Alcohol detox refers to the period immediately after a person has stopped drinking heavily. During that period of time, alcohol toxins, or poisons, leave the body. Although this process is ultimately healthy, it can make the person going through detox absolutely miserable. Alcohol is both psychologically addictive and physically addictive. This means the human body gets used to having alcohol and goes through distressing symptoms when the alcohol is not there anymore.
Alcohol withdrawal symptoms include headache, nausea, vomiting, sweating, tachycardia (increased heart rate) and tremors. More severe symptoms for people who have been addicted to alcohol for a long time or are coming off a long binge may include confusion and disorientation, fever and seizures or convulsions. Unlike the painkiller addict, who suffers uncomfortable but not life-threatening symptoms, the severe alcohol addict can die during withdrawals if he or she does not receive proper inpatient alcohol detox. Most inpatient programs last from two or three days to two weeks.
Healthcare professionals in an inpatient detox unit can do several things. They can monitor vital signs and watch closely for potentially troublesome symptoms such as high blood pressure or fast heart rate. They can also use IV fluids to hydrate vomiting patients. It may be appropriate to give patients who are very agitated or who are having severe cravings for alcohol a mild sedative to help calm the frantic feelings. The most important duty of a healthcare professional in inpatient detox is to be ready to inject medications to stop seizures in patients going through severe withdrawals.
The inpatient staff has another important function as well client support. The healthcare professionals at alcohol detox provide both one on one support and group support to people who are trying to give up the drug of alcohol. When the detox is finished, and the person is no longer physically dependent on alcohol, the inpatient detox unit will refer them elsewhere for additional treatment. Some patients are comfortable returning to the community and taking part in individual counseling and support groups such as Alcoholics Anonymous, but some patients require the ongoing structure of inpatient treatment until their addictions are further behind them.