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The science behind an alcohol detox

Have you ever wondered what science is involved in alcohol withdrawal and the detoxification process? Well wonder no more, as Port of Call explains all in our latest informative blog.

Alcohol is a depressant, which means that your nervous system has to work at an increased level to counteract the presence of alcohol and maintain correct functioning. When alcohol is removed, your body continues to function at this increased level. This is the root cause of withdrawal symptoms.

Alcohol and Drug Withdrawal Detox

How much and how long you have been drinking alcohol can affect the severity of your withdrawal symptoms and your level of tolerance. Tolerance is basically the way your body gets used to the effects of alcohol. Normally, over the longer-term, people will need to drink more to get the same effects.

Drinking ever greater quantities has a huge physical impact on the body. “The liver breaks down alcohol in a two-step process,” explain the Guardian.

Enzymes in the liver first convert alcohol to acetaldehyde, a very toxic substance that damages liver cells. It is then almost immediately converted into carbon dioxide and water which the body gets rid of. Drinking too much can overwhelm these enzymes and the acetaldehyde buildup will lead to liver damage.

What is the science behind an alcohol detox?

Prolonged alcohol causes the brain’s transmitters to go into overdrive, as the chemical GABA (which makes you calm and relaxed) increases and decreases. Over time, more alcohol is needed to create this effect, leading to increased tolerance to alcohol.

Chronic drinking also suppresses Glutamate, which is a substance that produces feelings of excitement. An alcoholic’s body has to work harder to maintain normal levels of glutamate and when alcohol is withdrawn the system overcompensates, leading to a state of hyper-excitability or ‘neuropsychiatric’ excitability.

In other words, ethanol interferes with processes that activate or excite nerve cells in the central nervous system. It enhances the processes that cause certain nerve cells to be restrained and during alcohol withdrawal acts as a biochemical inhibitor of activity in the central nervous system.

Detoxification clears the alcohol from your system and helps your body adapt to being alcohol free. It is typically carried out on an inpatient basis, at a private alcohol detox treatment centre, where clinicians have the medical expertise and resource to facilitate a safe and comfortable detox. Another option is a home detox from alcohol, overseen by a registered clinician. This option can be more practical in certain cases.

You can read further information on home detox within this home detox case study. Ben was a university student who struggled with an alcohol addiction, with the support of his family and Port of Call successfully completed a home detox.

The choice of treatment setting depends on a range of factors, like the patient’s age, the history of abuse, psychosocial issues and co-existing medical conditions. Detox from alcohol normally lasts from three to 14 days. However, it depends on the person and the severity of their alcohol abuse.

Make us your first Port of Call. If you, or a loved one, are dealing with addiction we can help you to access the right addiction help at the right time. Take the first step today by speaking to one of our advisers for free on 08000029010.

About the author: Martin Preston

Martin is our Founder and Chief Executive. Martin is himself in long term recovery and started Port of Call to help families navigate treatment options. In 2020 Martin will open Delamere Health Ltd, the UK’s first purpose built addiction treatment clinic.

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