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Many people are familiar with the 12-Step philosophy of recovery. The original 12-Step program of Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) has helped millions of people and their families recover from the disease of alcohol use disorder (AUD). While this program is highly effective and highly recommended, many people must take one physical step before beginning a 12-Step treatment program. That step is participating in an alcohol detox.

The first step of the 12-Step philosophy states, “We admitted we were powerless over alcohol [or insert addiction here] – that our lives had become unmanageable.” For many people, this powerlessness of addiction has taken such a physical toll on their bodies that they must go through an alcohol detox. This is because without professionally and medically monitored detox there is potential for serious harm. Sadly, for those with AUD, mismanaged detox could even be fatal.

It is also important to remember that treating alcohol addiction is often more involved than merely participating in a detox program. Recovery after alcohol detox must include continued treatment. Perhaps it is best to think about alcohol detox and physical recovery the same way as a 12-Step program. From alcohol detox to long-term recovery, the steps are most successful when they are utilized in succession.

Understanding the Importance of Alcohol Detox

When it comes to alcohol detox, it is valuable to have an understanding of who exactly needs it and why it is important. Alcohol detox is for those that experience alcohol withdrawal within the first 48 hours of their cessation of alcohol use. These withdrawals are most commonly known as “delirium tremens” (DTs), and DTs can be deadly.

According to StatPearls [Internet], alcohol withdrawal (DTs) has “an anticipated mortality of up to 37% without appropriate treatment,” and thus, “It is crucial to identify early signs of withdrawal because it can become fatal.” That fatality statistic may surprise many people because alcohol is so widely used. However, alcohol is actually one of the most dangerous substances to withdraw from.

Yet, this danger from alcohol detox becomes greatly reduced if the detox is administered in a professional setting. But again, the first step is getting into an alcohol detox program. This can be problematic because many people struggling with alcohol addiction may not feel they are at the point of severity that they will need alcohol detox. Therefore, it is important to seek professional help as soon as possible and allow professionals to determine if an individual needs an alcohol detox or not.

What Happens During Alcohol Detox

It is important to understand that there are actually two types of alcohol detox: inpatient and outpatient alcohol detox. The primary difference, besides the obvious of checking into rehab and the coming and going, is the severity of the alcohol withdrawals.

For those with moderate alcohol withdrawals – such as shakiness, sweating, and sleeplessness – an outpatient alcohol detox may be best. This includes an initial assessment and strategic daily check-ins to ensure that the individual is safe and the natural detox process is progressing.

Inpatient alcohol detox is likely the one that people are most familiar with. According to the medical journal, Alcohol Health and Research World, “In-patient settings offer the advantages of constant medical care and supervision provided by a professional staff and the easy availability of treatment for serious complications. In addition, such settings prevent patient access to alcohol and offer separation from the substance-using environment.” In both alcohol detox options, the important thing to remember is that they are done in the care of professionals.

What Happens After Detox

While the initial cessation of alcohol is the primary purpose of alcohol detox, that process can be for naught if the appropriate next steps are not taken. For example, after alcohol detox, it is crucial to have a long-term recovery plan. Otherwise, the potential for relapse is relatively high. According to Current Psychiatry Reports, “Recent estimates from clinical treatment studies suggest that more than two-thirds of individuals relapse within weeks to months of initiating treatment.” 

The reason for this is that, as many 12-Step programs explain, “[T]he substance is but a symptom of deeper underlying issues.” So these other issues must also be addressed if long-term recovery is to take hold. A recovery plan that begins with alcohol detox should continue with a recovery plan that may include therapy and/or psychotherapy. In some instances, it may include medication-assisted treatment (MAT). It may also include complementary treatment options like yoga, meditation, or other experiential therapies like nature therapy.

The last step of AA concludes with, “[W]e tried to carry this message to alcoholics, and to practice these principles in all our affairs.” For those that go through alcohol detox, the potential for this opportunity can become a reality. But first, they must reach out and allow the message to be carried to them, and take the initial step of alcohol detox.

If you think that you or a loved one may be struggling with alcohol use disorder, there is help available. For more information on alcohol detox, please reach out to The Phoenix Recovery Center today at (801) 438-3185.

The Phoenix Recovery Center
489 W. South Jordan Pkwy
Suite 400
South Jordan, UT