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Drug and alcohol addiction affect over 20 million Americans each year. It is a seductive disease that develops over time, and through combination of lifestyle factors, genetic predisposition, and physical and psychological dependence, many find themselves deep in addictive cycles that are almost impossible to break on their own.
With the consequences of addiction being so severe, it is imperative that one seeks support and structure as they begin the process of recovery. Realizing the problem is the first step; making the decision to enter rehab is a courageous step toward getting your life back and regaining your mental, physical, and emotional health.
Of all the substances used and abused as part of addictive cycles, by far the most common is alcohol. It is the most easily obtained, it is the most socially acceptable mind-altering substance, and even children can find their way into addictive patterns with this substance present in their homes. Often times, a person with “addictive” behavior can function at work and at home for years, but the patterns of chemical and physical dependency root themselves firmly in the body and the brain, making it more difficult with every passing year to break free from the cycle. The damage is done.
As you enter rehabilitation, there are several steps that you will go through to successfully complete treatment. The initial phase of treatment is known as detox. During alcohol detox, the body is forced to withdraw from dependency on alcohol, causing some very unpleasant and possibly life-threatening symptoms that can cause the most firm resolve to crumble. Relapse into old behavior is most common during the process of detox, for the body cries out by creating such a state of discomfort that an individual seeks to relieve symptoms by drinking once more. As you contemplate this initial stage of recovery, it is important to understand that this is a chemical dependency, a brain disease that can be managed, but not cured. Have a little compassion for yourself, rally the support of family and friends, and look forward to easier, smoother times ahead once you pass the initial storm of symptoms.
The good news is, an inpatient treatment program will provide you with tools and support to manage symptoms. Your medical team will provide you with strategies, medications, and other methods of care that will hopefully minimize your discomfort and set you up for success. While there is no shortcut for detox and you will likely experience some symptoms, it is important to keep the lines of communication between you and your caregivers open so that you can co-create conditions for your healing that work for you. Unexpected symptoms and conditions can develop during this process that necessitate medication and protocol changes; in communicating your symptoms to your care team, you’ll be able to better manage your comfort level and make conditions more favorable for healing and health.
Why is the detox process so difficult?
Alcohol abuse over time has a profoundly negative effect on the brain. Ingesting alcohol triggers the brain to release a flood of happy, calming chemicals such as dopamine into the body, which is a highly addictive process. The brain attempts to counteract and balance this excess dopamine by releasing excitatory neurotransmitters. The addictive cycle has begun.
As one begins to cut back or eliminate alcohol, the brain “freaks out”, attempting to rebalance brain chemistry with damaged tissues. Neurotransmitters that promote anxiety, stress, and an attempt to problem solve are working overtime, and they have no dopamine to fall back on to provide that calm that they have come to expect. As a result, your detox symptoms become very uncomfortable until the brain can balance its own signals once more and begin acting as master and commander of all of your systems. Any successful detox is dependent on your ability to manage symptoms and keep you moderately comfortable while allowing the body to shed its chemical dependence on alcohol.
How long does it take to detox?
Depending on the severity of the addiction and the length of time one has been drinking, it may take several weeks to be completely free from withdrawal symptoms. This basic timeline is an overview of what you might expect to experience in your initial detox time:
Stage one usually takes place anywhere from 8 to 24 hours after your last period of drinking. You may experience:
- Stomach pain
Weathering this initial period of time is critical to moving through additional stages of detox.
Now that your body is adjusting to life without alcohol, you may experience increasing discomfort as your brain sends out panicked signals to the rest of the body. Some of these stage two symptoms include:
- Mental confusion
- An increase in blood pressure
As your body throws off toxic residue and your brain begins the delicate work of rebalancing neurological processes, you’ll move on through stage three, where some of your more severe symptoms may start to subside.
In stage three, you may be thinking clearer, but your body is still experiencing the toxic effects of alcohol abuse. Some of your symptomsm may include:
- Shortness of breath
- Periods of confusion
- High heart rate
- Vivid hallucinations or dreams
Talking to your care team is critical as you move through these stages; they will be able to find solutions for some of your more uncomfortable symptoms, and provide you with the tools and support to complete detox successfully.
You made it through…..now what?
Completing detox is just the first step in completion of a rehabilitation program. You have counseling, therapy, group work, nutritional counseling, and other services at your disposal for optimal health and healing; take these opportunities and keep looking toward the brighter future that you intend to create. You deserve a life of health and happiness, and we can help you get there. Call us today to get started on your healing journey!
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