Patient Alcohol Detox

Most people undergoing alcohol detoxification can be treated safely as outpatients. Only an estimated 10 percent to 20 percent require inpatient programs. While some patients may take prescribed medications, others prefer natural treatments to help aid the process.

Withdrawal symptoms often relate proportionately to the amount and duration of the patient’s drinking habit. It is recommended that you undergo an assessment of possible withdrawal symptoms before embarking on an ambulatory (outpatient) program.

Withdrawal Assessment

Many hospitals rely on the Clinical Institute Withdrawal Assessment for Alcohol (CIWA-Ar), a 10-item assessment tool used to anticipate the severity of alcohol withdrawal syndrome in patients. It also identifies any medications that might be necessary for them while going through a detoxification program. Scores of eight points or lower indicate mild withdrawal, nine to 15 is considered moderate, and scores greater than 15 indicate severe symptoms and an increased risk of DTs and seizures.

Withdrawal Symptoms

Withdrawal from alcohol generally lasts from 48 to 72 hours. Minor withdrawal symptoms may be headache, tremors, anxiety, gastrointestinal upset, heart palpitations and anorexia. These generally last from six to 12 hours. Hallucinations (visual, auditory or sensory) and delirium may occur, most often in patients with histories of acute medical illness, abnormal liver function, heavy alcohol consumption or a history of delirium tremens (DTs) or withdrawal seizures. Hypertension and a low-grade fever may also accompany the detoxification process. Seizures are most common in patients who have a history of previous alcohol detoxification attempts.

Outpatient (Ambulatory) Detox

Most patients with mild to moderate withdrawal symptoms can be treated safely and effectively outside of a clinical setting as outpatients. Doctors will often prescribe medications that are non-reactive with alcohol during the detoxification process to help ease withdrawal symptoms, but you may prefer to detox naturally. Consult with your physician before taking any herbal treatments in conjunction with prescribed medicines.

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Keeping well-hydrated is imperative during the detoxification process, so keep plenty of fresh water, diluted juices, teas, soups and broths available. Stomach upset is common, so having foods on hand that are easy to keep down and consume is important. Malnutrition often accompanies those prone to alcoholism, so vitamin and mineral replacement is necessary and may help ease detox symptoms.

Mega-doses of vitamin C (5,000 to 10,000 grams daily), accompanied by a high-potency multiple vitamin, can help replace missing nutrients. Multiple vitamins made from whole food concentrates are much more easily assimilated by the body, so check your health food store for a good supplement.

Doctors often prescribe Valium to help with sleep disturbance and anxiety during withdrawals, but valerian root is a natural, mild replacement for valium that can help ease symptoms. Eat small meals to keep your energy and glucose levels up, avoiding processed foods and items high in sugar and fat. Herbal teas such as ginger, chamomile, licorice and peppermint may help with gastronomical upsets, as well as small snacks such as applesauce, chicken broth and oatmeal.