Alcohol detox can kill you...
Don't Detox on Your own
It seems crazy that a legal substance can do so much damage when try to stop using it!
When you drink enough alcohol, over a long enough period, your brain changes in response to the continual presence of a substance (alcohol) that slows it down so much. Understanding the science behind alcohol detox can explain a lot.
The Science of Alcohol Detox
One of the consequences of prolonged alcohol abuse is a change in the amount of GABA is the brain. GABA is an inhibitory neurotransmitter, and heavy alcohol consumption can reduce the amount of GABA produced in the brain. This is no problem as long as the alcoholic continues to drink, because alcohol also functions like an inhibitory neurotransmitter, and things are kept in equilibrium. When alcohol use is suddenly stopped, there is neither enough GABA nor alcohol in the brain to inhibit the firing of neurons, and this can lead to uncontrollable synaptic firing, and this is what leads to the experienced symptoms of alcohol withdrawal. Alcohol is probably the most dangerous drug to detox safely off of.
Safe Alcohol Detox
A medically supervised detoxification is the best way to get off of alcohol, and medical personal can ensure that the process is as comfortable and as safe as possible. Because there exists a real danger of convulsions, seizures, and even heart failure, due to the reduction in GABA, another drug that acts in a similar way to alcohol is administered during the detox. Most commonly a benzodiazpine, or sometimes a barbiturate is used. These drugs are given at a baseline amount, at a dose high enough to sedate mildly and control detox symptoms, and are gradually tapered off until the alcoholic no longer suffers from the pains and health risks of withdrawal.
Detox is not Treatment
Detox alone is not treatment, and alcoholics that are detoxed off of alcohol, but not offered any therapy treatment or cognitive training, are very unlikely to change their destructive drinking; and most will be drunk again before long. The period after detox should be used for the treatment of the disease, and every effort should be made to get the alcoholic sober over the long term through appropriate therapy, including a residential rehab if applicable.
Page last updated Aug 05, 2010