What Is Alcohol Withdrawal?
One of the acutest dangers of chronic drinking arises not while under the influence of alcohol, but in its absence. Alcohol withdrawal results when an alcohol-dependent person suddenly stops drinking. The greater the consumption of alcohol on a regular basis, the greater the likelihood of withdrawal.
As a person progresses from intermittent alcohol abuse to alcoholism, their alcohol intake climbs. This is often to overcome a tolerance and/or to self-medicate distressing circumstances within their life. As the levels of consumption rise, and as addiction takes hold, a person’s body acclimates to these constant, high levels of alcohol.
When addicted, a person’s drinking becomes chronic and uncontrollable in a way which places their body and brain under immense strain. But sadly, once a physical dependency is forged, a person’s physical and mental states do not know how to function without alcohol.
Once dependent, should a person abruptly stop drinking (quitting “cold turkey”), their body and brain struggle to function without the alcohol. When this occurs symptoms of withdrawal may appear.
Heavy drinkers can experience withdrawal even after significantly decreasing the amount of alcohol they typically consume. Though some individuals can quit drinking in this manner without encountering symptoms of withdrawal, a large percentage will experience side effects.
What Are Five Signs Of Alcohol Withdrawal?
As noted by Medline Plus, these aren’t just states which can affect adults; though less common, teenagers and children can experience alcohol withdrawal as well. Symptoms of withdrawal most typically occur eight hours after a person stops drinking, though for some it may take several days before they appear. Once present, they hit their most extreme at one to three days, however, some individuals may experience symptoms for weeks.
Alcohol withdrawal isn’t just a nuisance, as some individuals dangerously believe. In addition to being uncomfortable, emotionally and mentally exhausting, and for many, incapacitating, it can also be deadly.
For all of these reasons, should you suspect that you or a loved one may soon be or are currently progressing into withdrawal, seek medical help immediately. Here are some signs which can help you to identify withdrawal, so that you can seek prompt, medical treatment, should the need arise. Keep in mind, every individual is different and may not experience every symptom.
Physical Signs Of Alcohol Withdrawal
Alcohol withdrawal will cause both internal and visible physical symptoms of withdrawal.
Some of the more physically apparent signs of withdrawal include:
- Clammy skin
- Enlarged (dilated pupils)
- Excess sweating
- Nausea and vomiting
- Tremors (especially of the hands)
Though not always as obvious, a person may also experience appetite suppression, headaches, insomnia, and fatigue.
As a person progresses into withdrawal, their central nervous system becomes overly active. This can cause a rapid heart rate and high blood pressure (hypotension). If left untreated, blood pressure could rise to stroke-inducing levels.
Mental Signs Of Alcohol Withdrawal
Alcohol withdrawal is emotionally and mentally taxing as well. Dealing with just the physical aspects of withdrawal can cause emotional strain, but on top of this, the following mental states may occur:
- Mood swings
- Vivid nightmares
Withdrawal can cause a person to feel on edge, which may result in them appearing jumpy or tense.
Hallucinations Caused By Alcohol Withdrawal
Some individuals experience altered states of reality while withdrawing. When this occurs, they may experience visual, auditory, or tactile hallucinations, which means, respectively, that they see, hear, or feel things which are not really there. For example, according to “Introduction to Alcohol Withdrawal,” these manifestations may include:
- Visual hallucinations: Light may become too bright and colors may appear off, in a way which hurts a person’s eyes. Certain individuals see disturbing things or those which do not exist.
- Auditory hallucinations: A person may become more sensitive to sounds, to the extent they become scared or upset by them. A person may hear things which are not truly there.
- Tactile hallucinations: Withdrawal may create sensations of burning, pins and needles, itching, and/or numbness. Some people may feel bugs crawling on or just beneath their skin.
It can take one to two days before these signs present.
Seizures From Alcohol Withdrawal
Seizures most typically happen one to two days after a person stops or reduces their alcohol consumption. When a generalized seizure occurs a person may lose consciousness and develop spasms of the limbs. The aforementioned article notes that seizures may develop even when other symptoms of withdrawal are not present.
While most individuals have one or two seizures, the article asserts that “Although multiple seizures are not common, AW is one of the most common causes in the United States of status epilepticus—a medical emergency characterized by continuous, unrelenting seizures.”
During a seizure, a person could fall and strike their head, causing a head injury or brain damage. They may also breathe or aspirate their vomit into their lungs, causing them to choke or develop pneumonia.
Delirium Tremens From Alcohol Withdrawal
Delirium tremens is a severe form of alcohol withdrawal which can be deadly. It affects approximately three to five percent of people who go into withdrawal; of this number, five to 25 percent suffer fatal complications.
Delirium tremens occurs most frequently in heavy drinkers and those who have previously withdrawn from alcohol. It is also more apt to happen if a person hasn’t eaten enough during the period in which they stop drinking.
Signs of delirium tremens include:
- Body tremors
- Cardia arrhythmias
- Delirium (severe confusion)
Delirium tremens is considered a medical emergency. The sooner you contact emergency medical support for yourself or a loved one, the sooner you can get access to life-saving treatments. In order to expedite this, if you or a loved one are dependent on alcohol, it’s critical that you understand the symptoms of delirium tremens and seek the proper treatment.
Cravings are a major symptom of withdrawal. Many individuals relapse in order to feed this sense of overwhelming need and to reduce the severity of the above symptoms. Returning to alcohol only serves to place your body and brain in continuous danger.
Treatment For Alcohol Withdrawal
For some, the symptoms of withdrawal may be mild and merely bothersome, for others they can become intolerable and debilitating, disrupting a person’s ability to function within work, the home, school, or socially. But even more frightening is that up to one in 20 people may experience them in a way which could become deadly.
The thing is before withdrawal starts, you don’t know how serious your symptoms will be. For this reason, should you or a loved one desire to quit drinking, be smart and seek help.
A medically-supervised detox is the best approach to treating withdrawal. Here, various medications, nutritional supplements, and IV fluid hydration will be utilized to keep your body and mind as comfortable, and safe, as possible. After, we suggest that you pursue inpatient drug rehab so that the behavioral and psychological components of addiction can be treated.
Protect Your Life. Get Treatment Today
If you’re considering a life free from alcohol, let us help you. With our assistance, you can create the best-individualized treatment plan for your life.
For more information be sure to check out these additional resources from AlcoholTreatment.net:
- How To Stop Drinking Alcohol
- The Different Stages Of Alcoholism
- Long-Term Effects Of Alcohol Abuse
- Does Alcohol Addiction Cause Mental Illness?
MedLine Plus — Alcohol Withdrawal, Delirium Tremens
National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism — Complications of Alcohol Withdrawal
The New England Journal of Medicine — Recognition, and Management of Withdrawal Delirium (Delirium Tremens)