Alcohol withdrawal, also known as alcohol withdrawal syndrome (AWS), is a health condition that affects people who indulge in heavy drinking over a long period of time. As alcohol causes biological and chemical changes in your body over time, a person who indulges in heavy drinking eventually forms a dependence on the addictive substance.
AWS is brought on when a heavy drinker stops drinking or reduces his drinking abruptly. The central nervous system’s inability to adapt to the abrupt changes due to the lack of alcoholic effects causes your body to overreact and trigger some uncomfortable and intense side effects known as withdrawals.
These side effects can range from mild to severe depending on factors such as the severity of your alcohol use disorder, history of relapses, underlying medical or psychiatric conditions, and how long you have been abusing alcohol.
Symptoms of withdrawals typically begin around six hours following your last drink and peak around 24 to 72 hours later and gradually reduce in intensity after a week. Although alcohol withdrawal syndrome is generally seen among adults, the rise in binge drinking habits among teenagers and adolescents has now exposed kids to the risks of withdrawals as well.
Why do People Suffer Withdrawal Symptoms
Alcohol withdrawal symptoms are caused by neurochemical changes in the brain, specifically by the depletion of dopamine, serotonin, gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA), and opioid peptides. These chemicals in our brain are responsible for providing us with feelings of wellbeing, pleasure, and euphoria. During the time of alcohol abuse, our bodies were conditioned to stop producing these chemicals naturally and rely upon the effects of alcohol instead. When we cease drinking or reduce our alcohol intake abruptly, our brain and body go through a chemical imbalance that causes the release of stress-inducing chemicals that promote feelings of depression, agitation, and anxiety.
Alcohol withdrawal symptoms are caused because our brain wants to continue to feel good but is unable to do so without the effects of alcohol and is struggling to adjust to the changes. This is why you feel the powerful urge to keep drinking. It is not a matter of self-discipline, willpower, or temptation but, in fact, a disease that affects your mind and body. Having a better understanding of what causes withdrawals and being able to identify the symptoms can help you or your loved one be better prepared for what’s to come and help you overcome your withdrawals.
Symptoms of Alcohol Withdrawal
Being able to identify withdrawal symptoms can greatly benefit you or someone you care about with the ability to recognize the problem of AUD. The most common signs of alcohol withdrawal syndrome include at least two or more of the following symptoms and may vary from one person to another.
- Increased heart rate
- High blood pressure
While most of these symptoms gradually disappear within a week, some symptoms may persist for weeks or even months in certain patients.
The more severe side effects of alcohol withdrawal syndrome include:
- Delirium Tremens (DMs)
The unpredictable nature of withdrawals can make the symptoms fluctuate in intensity, and due to the life-threatening nature of AWS, patients are highly advised against detoxing or quitting alcohol on their own. Seeking the help of medical professionals can help minimize the chances of a relapse and avoid the dangers of withdrawals. If you wish to overcome your AUD and lead a more productive and healthy life, seek the assistance and guidance of a physician or addiction specialist.
At Futures Recovery HealthCare, we provide individualized, evidence-based treatment programs that are designed to meet the needs of all our patients. Our compassionate team of dedicated staff is here to help you on your journey to sobriety.
Severe Symptoms of Alcohol Withdrawal
One of the most severe withdrawal symptoms is known as delirium tremens. It is estimated that around three to five percent of patients who are heavy drinkers experience this life-threatening condition. Delirium tremens is a neurologic syndrome that generally affects people who have been abusing alcohol for over 10 years, have a history of alcohol withdrawals, or drink daily for months on end. Patients who experience delirium tremens must seek immediate medical attention to avoid fatal consequences. The symptoms of delirium tremens may include:
- Extreme agitation and confusion
- High blood pressure
Patients who are highly likely to experience severe forms of withdrawals will require hospitalization and around-the-clock care and support to help minimize the health risks involved and maintain sobriety through their detoxification process.
Treatment of Alcohol Withdrawal
There are many dedicated treatment facilities across the U.S that specialize in the treatment of AUD. These facilities provide a safe and secure environment for patients to overcome their addictions and withdrawals while also providing them with the tools and skills required to maintain their sobriety in the outside world full of temptations.
The first stage of rehabilitation is the detoxification process. Detox is the process of cleansing or flushing out the addictive substance from your body. It’s one of the most physically and psychologically difficult stages of a rehabilitation program and the most vulnerable time for a relapse. The type of detox program and the level of care required for the effective management of withdrawals depends on factors such as the severity of addiction and dependence, the patient’s medical history, and the signs of co-occurring mental health disorders.
A doctor or a treatment professional may evaluate a patient before making the appropriate recommendations for an effective treatment plan. Depending on the evaluation, patients may require a medically assisted detox, outpatient detox, or a partial hospitalization program.
A medically assisted detox through an inpatient program provides patients with around-the-clock care and supervision to help monitor their progress and provide them with appropriate medications to manage their withdrawals and health complications. This treatment is an ideal option for patients diagnosed with severe addiction and co-occurring disorders. It is the safest form of treatment for severe withdrawals.
Outpatient detox is usually recommended to patients who are at low risk of severe withdrawals. As they do not require a very high level of supervision or care, patients are allowed to detox in the comfort of their own homes. However, this doesn’t mean it’s safe to detox alone. Patients are advised to be supervised and cared for by a loved one to avoid complications or escalations of withdrawal symptoms. Outpatient detox requires patients to make daily visits to their clinic so their progress could be monitored. These daily checkups help keep patients safe during their rehabilitation process and increase the level of care when necessary.
Partial hospitalization programs are ideal for patients who are moderately at risk of withdrawal complications. This form of treatment requires patients to be hospitalized during the day while being allowed to return home at the end of the day.
During the detoxification process, doctors may also prescribe benzodiazepines or sedatives such as Ativan, Valium, or Klonopin to help patients manage or alleviate certain withdrawal symptoms. Effective withdrawal management is extremely important for patients with mental health disorders such as anxiety, depression, and bipolar disorder.
The advancements made in the research of addiction treatment over the past decade have significantly increased the possibility of overcoming AUD and the symptoms of withdrawals that follow with it regardless of how severe your addiction may be. So don’t let the fear of withdrawals keep you from living the life you deserve. While AWS can be a difficult obstacle in your journey to recovery, it’s important to know that you’re not alone.
If you or someone you love has a problem with alcohol and needs alcohol detox treatment, Futures is here for you.