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The Sobering Truth About Alcohol Withdrawal

Alcohol dependence is a serious disease that many people struggle with. Part of how to detox from alcohol and begin the road to recovery involves having the strength and courage to recognize your alcohol abuse. 

You might think that quitting cold turkey is the safest thing to do. While it’s true that chronic drinkers should stop, they might need medical supervision in the process.

A recent article published by USA Today highlights the fact that quitting alcohol can be deadly. Hundreds die each day from alcohol use, and that doesn’t come as a surprise. Yet, of the 16 million Americans with alcohol use disorder, hundreds die each year when they quit drinking.

Let’s take a closer look at what alcohol addiction is, what alcohol withdrawal syndrome is, what the symptoms are, and how to survive detox and get sober.

Recognizing & Treating Alcohol Dependence

Alcohol dependence truly is a disease, and sometimes it can be hard to recognize. There are many indicators that you or a loved one may be suffering from alcoholism, including: 

  • Frequently drinking more alcohol than you had initially planned to drink
  • Consuming alcohol during work hours or during the day
  • Hiding the amount of alcohol you are consuming or the frequency of consumption
  • Losing your memory or experience blackouts due to drinking
  • Experiencing feelings of unease or discomfort when you are around alcohol
  • Suffering emotional, financial, or legal difficulties due to excessive drinking
  • Not being able to take a break from drinking alcohol
  • Suffering from tremors and shakes when you are not under the influence of alcohol
  • Constantly or excessively thinking about alcohol
  • Drinking while driving or operating machinery
  • Feeling guilty about the amount of alcohol you consume
  • Experiencing physical symptoms such as gastrointestinal issues due to drinking
  • Drinking alone

While this isn’t an exhaustive list of alcohol dependence symptoms, these are some of the signs that someone may be suffering from alcohol addiction. Turning to a treatment center is a great way to begin working through your alcohol dependency and begin taking control of your life. 

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Alcohol Withdrawal Symptoms

When someone who drinks alcohol regularly and is dependent on it suddenly stops, they may develop withdrawal symptoms. These symptoms may look like a regular hangover, but they’re much more serious.

Within 6-24 hours after their last drink, the alcohol-dependent person will likely begin to experience some of the following symptoms:

  • Emotional/mood disturbances such as anxiety, mood swings, and agitation
  • Sleep disturbances or insomnia
  • Pain in the abdomen
  • High blood pressure, elevated body temperature, and increased sweating
  • Heart palpitations or alterations in heart rate
  • Disorientation, confusion, or fogginess
  • Fever (mild or high temperature)
  • Disorientation, deliriousness, and hallucinations

Can You Die From Alcohol Withdrawal?

Yes: alcohol withdrawal symptoms can be fatal to someone who has used and abused alcohol over a long period. The symptoms are far worse than what a social drinker might experience after having too many drinks on rare occasion.

The most severe and deadliest symptoms include:

  • Uncontrolled vomiting
  • Delirium tremens (DT’s)
  • Seizures
  • Hallucinations
  • Dangerously high heart rate and blood pressure
  • Severe dehydration

Long-Term Issues

Even after the acute withdrawal period, alcohol abuse can lead to long-term health problems that can be life-threatening. Pancreatitis is a painful condition that can be fatal if not treated. Symptoms can include severe stomach pain and vomiting.

Alcohol abuse has also been implicated in some cancers. Alcohol use accounts for about 6 percent of all cancers and 4 percent of all cancer deaths in the United States.

Chronic alcohol use can also cause significant legal issues. 29 people in the U.S. die every day in car crashes involving a drunk driver, and 1.5 million people are arrested every year for driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs. 

How to Withdraw from Alcohol Safely

Safely withdrawing from alcohol is crucial. The safest way to withdraw is under the care of medical or professional rehabilitation staff. They are experienced in dealing with all levels of withdrawal symptoms and will be able to offer medical or emotional support during uncomfortable moments. They will also be there to respond immediately should a medical emergency arise.

Inpatient Alcohol Detox

So, what happens during alcohol detox? The first step is an initial evaluation. A staff member will take the patient’s blood pressure, check for signs of dehydration, and test for the presence of alcohol in the blood and urine.

The patient will also be asked a series of questions to determine their alcohol use. This information will help medical personnel evaluate the patient’s level of dependency and the severity of withdrawal symptoms.  

While every patient is different, the alcohol detox and withdrawal process generally lasts for three to seven days. The patient will be closely monitored to make sure they don’t experience life-threatening seizures or convulsions.

A doctor may prescribe medications to prevent the most serious complications and help the patient feel more comfortable during the process. Some of these medications may include:

  • Benzodiazepines are a class of anti-anxiety medications that are used to prevent seizures, convulsions, and DTs. Common names are Librium and Ativan. 
  • Anticonvulsants may also be prescribed to prevent seizures.
  • Antipsychotics are used to prevent delusions and hallucinations. 

Someone with alcohol dependency issues should understand that medical detox is only the first step in the treatment process. Untreated alcohol abuse can cause permanent physical, mental, emotional, and legal issues.

Sobriety Success

Lasting, successful sobriety is the ultimate recovery goal, so a former alcoholic can learn to live a healthy life.

If you want to detox from alcohol or know someone with alcohol withdrawal symptoms, we can help. SOBA New Jersey is an alcohol rehabilitation center providing comprehensive addiction treatment. Getting the care you deserve makes all the difference.

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