San Diego’s Premier Alcohol Rehab Center for Women
As a fully-licensed alcohol rehab center, we seek to guide clients through all aspects of recovery and to provide the specialized tools needed for sustained recovery from alcohol addiction. We start by offering a warm, comfortable environment that will help develop a client’s sense of stability and security through consistency, predictability, and attentiveness. Our clinical staff provides the compassion, education, nutrition, group experience, and one-on-one therapeutic work needed to comprehensively address the whole person throughout their journey of recovery. We are purposefully small so that we may individually assess each client’s personal needs and create a specific program for recovery that will take the entire person and their life story into consideration.
What is Alcohol Addiction?
Countless books, articles, documentaries, and discussions have tried to define alcohol addiction, but the truth is that it looks different for everyone. Although the progression of alcoholism takes a predictable journey over time in terms of tissue damage, mental health deterioration, and wholly reduced quality of life, the manifestations of these impairments vary widely.
A common misconception about alcohol abuse is that alcohol must be consumed in a certain quantity or frequency in order to qualify as addiction. Although frequency and quantity are good indicators of alcohol abuse, addiction to alcohol is usually characterized by a physical and psychological dependence that decreases the quality of life biologically, psychologically, and socially. Most health organizations define alcohol addiction as “continued use despite negative consequences.” Normally, these consequences increase in frequency and severity over time. Because there are so many personal factors involved during the development of an alcohol addiction (general physical health, personal resilience, tendencies towards risk-taking, capacity for insight, etc.), not everybody’s “negative consequences” will look the same. It is another common misconception that alcohol addiction is always earmarked by devastating events such as drunk driving crashes or cirrhosis of the liver. Sometimes, a person’s negative consequences can look like frequent “morning after” work tardiness, prolonged isolation, or patterns of regrettable decisions made when drinking.
The DSM-V lists criteria for alcohol use disorder (mild/moderate/severe) that may be helpful to you if you think you or a loved one may have alcohol addiction.
Dependence and Withdrawal
When alcohol is consumed addictively, it becomes toxic to virtually all tissues of the body. Alcohol has a depressant effect on the central nervous system and ethanol (the effective ingredient in alcohol) is one of the few intoxicants that can directly cross the blood-brain barrier – meaning that there is immediate impairment to brain functionality. Alcohol also compromises the digestive, circulatory, and endocrine systems, and the respiratory system can become depressed during intoxication. During the course of alcohol addiction, so much of the human body (particularly the brain) becomes permeated by alcohol, that withdrawal becomes extremely dangerous and even potentially deadly. For people with alcohol addiction, withdrawal is much more than a bad hangover.
People suffering from alcohol addiction have frequently developed psychological dependence, which manifests during withdrawal as cravings. Because the drinker knows that by reintroducing alcohol to their system, the symptoms will subside, the compulsion to relapse is very strong during acute withdrawal. Their mind is telling them that they need to drink – and to some extent, that is true, because the system has also adopted physical (tissue) dependence.
Physical dependence means that the body’s systems have adapted to the presence of alcohol and that this “new normal” causes the body to go into critical distress when alcohol is removed. The central nervous system, particularly the brain, has adjusted to maintain function in the presence of alcohol toxicity and the rest of the body experiences dysregulation because the normal brain function that supervises homeostasis is in deficit. The most dangerous aspects of alcohol withdrawal are the result of tissue dependence.
In the first stage of withdrawal physical symptoms might look like nausea and/or vomiting, dehydration, sleep disturbances, abdominal pain with diarrhea, fatigue, and/or restlessness. Some people also experience second stage withdrawal, which progresses to more intensive symptoms that might include tremors or shakiness, muscle rigidity, confusion or other cognitive impairment, digestive distress, vomiting, insomnia, racing pulse and excessive perspiration, with most symptoms in onset about 24-48 hours after the last drink. About 30% of chronic alcoholics also experience third stage withdrawal symptoms, which are very serious and potentially lethal. These symptoms can include Delirium Tremens (the DTs) which are potentially lethal and usually require hospitalization. Symptoms include seizures, hallucinations (which may be terrifying to the person and during which he or she may injure themselves or others), fever, irregular heartbeat, vomiting that can include esophageal bleeding, dangerously high blood pressure, sensitivity to light and sound, and respiratory distress. These severe withdrawal symptoms can manifest around 72 hours after the last drink. Because the withdrawal symptoms from alcohol addiction are so dangerous, it is always recommended that the acute phase of detoxification (the first 5-7 days) be done in a medically supervised alcohol rehab center.
What to Expect in Early Recovery from Alcohol Addiction
In post-acute withdrawal (normally 1-2 weeks after cessation of drinking), clients should expect to experience some continued physical discomfort as the body and brain readjust to the absence of alcohol. It is a time of healing and the duration of symptoms varies based on many individual factors. Difficulty sleeping, digestive troubles, restlessness or fatigue, headaches, and other moderate symptoms are normal and can be alleviated through coping strategies, proper nutrition, rest in a comfortable environment, and comfort medications as appropriate. The most important element to alleviating withdrawal symptoms is simply alcohol-free time.
Psychologically, persons in post-acute withdrawal will normally experience cravings and obsessive thoughts about returning to active alcohol use. It is also normal to be emotionally overwhelmed, as the underlying issues that drove problem drinking begin to surface. Often, people find that education about what triggers cravings, developing strategies to build new choice-making skills, and therapeutic work on core issues are very helpful. It is often said that defense mechanisms like minimalization, denial, rationalization, and romanticizing are mechanisms that “the disorder uses to keep itself alive.” We recognize that resistance to seek help at an alcohol rehab center and ambivalence are normal in early recovery. It is important during this phase to have a supportive community that offers trustworthy guidance in challenging the pro-relapse thoughts in the present and in exploring the triggering emotions brought up by the past.