How Does an Outpatient Alcohol Detox Work?
There was a time when hospitalization was a requirement for a heavy drinker who had finally decided to stop. Today, persons with an AUD have additional options. In the following sections, you’ll learn how an outpatient alcohol detox works. Alcohol use disorder (AUD) is a condition where a person has problematic alcohol use. It can range from mild to severe, with each stage having different symptoms. Subsequently, care and detox programs will also depend on the severity of each case. People with severe AUD can experience dangerous withdrawal symptoms if they suddenly stop taking alcohol. If you or someone you know suffer from AUD, the first step in treatment is alcohol detox. In most cases, alcohol detox can be done under outpatient conditions. However, in the case of severe alcoholism, alcohol detox is best done under controlled conditions to prevent dangerous withdrawal symptoms.
What is Alcohol Detox
Alcohol detox is the first and most crucial step in treating AUD. This process entails completely flushing out all the alcohol from the body. It is an essential step because it removes the body’s dependence on alcohol. The detoxification process depends on a variety of factors, including:
- The severity of the AUD
- Underlying physical or mental health issues
- Family history (substance or alcohol abuse history within the family can lead to an increased risk of severe AUD)
On average, the physical part of the detox (i.e., flushing out alcohol from the body) will take anywhere from a few days to around two weeks. It is during this period that the symptoms of alcohol withdrawal will manifest. However, it may take weeks or even months for the body to recover from the negative mental and emotional effects of AUD.
What are the Symptoms of Alcohol Withdrawal?
The symptoms of alcohol withdrawal can be characterized as either mild or severe. The mild symptoms include:
- Excessive sweating
For people who have severe AUD, the symptoms of alcohol withdrawal are generally more serious, such as:
- Strong tremors
- Extreme hallucinations
Is a Detox Program Really Necessary?
Convincing someone to check into a structured detox program can be tricky. Some people believe that they don’t need to undergo a program because they can “power through” the detox process on their own. Others will be wary because they are afraid of experiencing withdrawal symptoms. As a rule of thumb, if you need alcohol to feel “normal”, then you probably need a structured detox program. A formal detox program will help you through the worse of the detox process, particularly through any difficult withdrawal symptoms. What’s more, you will get help from licensed and experienced substance abuse treatment counselors to make the process as smooth as possible. If you are suffering from severe AUD, a formal alcohol detox program not only gives you a program to follow, but you can also get prescribed medications to ease withdrawal symptoms.
What Happens During Alcohol Detox?
It is difficult to determine a “schedule” for what will happen during alcohol detox. Some symptoms can surface as quickly as two hours after your last alcohol consumption, while others will take longer to manifest. Furthermore, the most severe withdrawal symptoms can subside within a week or so, but milder symptoms can last for months. While there is no set timeline that you can follow, here is a general breakdown of what will happen during alcohol detox:
Initial 6-12 hours
Mild symptoms such as irritability, headaches, and anxiety will start to appear. These can quickly worsen as time passes.
After the first 24-48 hours, more severe symptoms such as tremors and seizures may begin. You will generally start taking any prescribed medications during this period to help ease the symptoms.
This is typically the most difficult and painful period during a detox. The symptoms are usually at their most severe during this time. It is common to experience panic attacks and hallucinations as the alcohol is removed from your system. During the last few days, you will notice that the symptoms will slowly begin to subside.
Day 8 onward
After your first week of detox, the symptoms will taper off and most severe symptoms will disappear. However, you can still experience mild symptoms long after the week-long detox process. These symptoms can be treated with medication.
What Is an Outpatient Alcohol Detox?
For those who have mild to moderate AUD, outpatient alcohol detox can be an option. You can undergo the detoxification process in your home, provided that you have the support of a licensed health care professional. Outpatient alcohol detox is generally cheaper than checking into a rehab or treatment center, and for some people, being in familiar and comfortable surroundings make the detox process easier. This option is also more effective if you have a strong support system at home that can guide you through your detox process. Alcohol outpatients do better in recovery if they feel understood and supported. Before you opt for outpatient alcohol detox, it is best to consult with a licensed substance abuse counselor. This will help you understand your options and choose whether outpatient alcohol detox is the best step for you.
Do I Need Follow-up Care?
Follow-up care is recommending for those who have moderate to severe AUD because of the greater chance of a relapse. Even after completing a detox program, it can be easy to “fall off the wagon” and start drinking again especially during times of mental or emotional distress. There are several types of follow-up care to choose from, such as 12-step programs, group counseling, or private therapy sessions. If you don’t know which is best for you, you can consult with your substance abuse counselor. You can also ask for referrals from people who have completed 12-step programs or are part of group counseling sessions. Outpatient alcohol detox can be a frightening thing to consider, but it often turns out to be the start of a new and better life. Remember, there is no shame in seeking follow-up care. Beating alcohol addiction is not a race; there is no set finish line. If you are still struggling with the after-effects of alcoholism, it is better to seek help rather than relapse.