How does Alcohol Detox work?

How does Alcohol Detox work?

What is Alcohol Detox?

Detox, short for detoxification, is the body’s way of removing toxins and harmful substances that may have accumulated due to long-term alcohol use.

It is done before the rehab treatment itself to help a person overcome his dependence on drinking.

Phases of Alcohol Detox

Detox is done to ensure the person’s safety throughout the alcohol withdrawal process. It involves a set of interventions – including the use of medications and counseling.

Perhaps the most important aspect is that it has the power to minimize the damage brought about by alcoholism. 

According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, the broad process of alcohol detox involves the following three phases: 

1. Evaluation

Actions done during evaluation serve as the basis for the treatment plan. It entails alcohol blood testing and screening for the client’s underlying physical and mental problems.

It also includes a thorough assessment of the patient’s medical history, psychological profile, and social status to determine the treatment program that suits the client.

2. Stabilization

This involves the medical and psychological interventions that need to be done to assist the client throughout the withdrawal process.

In this step, the person is briefed regarding the detox process and how it can help him recover completely. During this course, medication may be administered as needed.

Counselors may also seek the help of family, friends, employers, and other significant people so they can rally behind the client towards his journey to rehab. 

3. Fostering the patient’s entry into treatment

Once the stabilization process is complete, the client is prepped for his entry to either an outpatient program or an inpatient treatment facility. During this process, the counselor reinforces to the patient the need to complete the treatment program. 

In some cases where individuals are not ready or hesitant to enter the treatment phase, a counselor might ask the client to sign a contract.

This signifies his agreement to participate in treatment once he is ready or stable enough to do so. This non-binding document includes the details and contact numbers of outpatient rehab programs or inpatient treatment institutions. 

Do not drink alcohol

Types of Detox Programs 

There are several types of detox programs, with services that range from outpatient treatment to hospitalization. Essentially, the goal of these services is to smoothen the patient’s transition into treatment and recovery. 

Types of detox programs include: 

1. Ambulatory Detoxification 

Ambulatory detoxification without extended onsite monitoring is an outpatient service that can be delivered in an office, treatment facility, even the comfort of one’s home. The program is designed to manage the patient according to the severity of his alcohol addiction so that he remains safe and comfortable throughout the withdrawal process. 

Ambulatory detox services are delivered by healthcare professionals who are capable of evaluating, supervising, detoxifying and referring the patient as needed. All these services are rendered in scheduled sessions. 

A special type of ambulatory detox is one with extended onsite monitoring. It makes use of registered or licensed practical nurses who monitor clients for several hours per session. 

Both services are highly recommended for patients with strong social support networks.

2. Clinically-Managed Residential Detoxification 

Residential programs offer 24-hour observation, monitoring, and support for individuals suffering from intoxication and alcohol withdrawal. It emphasizes peer and social support, with medical treatment provided as necessary. 

Residential settings differ. Some deliver intensive supervision under the eyes of doctors, physician assistants, nurse practitioners, and registered nurses. These professionals are available 24/7 to provide the needed care. Because of this nature, this type of residential setting can handle even the most complicated of alcoholism cases. 

There are sites, however, with limited medical staff and equipment. They are called ‘social detoxification’ centers. They provide lodging and support – a ‘cold turkey’ site if you will for those who wish to quit alcohol. Because of its limited reach, social detox centers are required to refer patients at risk of delirium tremens (or other complications) to intensive residential centers – even the hospital as needed. 

3. Medically-Monitored Inpatient Detoxification 

Individuals experiencing a more severe form of intoxication or withdrawal are usually placed under medically-monitored inpatient detoxification. Similar to a residential set-up, Supervision, observation, and support are given here 24/7. 

The role of the physician in this type of detoxification is to assess the patient within 24 hours of admission – or sooner if needed. He/she should also provide onsite monitoring and evaluation daily. The nurse, on the other hand, is in charge of initial assessment, hourly monitoring, and medication administration.

What Medications are Given for Alcohol Detox?

Here are some medications that may be given throughout detox:

  • Benzodiazepines. This type of drug prevents the worsening of withdrawal symptoms. The doctor may prescribe Diazepam, Chlordiazepoxide, Lorazepam, and Oxazepam to address the said problem.
  • Phenobarbital. This effective yet addictive barbiturate drug is used to curb withdrawal symptoms. It is used in supervised settings since an overdose of this drug is usually fatal. 
  • Anticonvulsants. Favored in Europe, Carbamazepine is used for the treatment of mild to moderate alcohol withdrawal. Another similar class of drug that is just as effective is Valproic Acid. 
  • Antipsychotics. Drugs such as Haloperidol can help control hallucination, agitation, delirium, and delusions that might take place during alcohol withdrawal. 

Because this program takes place in a hospital setting, medically-monitored inpatient detoxification is more expensive than other detox services. 

What is the Right Detox Program for Me?

While you have the right to choose your detox program, in most cases, the healthcare provider’s decision is the final word. Whether he puts you in outpatient or inpatient detox depends on several factors. 

To clarify, you are a candidate for ambulatory treatment if you can: 

  • Make it to the clinic/center daily or as needed throughout the detox
  • Have a support person to assist/accompany you to detox 
  • Follow treatment recommendations specified by the healthcare professional 

However, you need to be admitted in an inpatient facility if you meet the following criteria:

  • History of medical conditions such as diabetes, hypertension, and pregnancy in women
  • History of withdrawal seizures or delirium tremens 
  • Unable to give informed consent 
  • Unwilling or unable to heed treatment recommendations 
  • Psychotic, suicidal, or homicidal 

Detox is a way to get clean safe – so you can embark on treatments and therapies that can solve your alcohol addiction. Consult with a healthcare professional today to get the right detox program for your needs. 


Latest posts by Raychel Ria Agramon, BSN, RN, MPM (see all)

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