All About Alcohol Withdrawal

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For people who drink large amounts of alcohol regularly for many months, stopping drinking can lead to symptoms that affect both the body and mind. These symptoms are part of alcohol withdrawal syndrome, a possibly life-threatening condition that results from your body’s dependence on alcohol. When you have made the positive choice to become sober, alcohol withdrawal syndrome can make it difficult to stick to your plan without the right support.

What Is Alcohol Withdrawal?

Like other drugs, alcohol rewires your brain as you use it over time. It works as a depressant, slowing down your brain function. Your body, including your brain and central nervous system, works hard to compensate for this slowdown. It figures out a way to function even on large amounts of alcohol, speeding up its processes. As you build up more tolerance to alcohol and drink more, your brain works harder and harder.

But you suddenly stop drinking alcohol, your brain and nerves can’t slow back down. They remain hyperactive and sensitive, leading to a wide range of both mental and physical symptoms that are uncomfortable and even dangerous. Symptoms of withdrawal can start in as little as four hours and last up to a week.

What Are the Symptoms of Alcohol Withdrawal?

Symptoms of alcohol withdrawal can vary by person. Their intensity may depend on how much you drink. If you don’t drink much each day, your symptoms might be mild and short-lived. But if you drink large amounts of alcohol every day, and have done so for a very long time, your symptoms may be severe enough to be life-threatening.

After you stop drinking, you enter stage one of alcohol withdrawal syndrome. This stage has mild symptoms, including:

  • Anxiety
  • Excessive sweating and/or hot flashes
  • Headaches
  • Insomnia (trouble sleeping)
  • Nausea and vomiting

You may start seeing these symptoms as early as four to six hours after your last alcoholic beverage. Though these symptoms aren’t dangerous, they can be very uncomfortable. Your brain seeks to remedy that discomfort by taking in more alcohol. You will likely begin to feel alcohol cravings or feel that you would be calmer with a drink. These symptoms can make it hard to quit drinking and even push you to drink more and more frequently, so you don’t have enough time between drinks to experience them.

If you still have not had a drink for 12 to 72 hours, you may enter stage two of alcohol withdrawal syndrome. You may have moderate to severe symptoms, including:

  • Confusion
  • Fast or irregular heart rate
  • Higher body temperature and sweating
  • High blood pressure

Prolonged high blood pressure or irregular heart rate can be dangerous, especially if you have an existing heart problem. Confusion can also lead to injuries or accidents. Again, you may feel a strong urge to drink to help calm your symptoms.

When it has been two to four days since your last drink, you may enter stage 3 of withdrawal with much more severe symptoms. These symptoms may include:

  • Agitation
  • Fever
  • Hallucinations
  • Seizures

Seizures can be especially severe and dangerous, especially if you experience one while driving. In addition, about 5% of people who experience alcohol withdrawal symptoms will experience delirium tremens (DTs). These people will experience:

  • Delusions
  • Extremely vivid hallucinations
  • Excessive sweating
  • Fever
  • Heart problems such as high blood pressure or irregular heartbeat

Without treatment and medical attention, severe symptoms in stage three can put your life at risk. Many people can end up in the emergency room if withdrawal becomes very severe. That’s why you should never attempt detoxification alone. You will need support and care to make it through.

If you can manage to remain sober and safe for about a week, all symptoms of withdrawal should subside. You can experience an easier and safer withdrawal with the support of a detox program at a trustworthy addiction treatment center.

How Is Alcohol Withdrawal Syndrome Treated?

To keep you safe during withdrawal, it may be best to participate in a detox program. The program can help you maintain abstinence as you experience withdrawal and protect your health from serious symptoms. Your blood pressure, heart rate, temperature, and other vital stats can be carefully monitored by nurses and other staff members to ensure you don’t experience the severe symptoms or that these symptoms are well controlled and managed.

Some medicines can help ease the discomfort and symptoms of withdrawal. Your detox program may use:

  • Acamprosate
  • Benzodiazepine
  • Disulfiram
  • Naltrexone

These oral medicines work in different ways to curb cravings and ease symptoms like anxiety. Some medicines will make you extremely ill if you take them and then consume alcohol, helping you stay sober.

Medicines may be just one part of a more holistic approach to alcohol withdrawal syndrome. You may also need IV therapy to stay hydrated through detoxification and counseling to help you handle mental symptoms.

Medicines may help you at the beginning of treatment, but for long-term sobriety, you’ll need additional care such as:

  • Individual counseling
  • Group counseling
  • Family counseling
  • Cognitive behavioral therapy
  • Holistic treatment such as acupuncture, yoga or other complementary therapies
  • Alumni program or other support

Your treatment plan depends on your history of alcohol use, the root causes of your addiction, and other factors.

At Harmony Place, we design personalized treatment plans for each patient, ensuring you can achieve sobriety safely. We provide support through each stage of recovery, from detoxification to outpatient therapy, group counseling to vocational support. We work with you to help make long-term abstinence achievable.

If you or a loved one require addiction treatment, we can help. Contact us at 1-888-789-4330 at any time day or night for assistance.