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The Sobering Truth About Alcohol Withdrawal Symptoms

Are you looking to quit your alcohol dependence? Maybe you have a loved one with alcohol withdrawal symptoms?

You might think that quitting cold turkey is the safest thing to do. While it’s true that a chronic drinker 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. 

If you’re about to end excessive alcohol consumption and don’t cut down slowly, you need someone to supervise your safety.

We’re going to explain what alcohol withdrawal syndrome is, what the symptoms are, and how to survive detox and get sober. Keep reading!

Withdrawal Symptoms

Who is likely to experience alcohol withdrawal syndrome? Anyone who doesn’t drink in moderation is at risk of the ill effects of alcohol and potentially fatal side effects when they quit.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) provides an up-to-date guide on alcohol use and public health. Heavy drinking is defined by the CDC as eight or more drinks per week for women, and fifteen for men. More common binge drinking is defined as four or more drinks on one occasion for women and five or more drinks for men.

Both binge drinking and heavy drinking are dangerous and are classed by the CDC as meeting the criteria for excessive drinking. The short-term health risks include injuries, violence, alcohol poisoning, and risky behaviors. Long-term health risks include chronic diseases like cancer and social problems.

When a regular excessive drinker abruptly quits, they might experience alcohol withdrawal symptoms. These could be mild or severe. Because in rare cases, stopping alcohol can be fatal you need to watch symptoms for a negative progression.

Symptoms are mental and physical and may arise after years, months, or even just weeks of heavy alcohol consumption. Occasional drinkers don’t tend to experience withdrawal. Those that have experienced it before are at increased risk of going through withdrawal again.

Surviving Alcohol Detox

To understand alcohol withdrawal symptoms it’s helpful to know what happens when you drink.

Alcohol is known to have a depressive or sedative effect on your central nervous system, which is why it is so addictive. Often those who suffer from stress, or mental health problems like anxiety, enjoy the relaxing feeling resulting from a drink.

That’s because, with anxiety and stress, the mind is fired-up in a highly active state. It’s as if you’ve had too many cups of coffee.

Your brain activity is slowed by alcohol, and signals from your nerves are also altered. Our brain and body fight back against chemical interference by altering neurochemistry.

The central nervous system (CNS) attempts to rebalance brain chemistry over time. This leads to alcohol being less effective at relaxing you. 

Alcohol causes an increase in the effects of a neurotransmitter known as GABA. GABA has an association with feelings of calm and euphoria. The neurotransmitter glutamate has an association with feeling over-excited and alcohol lowers it.

Over time, your body decreases the production of GABA and increases the production of glutamate. When you suddenly stop drinking, it takes a while for your body to adapt back to normal levels, causing you to experience some ill effects.

You might feel anxious, nervous, irritable, or experience depression when you quit. Feeling lethargic, shaky, and moody is common.

You could experience headaches, mental fog, nightmares, and find sleep hard. Physical effects include nausea/vomiting and loss of appetite. Others include sweating, a heart rate increase, pale skin, tremors, and dilated pupils.

Alcohol Withdrawal Syndrome

When you stop heavy drinking, the symptoms you experience are called alcohol withdrawal syndrome (AWS).

In some cases, alcohol withdrawal symptoms are severe. In 3-5% of withdrawal cases, delirium tremens (DTs) is present. This is characterized by confusion with a rapid onset that occurs about three days into symptoms and persists for 2-3 days.

DTs present as shaking, shivering, sweating, and an irregular heart rate. Hallucinations can occur, and occasionally a very high body temperature or seizures can cause death. Any of these symptoms need prompt emergency medical treatment since they can progress.

Benzodiazepines are often prescribed to ease the effects of alcohol withdrawal. Sedation with drugs like diazepam, lorazepam, chlordiazepoxide, or oxazepam can be life-saving. Antipsychotics are also prescribed sometimes.

Someone suffering from alcohol withdrawal should see a medical professional every day of symptoms. Even mild symptoms can escalate fast. Often, the best way to withdraw is in a professional facility that can offer medicine and support during uncomfortable bouts.

If you enter a hospital while suffering moderate or severe symptoms, your vitals will be monitored and fluids will prevent dehydration. Blood tests are also likely to be necessary. Vitamin supplements will help to replace nutrients that have been depleted by alcohol abuse.

Here’s what you should expect when withdrawing from alcohol.

Withdrawing from Alcohol: What to Expect and Ways to Make It Better

In contrast to a normal hangover that may last a couple of hours to a day, alcohol withdrawal gets worse over the first few hours and days, lasting as much as a week or even longer. The alcohol withdrawal experience varies between individuals, but there are some typical expectations that all alcoholics should consider before detoxing.

Main Symptoms and Possible Treatments:

Craving for Alcohol

It’s normal to experience strong cravings for the alcohol you are not getting. The craving is partly driven by the knowledge that drinking would ease the uncomfortable symptoms of withdrawal and partly by the desire to become intoxicated again.

Changing of Mood

Being without what your body has become addicted to can take a real toll on your mood and presence. One way to understand withdrawal is to think of as a period of debt repayment. When you drink, you get an advance of feeling good. But that debt piles up, and the more debt you racked up, the more you will have to pay back. During withdrawal, you are stripped of those good feelings, as a way for your body to maintain proper homeostasis. Once the debt has been fully paid, you return to feeling normal again.

If alcohol was used as an antidepressant or anti-anxiety treatment of choice, there may be feelings of depression or anxiety once you are withdrawing from those coping mechanisms.

If alcohol was using as a method of avoidance, there may be negative feelings revolving around those repressed issues that finally resurface while you’re detoxing.

Physical Agitation

Withdrawing from alcohol can physically agitate the body, causing a higher heartbeat and inducing sweating, shaking, tremors, or fever. However, being able to recognize these symptoms as part of the withdrawal will help in getting through it, as you won’t seek treatment via other medications and maintain distance from alcohol.

This is possible to treat with medication.

Trouble Sleeping

Despite the exhaustion most addicts experience during withdrawal, it often causes difficulty with falling asleep or staying asleep, also known as insomnia.

There are some natural and medicinal methods that may help this.

Feeling Nauseous

Feeling as though you are going to vomit, or actually vomiting, is a normal withdrawal symptom. Staying close to a bathroom is helpful for this reason.

There can be medical help to fight the nausea.

Having Hallucinations

Also known as delirium tremens, hallucinations are one of the worst symptoms of withdrawal. Not everyone experiences them, however. While these can be very scary at the time, they usually cease once the withdrawal has completed or you get medical treatment.

Proper supervision and medical attention can soothe hallucinations.

Having Seizures

These are uncommon, but they should always be considered and prepared for. Always call 911 or seek immediate medical attention if someone is having a seizure.

Immediate emergency attention can stop seizures and save lives.

Typical Withdrawal Duration

All alcohol withdrawal has three main stages, but there is no set timeline for an addict to go through all three stages. The first stage is the least severe. The second, which usually begins a day or so after drinking ends, is more serious. The final third stage is the most dangerous and may last a few days until symptoms subside.

In total, withdrawal may take a full week or more, but again, the duration varies for everyone.

How to Withdraw from Alcohol Safely

Safely withdrawing from alcohol is crucial, because although rare, there are possible life-threatening side effects.

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. Our program for alcohol addiction treatment has helped countless individuals detox safely and recover from alcohol addiction. Call today to get started at SOBA.

Sobriety Success

If you or a loved one is detoxing from alcohol, you should know that it’s considered one of the most dangerous substances to quit. Someone should be there to check the recovering drinker so that they can call 911 if symptoms take a sharp downturn.

A rehabilitation center for alcohol withdrawal is the ideal supervised environment for a recovering alcoholic who is suffering from withdrawal symptoms. They will get the level of supervision they need to stay safe while their symptoms pass. After they have physically recovered, they can work on the mental problems that made them self-medicate with alcohol.

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

Alcohol Withdrawal Symptoms

We’ve shown that alcohol withdrawal symptoms can be deadly. With the right care and support, a recovering alcoholic can walk towards a healthier future. Don’t let alcohol abuse destroy your health.

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

Contact us today to get started.

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