We often underestimate the health risks of alcohol abuse. Because it is a legal substance–and heavily promoted–we rarely put alcohol abuse into the same mental category as with drugs such as cocaine or heroin. Although you won’t ever go to jail for possession, the health risks are just as great if not greater, and few other drugs can match alcohol for the health risks associated with detox.
With increasing use and abuse comes tolerance and addiction. Physical addiction to alcohol occurs as your brain attempts to equalize from the constant flood of depressive chemicals, and to do so actually changes the flow of certain neurotransmitters.
The brain likes things to stay the same, and when you continually add a depressive like alcohol. It responds by increasing the sensitivity to certain excitatory neurotransmitters, most notably GABA. As long as you continue to consume alcohol, and as a result depress brain activity levels, all is fine (except for the hundreds of other health deficits accompanying alcohol abuse) but should you ever stop drinking, the brain is suddenly lacking in the near continual presence of the depressant chemical, and because it has been “rewired” to be extra sensitive to excitatory neurotransmitters, without anything slowing it down, it races ahead.
This racing brain presents with symptoms such as anxiety, insomnia, vomiting, shakes, hallucination, seizures and convulsions and a possibility of heart stoppage. There are few drugs that resent with a detox as dangerous as alcohol.
Fortunately, the symptoms of alcohol detox, at least in the acute and dangerous period, can be easily managed with the use of certain prescription medications. Through drugs such as benzodiazepines, which slow the brain down to safe levels, the symptoms are managed, and detox can proceed in safety, and in relative comfort.
No one with a serious history of alcohol abuse and addiction should attempt to detox off of alcohol without medical supervision. The health risks of an unmanaged detox are high, and the discomfort and anxiety of such a detox very unpleasant, there is no reason to endure such a dangerous and painful few days.
The worst of detox symptoms end in a few days, and although long term symptoms of withdrawal may continue for months, after 3 or 4 days the danger period has passed, and recovering alcoholics are now ready to participate and benefit from therapies of recovery.