Your body goes through numerous changes when you begin alcohol detox. Since your body has become accustomed to functioning with alcohol for a prolonged period, the sudden absence of it can throw your body out of balance and trigger an array of withdrawal symptoms. One such withdrawal symptom is high blood pressure.
To better understand the relationship between high blood pressure and alcohol withdrawal, let us first learn about alcohol withdrawal syndrome and what causes it.
What Is Alcohol Withdrawal Syndrome?
Alcohol withdrawal syndrome is a group of symptoms that occur when an individual with alcohol use disorder (AUD) reduces or quits alcohol consumption suddenly. The condition is thought to arise due to the effects of alcohol on the brain. Alcohol is a central nervous system (CNS) depressant that enhances the production of the main inhibitory neurotransmitter, gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA). It also reduces the production of the main excitatory neurotransmitter, glutamate. With chronic use, the brain responds by reducing and increasing the production of GABA and glutamate, respectively. When such an adaptation occurs, the sudden reduction or cessation of alcohol intake can disrupt brain activity and cause a hyperaroused state, leading to a range of withdrawal symptoms.
Alcohol withdrawal syndrome can range from mild to severe and include a combination of physical and psychological symptoms. It’s more common in adults, but teenagers and children who drink heavily may also experience it. The condition is also likely if you have previously had withdrawal symptoms or required medical alcohol detoxification.
Symptoms of Alcohol Withdrawal
Alcohol withdrawal symptoms generally begin within a few hours after the last drink and last for a week or two. However, the severity of alcohol withdrawal symptoms can vary from one person to another based on factors such as the amount of alcohol consumed, duration of use, abuse of other agents, and the existence of any other psychiatric condition.
Common signs of alcohol withdrawal include:
- Alcohol cravings
- Autonomic hyperactivity (sweating, rapid heart rate)
- Increase in blood pressure
In severe cases, those going through signs of alcohol withdrawal may also experience seizures, hallucinations, and delirium tremens (DTs). Withdrawal seizures are generalized in nature and often appear within 48 hours after the last drink. In contrast, hallucinations appear within 24 hours and include auditory, visual, and tactile hallucinations. Delirium tremens is another severe manifestation of alcohol withdrawal that occurs within 48 and 96 hours after the last alcohol intake. Hallucinations, tachycardia, disorientation, hyperthermia, hypertension, agitation, and extreme sweating are common characteristics of DTs. If you are experiencing severe alcohol withdrawal symptoms, seek medical attention immediately.
Timeline of Alcohol Withdrawal Symptoms
Although the alcohol withdrawal timeline can vary from person to person, individuals can typically expect these symptoms in the following stages when undergoing detoxification from alcohol:
- 6-12 hours following the last drink – The initial stages of alcohol withdrawal generally manifest within six hours following the last drink. They include mild symptoms of anxiety, headache, heart palpitations, craving for alcohol, nausea, vomiting, insomnia, and sweating.
- 12-48 hours following the last drink – Clinical manifestations may peak during the first 24 to 72 hours of alcohol abstinence. Severe symptoms, such as withdrawal seizures and hallucinations, can also occur during this stage of alcohol withdrawal.
- 48-72 hours following the last drink – The most severe withdrawal symptom, delirium tremens, may develop during this period. DTs often last three to four days and necessitate urgent medical care.
Most alcohol withdrawal symptoms tend to improve within a week or two. However, in some cases, they may linger for weeks, months, or years. This is called post-acute withdrawal syndrome (PAWS) and is a frequent obstacle to long-term recovery.
How Does Alcohol Withdrawal Affect Blood Pressure?
Little is known regarding the relationship between alcohol withdrawal and blood pressure. However, the stress your body experiences while it readjusts to the absence of alcohol can increase blood pressure to potentially dangerous levels. Uncontrolled high blood pressure can lead to vision problems, heart attacks, or strokes. As such, heavy drinkers should only reduce or quit alcohol under the guidance or advice of a medical professional.
Can Alcohol Consumption Affect Blood Pressure?
Alcohol itself is a significant contributor to high blood pressure. Numerous studies have revealed that heavy or binge drinking can raise your blood pressure to unhealthy levels. Consuming more than three standard drinks increases blood pressure to unhealthy levels. This spike in blood pressure usually dribbles down after a month of abstinence, and the liver processes out the alcohol. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), about 500,000 Americans die annually from hypertension, and excessive alcohol intake is one of the leading causes.
When someone drinks alcohol repeatedly, the elevated blood pressure can become chronic and lead to various medical conditions. To prevent high blood pressure and the resulting health complications, the American Heart Association (AHA) recommends limiting alcohol consumption to two alcoholic drinks per day for men and one alcoholic drink per day for women.
Treatment for Alcohol Withdrawal
Alcohol withdrawal syndrome treatment begins with an assessment of alcohol withdrawal symptoms. Medical professionals will use the Clinical Institute Withdrawal Assessment of Alcohol Scale (CIWA-Ar) to help diagnose and determine the severity of symptoms. CIWA-Ar scores of eight points or lower correspond to mild withdrawal symptoms. In comparison, CIWA-Ar scores greater than 15 points correspond to severe withdrawal symptoms and an increased DTs or seizure threshold. Medical professionals may also use a detailed medical history and physical examination to identify possible medical conditions related to alcohol abuse, such as arrhythmias, gastrointestinal bleeding, coronary artery disease, liver disease, congestive heart failure, and pancreatitis.
Treatment of alcohol withdrawal generally includes medical detoxification in an inpatient treatment setting. Alcoholic patients may benefit from round-the-clock supervision and care to overcome their withdrawal symptoms. Inpatient care may be especially beneficial for people with severe withdrawal symptoms, a history of withdrawal seizures or DTs, multiple previous medical detoxifications, medical comorbidities, and a lack of a reliable support network.
It’s important to remember that although medical detoxification is the stepping stone for recovery from alcohol, it does not help address the root cause. Therefore, patients with alcohol dependence are advised to combine clinical withdrawal management with alcohol dependence treatment. Counseling, behavioral therapies, and support groups are some of the main components used to treat alcohol dependence.
If you or a loved one is struggling with an alcohol use disorder and want to break free, contact Futures Recovery Healthcare for assistance. We take great pride in delivering an evidence-based treatment regimen centered on tailored treatment for all our patients dealing with alcohol addiction.