Is It Safe to Stop Drinking at Home?

Is It Safe to Stop Drinking at Home?

Are you trying to stop drinking at home? Are you concerned about whether it’s safe to do so? Did you know there can be complications for going “cold turkey” on your own? 

In this article we highlight some of the potential risks that every drinker should be aware of before attempting to kick the booze on their own versus when is the time to seek professional care to ensure a safe detox.

Medical Background

Drinking large amounts of alcohol regularly can cause the brain to get used to the way that alcohol interferes with neurotransmitter transmission, movement, and absorption.

When alcohol enters the brain, it causes levels of dopamine and GABA (gamma-aminobutyric acid) to be increased. Both are chemical messengers that the brain normally uses to tell the rest of the body how to feel. Dopamine affects pleasure sensations, motivation, sleep functions, memory, and learning, while GABA is involved in mitigating and controlling the stress reaction. As levels of GABA increase, the central nervous system is depressed, slowing breathing, heart rate, and blood pressure, as well as lowering body temperature.

Alcohol disrupts regular levels of these neurotransmitters in the brain, and the more the brain becomes accustomed to the artificial interference, the more it will rely on alcohol to keep these levels stable. After a person becomes dependent on alcohol, dopamine and GABA activity is altered, leading to uncomfortable and even dangerous withdrawal symptoms if alcohol consumption is abruptly stopped. Alcohol is a substance that should never be stopped “cold turkey” by alcoholics without professional intervention, care and supervision.

For those with significant alcohol dependence, quitting is also not without its own risks. Acute alcohol withdrawal may be associated with certain medical complications. At The Lighthouse Bali we offer the 24-hour supervision and care alongside a medical detox. We can get through the withdrawal process together, safely and with the aid of our medical professionals. 

Hazards of Withdrawal & Delirium Tremens

About half of all people who are dependent on alcohol will suffer from withdrawal symptoms when they stop drinking. The New England Journal of Medicine (NEJM) warns that 3-5 percent of individuals will struggle with grand mal convulsions, delirium (significant confusion), or both. This severe form of alcohol withdrawal is called delirium tremens, or DTs. In addition to confusion, agitation, hallucinations, and tremors, individuals may also experience dangerously high fevers. Grand mal seizures, hyperthermia, cardiac arrhythmias, and complications related to co-occurring medical or mental health disorders can make DTs fatal if swift medical care and attention aren’t provided.

Alcohol withdrawal symptoms typically begin within about eight hours after the last drink and peak in about 2-3 days. A medically assisted detox, such as that offered in our Primary Inpatient Program ensures the most comfortable and safest was to get through the initial detox period.

In the case of DTs, symptoms may not appear for up to three days after stopping drinking, making them even more potentially dangerous since people may believe they are in the clear and not have medical care accessible.

The extent and severity of the side effects from alcohol withdrawal are related to how significantly dependent a person is on it. In general, this means that someone who drinks heavily on a regular basis for a long time will suffer the most. Also, mixing other drugs, particularly central nervous system depressants like benzodiazepines (e.g., sleep aids, anti-anxiety medications), with alcohol can increase levels of dependence and further complicate withdrawal. The presence of any underlying or co-occurring mental health or medical issue can increase the hazards and intensity of withdrawal as well.

Alcohol withdrawal can range from mild to life-threatening. 

The following are all potential side effects:

  • Headache
  • Dizziness
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhoea
  • Muscle weakness
  • Aggression or hostility toward others
  • Clammy skin
  • Fatigue
  • Restlessness
  • Irritability
  • Appetite loss
  • Rapid heart rate
  • Cognitive difficulties
  • Mood swings
  • Sweating
  • Tremors
  • Agitation
  • Depression
  • Anxiety
  • Convulsions
  • Blackout
  • Short-term memory lapses

Additional Issues of Withdrawal

Malnutrition:

Alcohol dependence and bouts of regular drinking may lead to malnourishment, as individuals may eat fewer balanced meals, and alcohol withdrawal can cause gastrointestinal upset and appetite loss.

Alcohol can deplete the body of essential vitamins and nutrients as well.

Most commonly, alcohol can lead to a deficiency of thiamine (vitamin B1) in the body, which the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA) reports up to 80 percent of people battling alcohol addiction suffer from. A thiamine deficiency can cause a person to develop Wernicke’s encephalopathy, a disorder that can lead to significant mental confusion, loss of control over eye movement, and a lack of motor coordination. NIAAA warns that about 80 percent of the time, Wernicke’s encephalopathy develops into the debilitating Korsakoff syndrome. Trouble forming new memories, problems with learning, and confusion are symptoms of Korsakoff syndrome as is confabulation, which is when a person “makes up” information to fill in memory gaps. Learning and memory deficiencies coupled with impaired motor skills make Korsakoff syndrome a serious disorder that requires specialized treatment; only about 25 percent of people will fully recover from the disorder.

Dehydration:

Dehydration is another potential side effect of alcohol withdrawal, and this can cause a massive electrolyte imbalance in the body. Alcohol dehydrates the body in and of itself, and the nausea and diarrhoea that often accompany alcohol withdrawal only exacerbate this. Severe dehydration can cause mental confusion and a disruption of the autonomic functions of the central nervous system, further increasing the potential complications of alcohol withdrawal, which can be very dangerous. 

Mental Health:

High levels of anxiety and depression can also be difficult during alcohol withdrawal and may lead to suicidal ideations or self-harming behaviors.

Minimizing the Risks

Alcohol withdrawal can be intense and uncomfortable. The side effects and strong cravings for alcohol often make it difficult for people to avoid relapse without a stable environment and professional help. Withdrawal symptoms are the biggest cause of people returning to drink almost immediately after trying to stop.

Dangers related to alcohol withdrawal can be prevented and minimized through medical detox; hence, medical detox is always recommended in cases of alcohol withdrawal.

In a medical detox program, such as that offered by The Lighthouse Bali, prescribed medication is used to lessen the effects of withdrawal and provide a more comfortable and safe detox in a supportive and understanding environment. We have successfully and safely detoxed people from all walks of life, all nationalities and with all levels of alcoholism. 

Other pharmaceutical tools may be beneficial in helping to manage specific symptoms of alcohol withdrawal depending on each individual and their circumstances. Our highly trained and experienced medical detox team are experts at managing detox. 

During detox, we’ll ensure that your fluid intake is maintained to prevent and reverse dehydration, and your nutritional balance can be restored via balanced meals carefully prepared by our in-house chef. Your physical and mental health will be monitored, and our encouraging, supportive and calming environment, and therapeutic methods provide aid in relapse prevention. 

Our Primary Inpatient Program is for 28 days which is a bare minimum. We strongly recommend 2 months inpatient care and a further period of outpatient care to ensure the best chances of long term sobriety. Detox is an essential first step, but it’s not the only step. Our complete addiction treatment program includes counselling, educational sessions, holistic modalities, fitness and physical support sessions, nutritional assessments, wellness, and a wide range of complementary therapies.

If you, or a friend, relative or loved one are trying to stop drinking and you’d like more information or advice, contact us through our online contact form or send us an email at: info@thelighthousebali.org 

We look forward to joining you on your recovery journey.

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