Alcohol Recovery
Part II – Withdrawal

medical detox patient with doctor

Medically Supervised Withdrawal

Withdrawing from any substance to which one has become addicted is not easy. In fact, it is one of the most difficult things a person can experience. No Inquisitor of the middle ages could have devised a torture which is actually worse than withdrawal from drugs and alcohol. In addition to the pain, anguish, and suffering which can be caused by drug withdrawal, withdrawal from certain substances can actually cause effects which are harmful or, at the extreme, potentially fatal. Any legitimate rehabilitation program will take this into account, and will include procedures to ensure that the addict is not placed in a situation which could cause injury. Of course, not all addictive substances, upon withdrawal, create these potentially harmful effects.

Alcohol can.

To be sure, alcohol recovery is not always physically dangerous. Factors such as the length of time one has been drinking, the amount that one drinks on a regular basis and the physiology of the individual alcoholic all play a part in the course which alcohol recovery will take. Only a qualified physician can adjudicate whether the alcoholic has a significant risk of developing dangerous symptoms.

When an alcoholic decides to come to a Narconon center for rehabilitation, he or she is examined by a physician who, after examination and interview, makes a determination as to whether the alcoholic needs to undergo medically supervised withdrawal. The U.S. National Library of Medicine, a service of the National Institutes Of Health, states,

“People with moderate-to-severe symptoms of alcohol withdrawal may need inpatient treatment in a hospital or other facility that treats alcohol withdrawal. You will be watched closely for hallucinations and other signs of delirium tremens.”

(Note: Delirium tremens is a severe form of alcohol withdrawal that involves sudden and severe mental or nervous system changes.)

doctor talking to patient

While medically assisted withdrawal is not administered at a Narconon center, we are aware that some of those entering our program run the risk of undergoing physically dangerous withdrawal. We firmly believe that, if medical detox is advised, it should be done with a minimum amount of medication. The alcoholic is coming to Narconon to get off drugs. It would make little sense to dose him up with large quantities of potentially addictive chemicals only to have to withdraw from them. With that philosophy in mind, Narconon centers have established close working relationships with physicians expert in chemical withdrawal and facilities which provide this essential service, physicians, and facilities that rely on medications only where they are absolutely essential.

The Narconon Drug-free Withdrawal

Once the alcoholic has safely completed a number of days of a medically supervised withdrawal, he or she is ready to take up residence in a Narconon center and to begin the process of full drug-free withdrawal. For the alcoholic who did not need a medically supervised withdrawal, this is the first step – the step in which he or she will come off alcohol and will be prepared to proceed with remaining Narconon rehabilitation program. For the alcoholic who did require medical withdrawal, this is the phase in which he or she will come off the remaining medications which were used to safely take him or her off alcohol.

exercises to help reorient a person in withdrawal

The withdrawal phase makes use of vitamins and minerals, good nutrition, moderate exercise and actions designed to keep the recovering alcoholic mentally extroverted and emotionally calm, not dwelling on his problems, but concentrating on feeling better. We remove all distractions. We feed him nutritious meals. We give him vitamins and minerals. We take him for walks. We talk to him and, more importantly, we give him someone he can talk to. Twenty-four hours a day.

objective exercises
To attempt to take someone who has been addicted to alcohol and immediately start to work with him to handle his addiction while he feels ill and is in physical pain is foolish and usually unsuccessful. A person who is physically ill and in pain cannot possibly be expected to face the sorts of things one has to face in the process of rehabilitation. Give him some space. Give him good food. Let him rest. After a week or so, when he is free from the pains and sensations of withdrawal, eating and sleeping well, you will have the real person sitting there, someone who can begin to put his life back on the rails. If you are a loved one or a friend, after this phase you will begin to see, once again, the person you loved before alcohol took over his life. Like a phoenix rising from the ashes of his own destruction, the alcoholic is coming back to life, ready to face the challenges – and the triumphs – which lie ahead.

Karen Hadley

For more than a decade, Karen has been researching and writing about drug trafficking, drug abuse, addiction and recovery. She has also studied and written about policy issues related to drug treatment.