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The Low-Down on Alcohol Withdrawal Treatment Options

Lisa Taylor
Lisa TaylorAddiction Counsellor

Assuming you have spent a considerable amount of time researching alcohol recovery treatment, you are probably familiar with the idea of combining both detox and rehabilitative therapies to ensure the greatest chances of success. The reason private rehab clinics combine the two is because alcoholism and alcohol abuse are not just physical problems. They affect the body, mind, emotions and spirit. Likewise, alcohol withdrawal treatment deals with multiple facets.

Most of what is experienced in withdrawal manifests itself as physical symptoms that can be managed to some degree using prescription medications and common medical techniques. Once withdrawal is complete, the real work of alcohol rehab begins.

We talk about alcohol rehab extensively in other places on our website. For the remainder of this guide, we will address the alcohol withdrawal process also known more commonly as 'detox'. If you are looking for a detox programme, we can provide you with valuable information about detoxing at a private clinic, through the NHS or utilising a home-based programme with the help of a medical professional.

Medicated and Non-Medicated Detox

Until just a few decades ago, detox was administered without the help of any medication. Known as 'cold turkey' withdrawal, it was a kind of alcohol withdrawal treatment that relied on making those going through withdrawal as comfortable as humanly possible while providing the emotional support necessary to make it through the process. It is still technically possible to receive non-medicated detox treatment, although it is very unusual.

Today's alcohol detox involves the use of one of several prescription medications during a 7-to-10-day process. Some of the medications are used to control alcohol cravings while others are used to take the edge off the other known withdrawal symptoms. There is one particular drug that is used to discourage those in recovery from drinking by physically making them sick. However, this drug is typically not a withdrawal drug; it is meant to be a preventative medication once withdrawal is complete.

The other thing you should know about modern detox is that, when conducted at a private clinic or NHS hospital, it is medically supervised at all times. Private clinics utilise experienced doctors, nurses and therapists trained to handle all of the medical aspects of withdrawal. At a hospital, you are more likely to be treated by a nurse.

In the case of outpatient detox, the patient would likely see a doctor at the start of the programme and then receive ongoing medical care from a registered nurse. This kind of programme can be offered at a local clinic or, when necessary, even at home.

Inpatient and Outpatient Detox

When clients call us for help with an alcohol problem, they soon realise just how many choices for treatment are available. One of the first choices that have to be made is whether alcohol withdrawal treatment will be utilised on an inpatient or outpatient basis. Circumstances and preferences will generally dictate this choice.

The differences between inpatient and outpatient detox are as follows:

  • Inpatient – An inpatient detox programme involves checking into a facility and remaining there until the process is complete. This kind of detox is usually completed within 7 to 10 days. Its main advantage is 24-hour medical monitoring in the event any complications could become medical emergencies. Inpatient detox also tends to be quicker and more thorough.
  • Outpatient – Outpatient detox normally involves visiting a public clinic every day until detox is complete. While at the clinic, the patient gets a routine medical exam as well as the next round of prescription medications. Some people prefer this form of detox because it is less intense and less uncomfortable than inpatient care, but it almost always takes much longer. Some people never actually finish because they start drinking again before detox is complete.

A small number of individuals are eligible for what is known as home detox. Home detox is offered when outpatient detox is not appropriate but an individual does not have the means to take advantage of an inpatient programme. Those who qualify essentially stay home, with no alcohol in the house, for the duration of the programme. A visiting nurse stops by daily to monitor health and administer prescriptions. A family member or friend stays in the home to offer extra help.

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Alcohol Withdrawal and Vitamins

In the last few years, we have seen the emergence of a new kind of alcohol withdrawal treatment with an emphasis on treating patients with heavy doses of vitamins and minerals. It is still not big here in the UK, but we are seeing more and more in North America. It may not be too much longer before it is part of mainstream treatment here.

The treatment is based in the reality that persistent alcoholism robs the body of essential vitamins, minerals, and other nutrients. Those who developed the treatment believe that replacing all of those nutrients at the start of withdrawal helps the body to recover much more quickly and with less intense withdrawal symptoms. In all but the most hard-core cases, they believe they can have alcoholics completely detoxed and back to normal life with a minimal amount of counselling and support group work.

A home version of this kind of treatment has been utilised around the world for decades. We do not recommend you trying to it unless you first see a doctor. Here's why: there are certain withdrawal symptoms associated with detox that, if they become serious, can lead to a condition known as delirium tremens. This condition results in an extremely rapid heartbeat, high body temperature, hallucinations, and seizures that could lead to serious injury or even death.

Detox is not something that should be taken lightly. If you or someone you care about is in need of alcohol withdrawal treatment, we urge you to seek a professional opinion before doing anything. We can help with free advice, referrals and a comprehensive assessment of your potential alcohol problem. You need only call our 24-hour helpline to immediately speak with one of our counsellors.

Alcohol withdrawal treatment is available in your local area or very nearby. Please call us and inquire about that treatment if there is any chance that you or a loved one has a drinking problem. Getting in touch with us is the first step to getting on the road to recovery.

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