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Detoxing from alcohol: how does it affect you?

Published 07/08/2009

With approximately 10 million people in England drinking above the recommended guideline levels it is no wonder that we are one of the least healthy nations in Europe.  Just under a third of men (31%) and one in five women (20%) drink more than the advised weekly limits of 21 and 14 units a week respectively and some 8% of men and 2% of women drink more than the levels regarded as harmful, namely 50 and 35 units a week respectively. We are a nation desperately in need of a detox from alcohol.

The tipping point for health and wellbeing seems to come when that ‘odd drink' becomes a necessity for calming down after the stress of the day, or revving up to go out.  So how much is too much?  Well, the Government's recommended guidelines for daily alcohol consumption for adults, is: 2-3 units for a woman and up to 3-4 units for a man.  And one unit is equivalent to 8g of alcohol, which is about what you get in half a pint of a weak (4%) lager, a whole pint of strong lager (5%) or cider contains three units and two small (125ml) glasses of wine (12%) are another three units.  Binge drinking is also defined in Government guidelines as "drinking double the daily recommended unit guidelines".

If you, or a loved one, are regularly consuming over the recommended daily allowance of alcohol, it is time to think of improving your overall health and wellbeing by undertaking a time of alcohol detoxification.   The word detoxification finds its roots in the Greek word toxikon, meaning ‘poison arrow', with the idea behind that undertaking a period of detoxification meant ridding the body of this ‘poison arrow'.    Alcohol metabolism creates some nasty bi-products in the body such as acetaldehyde, which is much more toxic than the alcohol itself and a period of persistent consumption not only depresses the central nervous system but creates toxicity in almost every part of the body.

Is there, however a right and a wrong way to detox from alcohol?  Well, detoxification is the process of allowing the body to rid itself of the alcohol, while managing the symptoms of withdrawal.  So, depending on how heavily you, or a loved one has been drinking will dictate whether you need professional help to manage the detox withdrawal symptoms.  If you are unsure of how to go about detoxing from alcohol, get medical advice.

So what type of withdrawal symptoms can you expect?  Well the symptoms are generally the opposite of the effects that were experienced when drinking and will vary depending on the amount of alcohol that has been regularly consumed, how long drinking at this level has been going on and the physical and mental state of the person undertaking the detox.  Detoxification - the period of time it takes for the active toxins to leave the body - can be as little as a week or as long as a few months and should be undertaken under medical advice, or within the parameters of a professional alcohol detox programme.  Sue Allchurch, research director at Linwood Group, comments: "There are two main stages to the alcohol detoxification process and we would recommend that for heavy drinkers, they seek professional help before undertaking any form of detox.  The physical symptoms of the first few hours or days will include insomnia, restlessness, muscle trembling or spasms, possible nausea or vomiting and sweating.  The psychological symptoms will most likely be anxiety and paranoia.  These can increase to seizures, chest infections, intense pains in the stomach, hand and body tremors and hallucinations, depending on the severity of the withdrawal.  The next stage in the process of withdrawal is likely to last up to six months and can include insomnia, restlessness, headaches, tiredness, muscle tremors, sexual problems, anxiety, poor concentration and depression or mood swings.

"At Linwood Group, we also realise that treating the physical withdrawal from a drug such as alcohol isn't enough in itself.  It needs to be followed by some sort of behavioural-based therapy, to address the issues that led to the excessive drinking patterns in the first place.  Detox on its own, with no follow-up treatment of the underlying psychological, social, and behavioural problems associated with addiction is not a long-term solution to drinking problems.  It is most useful however, and has the greatest chance of making a long-term difference, when it incorporates assessment and referral to subsequent treatment programs."

So, if you, or a loved one, are beginning to feel unwell due to drink, how about calling the Linwood Group to see how to undertake a safe alcohol detox programme?   Call free on 0800 066 4173 (or if you are calling from a mobile phone or from overseas, call 01226 698 054) for professional, confidential advice on those vital first steps on the road to recovery.


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