hostility
  • Stupor

The Dangers of Detoxing at Home

Many people believe they will be able to detox at home safely. After all, alcohol is a legal substance, which makes some users think that putting an end to long-term drinking will be no problem. However, going through alcohol detox at home is extremely dangerous and can potentially result in the death.

  • Seizures are one of the major risks and side effects directly related to alcohol withdrawal.  These can range from being anywhere from 10 seconds to 3 minutes long and can be fatal.  There is a condition know as "SUDEP" which stands for Sudden Unexpected Death in Epilepsy, where no cause of death is found at the time of death.
  •  Detoxing at home is dangerous because Delirium Tremens can occur very quickly with little or no warning. Patients who experience this syndrome often do so two or three days after their last drink, but they can also start to experience its dangerous symptoms seven to ten days after.
  • People who detox at home do not have the medical supplies and knowledge necessary to safely recover from this syndrome. Even those who are not going through Delirium Tremens often need consistent checks from a doctor and benzodiazepine drugs to minimize the severity of their symptoms.
  • There is always a possibility that one’s alcohol withdrawal symptoms will worsen, and those who have gone through Delirium Tremens before are especially susceptible to this issue. However, because there is no way of knowing when or if an individual will experience this more severe syndrome, it is always safer to seek treatment for alcohol detox.

According to the NIAAA, five percent of untreated patients experience seizures, and death may occur in 5-25 percent of patients who experience Delirium Tremens. As such, it is important to avoid these worst-case scenarios by seeking treatment, especially when you cannot predict whether or not they will occur.

The Timeline for Alcohol Detox

Alcohol detox can take more time than other detox programs. For example, opioid withdrawal usually takes about a week. Alcohol withdrawal can take several weeks to finally subside.

The stages of the alcohol withdrawal timeline are listed below.

  • Stage one: The main symptoms associated with alcohol withdrawal usually begin about eight hours after one’s last drink, then continue for about 24 hours. Sometimes, they may last as long as three days.
  • Stage two: Symptoms such as jaw clenching and muscle tightening will appear during stage two. Patients usually experience these around one day after they stop drinking.
  • Stage three: Symptoms will normally start to occur about three days after drinking has ceased and may last as long as two weeks. Delirium Tremens often strikes during this time. Patients may also become extremely emotional, fearful, or tired.

Treatment Information for Alcohol Withdrawal

Alcohol withdrawal must be treated in a medical facility. Depending on the patient’s needs, different types of care may be beneficial.

  • Some individuals only need to detox from alcohol in an outpatient program. These are usually the people who have not been drinking as long and who have never experienced this syndrome before. However, it is important for the patient to make a plan with their doctor in case withdrawal worsens.
  • Most individuals in alcohol detox require residential or inpatient care where they can be monitored 24/7. Patients receive medications such as benzodiazepines, and in severe circumstances, these drugs may be used to put a patient to sleep for the duration of their detox.

Because it is such a potentially dangerous and unpredictable syndrome, alcohol withdrawal must be treated in a detox center or hospital to be completely safe.