For most addictions, trying to get into recovery without getting treatment isn’t explicitly dangerous. These attempts at recovery are very likely to fail, but their only risk is hurting the emotional confidence of the addicted person. For alcohol addiction, it’s a different story. Alcohol withdrawals can do serious, permanent damage to a person if not managed by expert physicians who understand the neurological stress a person must withstand in order to remove alcohol from an addicted body.
Alcohol increases the amount of GABA, an inhibitory neurotransmitter, in the brain. GABA slows down cognitive function, leading to the clumsiness, slurred speech, and poor judgment that come with drunkenness. However, when an addicted brain needs detox from alcohol, and the brain finally isn’t bombarded with inhibitory neurotransmitters, a dangerous thing happens. The brain, which had for the length of the addiction been trying to adapt to the artificially raised amounts of GABA, will be far more excited and energetic than a normal brain. This hyperactive brain activity leads to hallucinations, uncontrolled movements, seizures, and the dreaded delirium tremens.
This hyper-excited state in a person’s brain is never supposed to occur naturally, and if it’s allowed to happen untreated, it may well kill them. Even if it doesn’t, there are dangers to undergoing untreated detox, especially if it’s not followed up by rehabilitation. The stress the brain suffers in that state damages it, making it more sensitive. That means that, if the addicted person needs to detoxify from alcohol again, their brain will be more susceptible to harmful seizures. Each subsequent detox accumulates its harmful effects, making long-term sobriety and relapse prevention essential—two things that become far more likely if the alcoholic gets treatment in an alcohol addiction treatment center.
Still, the cumulative effects of alcohol withdrawals may not matter, as an alcoholic could die from their very first withdrawal. Although it only affects the heaviest drinkers, delirium tremens may be the most severe withdrawal symptom of any drug. The victim becomes unable to perceive the world around them, instead experiencing vivid hallucinations that seem completely real. They shake uncontrollably, have high fevers, are at a high risk of seizures, and reported to be consumed by a feeling of impending doom. While there is treatment for delirium tremens that makes the process much safer, an alcoholic experiencing it without expert help has an estimated 35% chance of dying from it.
The Ridge’s expert physicians and nurses have helped countless alcoholics safely get through their withdrawal and learn to live healthy, sober lives. Our program is designed to be as safe and effective as possible, and it has paid off—our successful recovery rate is for those willing to commit to working for recovery.