Columbia University Medical Center
NewYork-Presbyterian Hospital The University Hospital of Columbia and Cornell

Ask the Experts

Question:

If I drink a bottle of wine every night and want to stop drinking, do I need alcohol detoxification?

Answered by: Eric Collins

The short answer is "Yes," because stopping suddenly puts you at risk to have seizures, tremors, insomnia, bad dreams, stomach upset, anxiety, panic attacks, hallucinations, and/or a life-threatening condition known as delirium tremens (also known as DT's).

No medical professional should endorse ignoring or not adequately safeguarding against these risks, especially when detoxification can be safely and easily accomplished in about a week. The usual approach to detoxification is to use a sedative medication (e.g., Librium, Klonopin) and gradually reduce it over the course of a few days to a week or so, depending on how much alcohol the person consumed and how sensitive they are to developing withdrawal symptoms.

People differ in how sensitive they are to developing withdrawal syndromes to different medications. A standard bottle of wine (3/4 of a liter) is the equivalent of five standard alcoholic drinks (a standard drink contains 14 g of alcohol, the amount an average person metabolizes completely in one hour. It is the amount of alcohol present in 12 oz of beer, 5 oz of wine, and 1.5 oz of 80-proof alcoholic beverages).

This amount of alcohol on a daily basis is often associated with the development of mild to moderate withdrawal symptoms if one suddenly stops drinking. The likelihood of withdrawal symptoms goes up when increasing amounts of alcohol are consumed daily.

While some individuals will not experience withdrawal following abrupt cessation of a bottle of wine daily, there is no way to determine who is most at risk to do so. Individuals who have previously stopped drinking abruptly, without medication, may be at increasing risk to have a withdrawal seizure with each episode of chronic heavy drinking stopped abruptly.



Eric Collins, M.D.



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