Alcohol detox can be an agonizing experience, bringing on unbearable symptoms. In cases of severe addiction, the withdrawal process may even be deadly. Medically-induced coma for alcohol detox works to shield the body from the worst of withdrawal and help you make it to the next stage of the recovery process.
Not being able to make it past the detox stage is the number one reason why so many people remain trapped inside an alcohol addiction problem. Trying to stop drinking without needed treatment supports in place only sets you up for failure. If you have a history of chronic or long-term drinking, you’ll likely need the type of protection a medical coma provides.
What Is a Medically-Induced Coma?
The two main characteristics of a comatose state are unconsciousness and being unresponsive to outside stimulation. Coma can result from head trauma, stroke or other serious injuries. With a medically-induced coma or medical coma, the patient is placed in a comatose state in a hospital setting. The goal of the procedure works to give the brain time to heal and protect it from further injury.
Anesthetics are used to induce a coma. In effect, a medical coma procedure closely resembles the “putting under” process that takes place at the start of surgical procedures. Once under, doctors monitor and control the process to ensure brain functions stay at a certain level.
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Why Induce Coma During Alcohol Detox?
Alcohol withdrawal can take a tremendous toll on the body, even for moderate drinkers. According to the New England Journal of Medicine, alcohol is one of the most dangerous substances when it comes to its withdrawal effects on the body. With severe or chronic alcohol abuse, the process can even be deadly.
Long-term alcohol abuse changes essential physical processes in the brain and body. Also, once a person reaches a certain tolerance level, no amount of alcohol will prevent the onslaught of withdrawal symptoms. When this happens, the dangers of severe withdrawal become very real. The same can happen when a chronic drinker tries to stop drinking altogether.
Withdrawal intensity can vary depending on:
- Your alcohol abuse history or how many months or years you’ve been drinking
- How much you typically drink at any one time
- How many times you’ve gone through withdrawal or detox in the past
A medically-induced coma for alcohol detox is performed when the withdrawal process poses serious risks to the patient’s health. In cases of severe withdrawal, you can experience horrendous symptoms, also known as Delirium tremens (DTs), which include seizures, racing heartbeat, hallucinations, violent shaking, fever, and high blood pressure. These conditions can cause considerable damage to the body’s systems and even death. A medical coma prevents these symptoms from happening.
What’s Involved With the Procedure?
A medically-induced coma for alcohol detox takes place in a hospital-based, intensive care setting. The procedure requires the presence of an anesthesiologist along with monitoring devices that track the patient’s condition. Sedative drugs are administered at measured doses to keep the patient in the state.
Throughout the procedure, ongoing monitoring is critical to properly manage the depth of the coma state. EEG or electroencephalography machines monitor brain wave activity. Drug output may be adjusted to ensure the patient’s brain remains in a state of rest. Drugs commonly used during the procedure include:
- A general anesthetic, such as Propofol
What Happens When You Wake Up?
Alcohol depresses the body’s central nervous system or CNS. The intensity of withdrawal symptoms you experience reflects the degree of damage done to the CNS. With severe withdrawal, in particular, the body enters into an extremely excited state in its attempt to stabilize CNS functions. Consequently, a medically-induced coma for alcohol detox will likely require stronger sedatives than usual in order to counteract the body’s volatile state.
Under these conditions, there’s a good chance someone coming out of a medically-induced coma will feel confused, be highly agitated and even aggressive. This state will wear off as the drugs leave his or her system. However, each person’s physiological makeup varies so outcomes can vary.
What Are the Potential Risks?
Due to the trauma placed on the body’s systems, DTs can cause residual, aftereffects that are just as deadly. Metabolic abnormalities that affect muscle function, heart function or lung function may develop as a result of DTs. Changes in the blood’s acidity level pose a serious risk to heart and lung function, causing both to stop in cases where blood-acid levels run too high. A severe withdrawal episode can also damage the pancreas to the point where a person develops blood sugar problems similar to type 1 diabetes mellitus, which can also be fatal.
In comparison, medically-induced coma risks are few. When properly monitored, the procedure is a controlled process from start to finish and completely reversible. Any real risks have more to do with the degree of brain damage that’s already present. A medical coma can only prevent additional injury so any damage present beforehand remains unchanged. When compared to the dangerous symptoms brought on by DTs, a medical coma is the safer option.
The Need for Inpatient Detox Treatment
Alcohol inpatient detox treatment programs are equipped to properly diagnose your detox needs and proceed accordingly. Doctors and nurses are specialists and have ample experience in performing medically-induced comas, which is essential to ensuring all safety protocols are followed. This level of training and experience also means you’ll be provided with the treatment supports you need after the procedure is completed.
While a medical coma procedure may seem extreme, the risk of developing permanent bodily damage is real. If you’ve experienced severe withdrawal in the past or have a history of chronic or long-term drinking, don’t try to stop drinking on your own. Alcoholism, in any form, is treatable when you have the treatment support you need.
- scientificamerican.com – Scientific American, “What Is a Medically-Induced Coma”
- unmhospitalist.pbworks.com – New England Journal of Medicine, “Recognition and Management of Withdrawal Delirium (Delirium Tremens)”
- healthgrades.com– Healthgrades.com, “Medically Induced Coma”
- health.harvard.edu – Harvard Health Publications, “Alcohol Withdrawal”
Sunshine Behavioral Health strives to help people who are facing substance abuse, addiction, mental health disorders, or a combination of these conditions. It does this by providing compassionate care and evidence-based content that addresses health, treatment, and recovery.
Licensed medical professionals review material we publish on our site. The material is not a substitute for qualified medical diagnoses, treatment, or advice. It should not be used to replace the suggestions of your personal physician or other health care professionals.
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