Monday, October 12, 2015

Alcohol withdrawal and detox 9-1-1: Ask for help, expect care

Dying from a treatable disease or starting a new life is a critical decision point around which every alcoholic dances, usually more than once. Asking for help is not easy. In fact, for me, it wasn't just completely out of character, it was downright scary.

It's even more frightening when you're experiencing withdrawal symptoms. Earlier episodes of The Sobriety :60+ covered both the physical (see episode #29) and psychological withdrawal symptoms (see episode #30). In a nutshell, the physical ones can include heart rate changes, sweats and the shakes. None of these are pleasant, and depending upon the amount and duration of the drinking, withdrawal can be a medical crisis. Here are six must-haves when calling 9-1-1 or heading to the E.R.

1) Be more honest than you've ever been. The staff needs to know in order to treat you. Be brutally honest about being alcohol dependent and maybe other drugs you've taken, even if only to self-medicate your withdrawal symptoms.

2) Take someone sober with you. We have an uncanny knack for talking ourselves out of decisions that could save our hides when it comes down to the realization that, 'hey, I can't drink anymore.'

3) Be prepared to participate in the decisions. An E.R. tech or nurse may ask what you want: You want medically supervised alcohol detox. Despite the known fact that alcohol is one of only two drug withdrawals that can be fatal, not everyone who is responsible for triage in an emergency department has that background or knowledge about quitting alcohol. A person who has never lived a day in his or her life challenged by alcohol might simply recommend you suck it up and get some willpower, and send you home with something to help you sleep. Well intentioned, but dangerous, because…

4) Often what is prescribed to a panicky shaky person in an emergency is a benzodiazepine, which just happens to be highly addictive, highly reactive with alcohol, and is the other drug that has a withdrawal that can be fatal. Benzodiazepines include ativan, klonopin, xanax and valium. Mixed with alcohol – and thisis a relapsing disease – they can lead to respiratory failure. They may be suitable for supervised medical detox… but a questionable prescription for an unsupervised alcoholic trying to pull off an outpatient detox.

5) Know what your body is doing. Those sharp stomach pains are called gastritis. Feel pukey, that's nausea. Shakes are tremors. Seizures aren't limited to just wildly jerking convulsions, although that's most common. Other seizure types are less dramatic. Shaking movements may be isolated to one arm or part of the face. Alternatively, the person may suddenly stop responding and stare for a few seconds, sometimes with chewing motions or smacking the lips. Seizures may also cause "sensations" that only the patient feels. As an example, one type of seizure can cause stomach discomfort, fear, or an unpleasant smell. Make sure you and your detox escort both can explain what you're experiencing.

6) Know that nobody is going to build a shrine for you – especially in an E.R. – because you decided to get help, but do it anyway. Alcoholism is primary, chronic, progressive and fatal. But its treatable... More so the earlier you reach out for help.
Visit for a replay of CBS Sports' Power Up Your Health featuring Scott Stevens.  Host Ed Forteau led a discussion on risky myths of about "healthy" drinking.  Lucy Pireel's "All That's Written" included a feature on Every Silver Lining Has a Cloud called "When alcohol doesn't work for you anymore."  Details on the third literary award for Every Silver Lining Has a Cloud also can be found on, plus the NEW book, Adding Fire to the Fuel, is now available. Download the FREE Alcohology app in the Google PlayStore today.