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Alcohol Detox Medication

Alcohol detoxification is also known as “drying out” and involves the patient stopping drinking and then handling the withdrawal symptoms that arise as a result.
Withdrawal from alcohol occurs because the body has adjusted over time to being so accustomed to the presence of alcohol that it actually needs a level of alcohol to be present in the blood.  If the person stops drinking their blood alcohol concentration (BAC) level drops and the body struggles to function.
The symptoms that accompany alcohol detoxification can be very unpleasant or even life-threateningly dangerous.  They range from shakes, cold sweats, irritability, insomnia, nausea, and headaches right up to dangerous symptoms like hallucinations, seizures and death.
Detox medication prescribed by a doctor can reduce the discomfort and risk associated with this process.
What types of alcohol detox medication are there?
Medications that fall into the class of drugs known as benzodiazepines are the most commonly used medication in assisting an alcohol detox.  These mild sedatives will ease some of the symptoms of alcohol detoxification such as anxiety, insomnia, and cramping.
Different benzodiazepines have differing lengths of time that they remain effective for.  Two of the longer lasting medications – diazepam and clonazepam – are the most popular drugs in this family for alcohol detoxification.
Another, less commonly used, family of drugs is barbiturate class.  These medications are also sedatives and provide similar anti-convulsant effects to help with cramping.  They are more effective in dealing with severe cases of alcohol withdrawal that include delirium tremens.
Sometimes a physician may prescribe an anti-psychotic medication for alcohol detox as an addition to the benzodiazepines.  They help to control agitation and hallucinations, but place the patient at a greater risk of seizures.  Therefore they are prescribed with caution.
Although vitamin supplements might not be viewed as a medication it is worth mentioning that doctors will often prescribe thiamine and folic acid for alcohol detox.  Wernicke’s syndrome is a serious condition that may occur during detoxification and these vitamins help to prevent this.
Is alcohol detox medication safe?
Long-term use of benzodiazepines or barbiturates can result in physical tolerance and addiction / dependence developing.  This means firstly that the drug will have less effect and the patient will need higher doses to obtain the necessary effect and secondly that if the drug is discontinued they will suffer withdrawal symptoms.
Therefore doctors will be very careful in prescribing these medications for alcohol detoxification. Doctors don’t want the person to become addicted to their alcohol detox medication! This would be like changing chairs on the Titanic, the ship is still going down but you’re just sitting on another deck and the views changed a little.
How much alcohol detox medication is used?
The effective dose of most medications for alcohol detox will be determined by a number of factors which include the age, sex, and weight of the alcoholic.  The severity of the withdrawal symptoms will also inform how much medication needs to be prescribed.
If the person develops delirium tremens, a potentially fatal condition associated with alcohol detox, they might be prescribed much higher doses of benzodiazepines that would otherwise be used.
Is there a medication to cure alcoholism?
No.  Even though research has revealed many details of the physical workings of this disease there is as yet no medication that will cure alcoholism.
In any case the generally accepted view of recovery from alcoholism involves changing behaviours that used to support and arise from alcoholism.  Simply stopping drinking is not recovery.
Abstinence is a necessary prerequisite for, but not equal to, recovery.
There are medications available that can help you in your alcoholism recovery process (ask your doctor about Naltrexone or Antabuse) but to enjoy full recovery you will need to change your behaviour.
If you would like to dry out from Alcohol but find that it is too difficult to do alone please contact us.  Our expert intake coordinators will guide you to a clinic that offers the very best in medical care for your alcohol detox.

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