Commonly Asked Questions about Addiction and Treatment
Can alcohol withdrawal be fatal?
Yes, alcohol withdrawal can be fatal in severe cases, which is why it should always be managed under the supervision of healthcare professionals. This is especially true for individuals who have been drinking heavily for a long period of time or who have a history of severe withdrawal symptoms.
The most serious form of alcohol withdrawal is called delirium tremens (DTs), which occurs in approximately 5% of patients undergoing withdrawal. It typically starts 48 to 72 hours after the last drink, and symptoms can include severe confusion, hallucinations, high blood pressure, fever, heavy sweating, and rapid heartbeat. In addition to these, seizures can occur, which add to the risk.
Delirium tremens is a medical emergency and can be life-threatening if not treated promptly. Mortality rates without treatment are estimated to be as high as 35%, but with appropriate treatment, this rate drops to 5-15%.
Even less severe cases of alcohol withdrawal can be dangerous because they can lead to dehydration, severe vomiting, or other complications. Furthermore, withdrawal symptoms can make it difficult for an individual to maintain abstinence from alcohol, increasing the risk of a potentially dangerous relapse.
What is the purpose of drugs such as methadone, suboxone and subutex in the recovery process?
Methadone, Suboxone (a combination of buprenorphine and naloxone), and Subutex (buprenorphine) are medications used in Medication-Assisted Treatment (MAT) for opioid use disorders. Their primary purpose in the recovery process is to help manage withdrawal symptoms and reduce cravings, facilitating a safer, more comfortable transition to abstinence or long-term management of the disorder. Here's a more detailed look at how each of these medications function:
Methadone: Methadone is a long-acting opioid agonist, which means it activates the same receptors in the brain that other opioids like heroin, morphine, or prescription painkillers do. However, it does so more slowly and for a longer duration, without causing the intense euphoria associated with misuse of those drugs. This helps to mitigate withdrawal symptoms and cravings, enabling individuals to function more normally in daily life.
Suboxone: Suboxone contains two active ingredients: buprenorphine and naloxone. Buprenorphine is a partial opioid agonist, meaning it activates the opioid receptors in the brain, but to a lesser extent than full agonists like heroin or methadone. This can help manage cravings and withdrawal symptoms without producing the high associated with opioid misuse. Naloxone is an opioid antagonist, meaning it blocks the effects of opioids. It's included in Suboxone to discourage misuse of the medication; if someone tries to inject Suboxone, the naloxone will trigger withdrawal symptoms.
Subutex: Subutex is the brand name for buprenorphine alone. Like in Suboxone, buprenorphine in Subutex serves to lessen withdrawal symptoms and reduce cravings. It is typically used in the initial stages of treatment, while Suboxone is more commonly used for maintenance.
These medications are typically used as part of a comprehensive treatment plan that also includes counseling and behavioral therapies. It's important to note that while these medications can be highly effective in supporting recovery, they should be used under the guidance of a healthcare provider due to the risk of misuse and potential side effects. Each individual's treatment plan should be tailored to their unique needs and circumstances to ensure the best possible outcomes.
How do you help a person afflicted with alcoholism?
Helping someone afflicted with alcoholism requires a compassionate and supportive approach. The following steps can be useful in assisting an individual struggling with alcohol addiction:
Educate yourself: Gain an understanding of alcoholism, its causes, symptoms, and treatment options. This will help you better empathize with the person and offer informed support.
Express concern: Initiate a conversation with the person in a non-confrontational manner. Express your concerns about their alcohol use and its impact on their well-being. Be patient, empathetic, and avoid judgmental language.
Encourage professional help: Encourage the person to seek help from a medical professional, therapist, or addiction counselor. Offer assistance in finding appropriate resources and support them in taking the first steps towards treatment.
Offer emotional support: Be available to listen and provide emotional support throughout the recovery process. It is essential to maintain open lines of communication and offer a safe space for the individual to share their experiences and feelings.
Encourage participation in support groups: Recommend joining support groups such as Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) or SMART Recovery, which provide a community of individuals with similar experiences and can offer guidance and encouragement throughout the recovery process.
Establish boundaries: Set clear boundaries to protect your own well-being and communicate your expectations about the person's behavior. Be firm but understanding, and make it clear that you will not enable their alcohol use.
Assist with lifestyle changes: Help the person develop healthier habits, such as engaging in physical activity, improving their diet, and finding alternative ways to manage stress. Offer to participate in these activities together to provide additional support and motivation.
Be patient: Recovery from alcoholism is a long-term process, and relapses may occur. Understand that setbacks are a part of the journey, and continue to offer support and encouragement as the person works towards sobriety.
Care for yourself: Supporting someone with alcoholism can be emotionally taxing. Make sure you are taking care of your own mental and emotional health by seeking support from friends, family, or professional counselors if needed.