Alcoholism is a deeply complex problem, affecting mind and body in a myriad of ways. Alcohol detox methods, by necessity, must conform to the individual needs of a specific patient. There are fundamental principles and philosophies of alcohol detox, but there are also many factors to consider when devising a program to meet the needs of a specific individual. Thus, an effective alcohol detox program is devised upon a foundation of detox methods selected according to the particular degree and specific circumstances of an alcoholic’s addiction.
Long-Term Alcoholics Have Different Detox Needs
When a person has been an alcoholic for decades, detoxification methods must take into account the degree of physical dependence present. The physical symptoms of withdrawal can be severe, dramatic, and even life-threatening, according to Diagnosis and Management of Acute Alcohol Withdrawal, a peer-reviewed article published in the Canadian Medical Association Journal. Symptoms can include convulsions, seizures, hallucinations, anxiety, panic and delirium tremens.
Thus, alcohol detox methods based upon treatment philosophies that only employ natural, drug-free detox in a non-medical setting may not be the safest choice, in terms of physical health, nor in terms of mental well-being. The fear and anxiety associated with the potential severity of withdrawal symptoms may serve as a deterrent from taking that first step into recovery – the detoxification process. Alcohol detox methods for long-term alcoholics tend to utilize pharmaceutical support and treatment. These are some of the methods associated with this approach:
- Assessment of the degree of addiction, including the length of time of dependency, the amount of alcohol consumed, and the frequency of use is the first step to being able to calculate the potential severity of withdrawal and to devise a plan of support through the detoxification period
- Monitoring of the severity of withdrawal symptoms, using a standardized measure, such as the Clinical Institute Withdrawal Assessment for Alcohol scale, enables medical staff to target pharmaceutical treatment and support specifically to the needs of the alcoholic.
- Depending on the severity of the withdrawal symptoms, medications such as benzodiazepine may be used. According to a United Kingdom National Treatment Agency for Substance Misuse review of the effectiveness of current treatment models for alcoholism, chlordiazepoxide, also known as Librium, and diazepam, prescribed under the non-generic brand name of Valium, are also used to manage withdrawal symptoms during alcohol detox.
- Thiamine, a B-complex vitamin, is given during the detox phase because alcoholics are notoriously low on this essential nutrient. The Canadian Medical Association Journal article places the standard dosage at between 25 and 50 mg. This is given intravenously in an effort to prevent Wernicke’s encephalopathy, a “degenerative brain disorder” that alcoholics are prone to because of their typical B-1 deficiency.
Detox Methods for Less Severe Alcoholism
Detoxification plans for individuals who are not expected to face the same intensity of withdrawal that a long-term alcoholic must endure can utilize alcoholic detox methods from a variety of treatment perspectives. In a sense, detox methods for less severe alcoholism are more personalized, as they tend to rest upon a foundation of personal belief and life philosophy in addition to clinical studies and medical research. These methods may include:
- The use of herbal preparations to ease or treat withdrawal symptoms instead of traditional pharmaceuticals.
- Nutritional supplements designed to address the deficiencies caused by alcoholism, as well as to combat the effects of withdrawal symptoms. For example, B-complex vitamins affect cognitive function and mood, as do some minerals.
- Emotional support through intense counseling sessions and, if need be, literal hand-holding through the most difficult withdrawal phases.
- Cognitive direction that teaches ways of managing the mind through withdrawal, such as meditation, prayer and relaxation techniques that include deep breathing exercises.
- Physical activity planned specifically to stimulate the brain to release its own “feel-good” chemicals.
Detox methods can come from a variety of clinical and professional perspectives. Some are based upon overall life philosophies, such as natural living or specific spiritual beliefs. Every detox program, however, should begin with an honest assessment of the degree of addiction and a complete evaluation of overall physical and mental health. Detoxification from alcohol can be dangerous, and it is not a process that should be embarked upon in a casual manner. The safety and well-being of the patient is of paramount concern and essential to detox success.