Alcohol Detox – A necessary but dangerous part of rehabilitation

The Danger of Detox

One of the main problems of addiction is “denial.”  This denial is not just about the problem that alcohol is causing us within our life.  This denial extends to trying to convince our family and friends that there is not even a problem in the first place. 

One of the most common things that we do is try to convince those around us that we are drinking like everyone else and can stop and start consuming at will and there really isn’t an issue. For an individual with a long history of drinking that can be the most dangerous thing that they try and do.

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What is alcohol

Firstly, lets understand a bit more about alcohol and what we are denying we have a problem with. In its base form, it is known as Ethanol, ethyl alcohol, grain alcohol or drinking alcohol and it has a chemical formula C2H6O.  Ethanol can be used in many forms, as a chemical solvent, antiseptic, disinfectant, and even a fuel source. 

Brazil is one of the world’s leading producers of Ethanol where it is used as an engine fuel and powers most of Brazil’s taxis. Petrol in Brazil contains at least 25% Ethanol. In the UK, the new unleaded petrol that has recently been introduced contains 10% Ethanol. However, Ethanol is more widely known to us as a recreational drug and the active ingredient in alcoholic drinks.

Testing if you are a compulsive drinker

At Haynes Clinic, when we are offering an assessment, people will often ask us “well do you think I have a problem as I don’t drink every day,” or “I don’t think I am going to need a detox.” Everyone is different so it really doesn’t matter when you drink, what you drink, possibly even how much you drink, it matters what happens when you drink.  The problems you cause, the way you hurt others and loved ones, having days off work as sick, our feelings, feelings of guilt.

Generally, a problem drinker ultimately does not have an on /off switch. This also applies to a binge drinker who will drink for days then stop.  What happens differently with a binge drinker though is the binges get longer or the gap between each binge gets shorter, it’s just a matter of time. Either way, we are introducing a drug into our body on a regular basis.  The amount of this drug we consume will affect everyone in different ways and over different periods of time.

Normally, a drinker who is trying to prove a point will drink again on the third day.  That is when the thoughts and craving for a drink are at the highest.  Also, it is extremely common for an individual to say “there it’s been three days, I told you I didn’t have a problem.”  By drinking on the third day it could also inadvertently stop a seizure or fit.

The Physical impact of ceasing to drink

However, being that regular drinker, then to suddenly decide to show others, or even yourself, there is not a problem can have a detrimental effect on the body and in particular the brain. When we are drinking, Dopamine and Gamma Aminobutyric Acid levels become raised.  Dopamine affects our pleasure sensations, whilst GABA depresses the central nervous system. Over a period, alcohol alters regular levels of these neurotransmitters and the more often we drink the more the brain will rely on the effects of alcohol alone to keep these levels stable.

However, alcohol also, by enhancing the effects of the neurotransmitter GABA, slows down brain functioning and is classified as a Central Nervous System Depressant. This in turn increases anxiety, stress, and depressive periods.  We go and see our GP; we are not honest about our drinking and get prescribed anti-depressants.  Anti-depressants are one of the medications that do not work with alcohol. This leads to us becoming more depressed and struggling with withdrawal symptoms that are keeping us drinking, creating a downward spiral.

In reducing or stopping our alcohol intake we will begin to experience withdrawal effects, caused by these levels within our body altering. This leads to us needing alcohol as opposed to ourselves taking a recreational drink.  These withdrawal effects can vary and include nausea, hand tremors, headaches, and feeling sweaty. There is certainly a feeling of being unwell and people will commonly turn to drinking alcohol again to relieve this discomfort, called “hair of the dog.” This is an example of how it can lead us to starting morning drinking.

Normally, for a regular drinker, just stopping can possibly lead to a seizure, often on the third day after stopping though this can occur at any time during the withdrawal period.  A seizure is the same as a fit when the body goes into spasms. Obviously, this is an extremely dangerous condition and has been, in certain circumstances, the cause of death but hospitalisation is a more common outcome. However, hospitals will not let you block a bed and are now very strict. They may hydrate the person and then discharge them from treatment, possibly within 24 hours with a referral back to their GP.  The hospital will not usually offer you a medical alcohol detox. It is a terrible sight for a loved one seeing someone have a seizure and having to call an ambulance.

Safe Detox

Due to legislation and legality, the only safe place to have a medically assisted detoxification from alcohol is by being admitted to a specialist clinic such as The Haynes Clinic.  In the past, it was possible for your GP to prescribe medication to help you safely come off alcohol. The problem was that they were not able to prescribe a high enough dose due to safety, as the medication itself, if not taken as prescribed, can be dangerous.  Therefore, the individual would be suffering the effects of withdrawal and tend to drink alcohol on top of the prescribed medication.

The Haynes Clinic provides a clinically safe environment for prescribing, by our own doctor, to any individual the correct amount of medication. This is on a daily reducing scale, over a period of up to 10 days for an alcohol detox.  The medication normally prescribed is Librium.  This is a Benzodiazepine. It provides a completely safe prescribed detox from alcohol.  There are generally no withdrawal symptoms and if any they would be very light and without any discomfort. 

In certain circumstances our GP will also prescribe Zopiclone.  This is a good medication to assist in kickstarting an individual’s sleep pattern. It acts to assist in getting you to sleep but does not work through the night, so you do not have difficulty in waking up. This is normally prescribed for up to 6 nights. We lose our natural sleep pattern very quickly when we are drinking at night.  We don’t go to sleep normally but tend to be sedated by the alcohol that has had an effect on our central nervous system. Thus, the need to restart our normal sleep pattern with a brief intervention of medication. Most people are able to commence group therapy the day following admission, the medication is that effective. 

To just have a medically assisted detoxification from alcohol is insufficient.  To remain free from alcohol we recommend that anyone comes to the Haynes Clinic to engage within a 28 day residential inpatient programme, including daily therapy, to help us understand the changes that we need to make in our lives.  A fully overseen clinical alcohol detox, by our doctor is just the beginning.