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Providing non-judgmental and non-criticizing support for family and friends of end-stage alcoholics through one-on-one coaching, support groups, blog posts, workshops and public speaking.

The Truth About Detox

When an alcoholic has had many years of heavy drinking he must be admitted to the hospital and be closely monitored by medical professionals during the detoxification process. The reason for hospitalization is due to the risks involved. The truth about detox is:

1) The process itself creates a tremendous stress on the body which his heart may not be able to withstand. He may have a heart attack and / or a stroke. If he survives, he may have the same consequences of anyone else who has had a heart attack or stroke. Of course, in his weakened state he could very possibly die from the event.

2) Delirium Tremors may lead to seizures resulting in further brain damage, coma or death.

3) In the case of brain damage the effect could be minimal, but could also be substantial. He could lose the ability to use logic thinking, be easily confused, unable to function at an adult level, or at the extreme, leave him in a vegetative state.

4) He may wake up coherent and healthy, but he may have been in a black out for a portion or even his entire drinking time. He may not know where he is or why he is in the hospital. He may not recognize family members.

5) He will probably not remember the detox process so the event itself will not be a deterrent to future drinking.

6) Even if he decides to enter a rehabilitation program the odds are that he would most likely return to alcoholic drinking within 6 months of discharge.

Before the alcoholic goes into the hospital, there are no disclaimers issued. After the alcoholic is deep into the process (where you are at the point of no return), they tell you the truth. It comes out a bit at a time as you're watching the process progress.

For my family, we wondered if all the energy we expended trying to get him into the hospital was worth the uncertainty of the process. Had we insisted he go thru hell just to have a life he would find unbearable or no life at all?

In my opinion, the alcoholic is on a suicidal train – either from the drinking itself or the process to cleanse the alcohol from the body. Do the risks of detox outweigh the risks of continued drinking? The alcoholic cannot tell you because he lives in alcohol fog. The doctor can’t tell you because he doesn’t know what the end result will be. All the family knows is that they want this loved one to live a productive, healthy life – the family lives in Fantasyland.

So why do we hear everywhere that the best thing for an alcoholic is detox and rehab??

From the family point of view – any chance is better than no chance at all. The alcoholic is going to die one way or the other. With detox he at least has a chance for survival.

Why do the medical professionals wait until the alcoholic is ensconced in the detox process before laying all the facts right out there? It may have to do with the fact that once the bed is taken, there is no turning back. Once that patient is in that bed and he has insurance the hospital and doctors will be getting paid for their efforts. It makes good economical sense to wait until the patient is admitted and hooked up to all the IVs before slowly leaking the risk information, especially when the alcoholic has had few, if any, trips down the detox road.

On the other hand, after having been thru detox eight times, we have been denied services by hospitals because Riley was not a good risk for recovery even though he is well-insured. I suppose there is some entity keeping score about how many patients die while that hospital is administering medical care. To have a patient die, for any reason, would be a negative mark on the performance of the hospital. No hospital would want that.

I guess after eight attempts at recovery after detox, one can get a little cynical.