What Happens During an Alcohol Detox and How Long Does It Last?

Posted on January 14th, 2012

In a world with microwave ovens, drive-through dining and overnight package delivery the question of “how long will it take” is only natural. Americans in the 21st century are accustomed to fast results. For the person ready to embark on the difficult path to sobriety, the question of how long it will take to complete detox and rehab is second only to “what will it be like?”

It needs to be kept uppermost in everyone’s mind that detox is but the initial step on a long road. Detox marks the abrupt ending to alcohol intake and is necessary in order to cleanse the body of all traces of alcohol. This process usually covers a week to ten days during which time patients may experience a wide range of symptoms depending upon the frequency of their alcohol use. Symptoms experienced during detox may be as mild as a headache or nausea but could be as severe at delirium tremens (DTs) marked by seizures and/or hallucinations. Regardless of the severity of the symptoms, the detox process requires roughly the same amount of time.

Once this initial period of cleansing is over, the harder work of rehab begins; without it, relapse is more than likely. That is because detox rids the body of a poison, but does nothing to address the healing and re-education which is needed to take place before an addiction can be overcome. Rehab programs may be in-patient and last above 45 days, or they may work on an outpatient basis which could take longer. The important thing is that rehab will address the various ways that alcohol has become an addiction and the residual effects of its abuse. Detox removes the alcohol from the body’s system, but does nothing to confront the desire for alcohol that yet lingers within the person.

Alcoholism takes a terrible toll on the physical body. The kidneys and liver work as the body’s natural detox organs. It has been their job to eliminate alcohol from the body. Years of heavy abuse may have all but exhausted them. Additionally, alcoholics usually have a poor appetite and as a result consume a meager and nutritionally poor diet. Combined with the physical challenges of detox this leaves the body nutritionally compromised.

Many rehab programs use vitamin B1 supplements, along with folic acid and iron supplements to boost overall health. Herbal teas and broths are also served to gently maintain hydration needs. Doctors overseeing the detox and rehab process may prescribe medications which can help to reduce cravings and diminish the perceived pleasure of alcohol consumption. Still, only the physical aspects of the addiction have been addressed. In order to live sober, other affected areas of a person’s life must be addressed.

Rehab includes therapies designed to help patients confront the psychological aspects of their disease. It is important to learn what triggers a person’s desire to drink along with new and healthier ways of coping with those triggers. Quitting alcohol may have emotional repercussions. Patients may experience fatigue, depression, anxiety, nightmares or mood swings as they learn new methods of dealing with stress. Addressing spiritual needs is another way for patients to find psychological victory.

In addition to physical and emotional components, there will need to be a significant change in social habits. Time spent drinking or in drinking establishments will need to be filled with new and better social engagements. If the person has been abusing alcohol for very long, they may have burned some bridges with friends and family which will need to be rebuilt. Therapy sessions during rehab help patients to develop new social skills and thoughtfully plan how they will avoid situations which could trigger a relapse.

Detox rids the body of alcohol. Rehab builds new ways to manage things which led to the abuse of alcohol. Both are needed.

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