If you struggle with alcoholism and are thinking of checking yourself into an alcohol detox center, you may be unsure what to expect. Will they give you medication to ease withdrawal? (They might.) Will they demand you abstain from all “substances,” including medications prescribed for unrelated conditions? (Not likely.) Will they be condescending or scold you for being a “drunk”? (No reputable center will ever treat a patient like that. Do, however, conduct some pre-treatment research beyond Googling “alcohol detox center near me.”) How much will it cost? How badly will it hurt? For that matter, do you really need a professional detox center at all—is the private “cold turkey” approach that bad an idea?
1. It’s never safe to detox on your own.
To that last question, the answer is “yes” too often to make solo detox worth risking: it’s always a “see how close to the edge you can drive without falling off” game. Often, it starts off feeling no worse than a typical post-binge hangover, only to escalate without warning into seizures, hallucinations, heavy sweating, violently racing heart or other symptoms that make a hangover seem like a mild cramp. You could easily get into a condition that necessitates immediate emergency care—which probably means you’ll wind up in an alcohol detox center anyway, with an extra medical bill. Or if you’re really unlucky, you might not wake up for another chance at alcohol detox.
And even if you do make it through a solo detox with few ill effects, without long-term advice and support you’ll always be at high risk to relapse into alcoholic drinking.
2. Alcohol detox centers are staffed by medical professionals.
The advice and support you need begins with medically managed withdrawal. Perhaps because of well-publicized cases of unscrupulous “drug hospitals” serving as fronts for insurance-fraud schemes, some people think detox centers are second-rate, even dangerous, compared to other medical centers. Actually, the vast majority of detox centers have the same levels of qualified medical care as other health providers: licensed M.D.s who can prescribe medication to ease withdrawal symptoms, registered nurses for hands-on care, and certified therapists to help ease transition back into normal life. Some general hospitals even include detox centers and addiction treatment among their services.
Reviewing a center’s online staff list and treatment descriptions, checking for any complaints filed against them, and arranging a preliminary interview should clear up any uncertainties about their professionalism.
"Seeking help means one is no longer allowing their drug of choice control their life. Treatment helps you take your life again back and makes you feel stronger. Treatment is your nest where you will fly out to your new life with your new wings."
3. Your health insurance may pay for detox-center treatment.
Check which centers are on your insurance company’s list of approved providers. Many people are unaware that “substance use disorder” (which includes alcoholism) is legally a disability and that most health insurance plans provide relevant coverage. If you aren’t sure, ask your insurance agent, or your employer if you have a job with health-insurance benefits. (Don’t worry, your boss can’t legally fire you for admitting you have an alcohol addiction and need time off for treatment. They may well be relieved to learn you intend to remedy a problem that was probably adversely affecting your job performance.)
4. Withdrawal isn’t something you can complete in a few hours.
So what can you expect when detox actually begins?
Not everyone in alcohol detox has all the following symptoms, but typically, the first signs of withdrawal manifest within six to 12 hours after the last drink: these symptoms may include nausea, anxiety and heavy perspiration. At the 12–24-hour point, the second detox stage begins and the danger of life-threatening symptoms is highest. Treatment personnel observe the patient carefully, watching for seizures, breathing difficulties, stroke or any other reaction calling for immediate medical response. This stage usually passes by the end of the second “abstinent” day.
Next, you’ll feel additional, unpleasant withdrawal effects for another two or three days (sometimes up to a week). These effects may include nervous “shakiness,” flulike physical symptoms, feelings of deep depression or—if you’re among the unluckier detoxers—alcohol withdrawal delirium, commonly called delirium tremens. “DT” brings serious mental confusion and can cause potentially life-threatening changes in autonomic functions such as heart rate. The detox center’s treatment providers will stay ready to help you through any such extreme symptoms.
5. Detox is only the first step.
Once you’ve recovered enough to get out of bed, your first impulse may be to seek immediate discharge so you can “get back to normal life”—in which case you’ll likely feel a burst of indignation when your doctor recommends staying for a month or more of follow-up care. Try to understand—as your treatment providers do—that you’re only detoxed, not “cured.” You may still be vulnerable to dangerous episodes of anxiety or depression, and in any case it’s very unlikely that you’re ready to return to “everyday life” and remain sober. If you rush back to the old routine, you may fall back into the old coping habit and wind up back in alcohol detox treatment anyway.
Long-term care, which may be provided on the same premises as the alcohol detox center or at a halfway house, will help you better prepare for life beyond daily drinking. You’ll receive daily therapy, participate in group discussions, and learn new ways to manage stress, defuse “drinking triggers” and set long-term goals for your life.
If your physical, financial or vocational situation could make long-term residential treatment impractical, ask about outpatient treatment options that combine long-term care with an outside-life schedule. Don’t, however, try this route without strong accountability and a firm personal commitment to completing the program. And listen to your treatment providers’ concerns on whether the outpatient approach would work for you: right now, they’re probably in the best position to judge what you’re ready to “handle.”
Even after you’re officially released from treatment, your journey isn’t over. You’ll need support to stay sober for the long run—ongoing therapy, support groups, someone to call in case of emergency. Your detox center may or may not stay directly involved, but in any event consider keeping in regular touch with individuals who helped you through detox. They may have additional resources that could prove just what you need at some future point. Or, someone else may need a quick referral to a good alcohol detox program!
If you or a loved one need additional information on alcohol detox, call Inland Detox today at (888) 739-8296.