Any addiction has the potential to waylay your life, your health, and your happiness. An alcohol addiction is no different. When a person’s body is dependent on alcohol, they will experience symptoms of withdrawal when they stop using, or drastically decrease their alcohol input. Due to this, an array of uncomfortable, and at times, very dangerous symptoms can occur., These need to be acknowledged and treated with the appropriate care.
Why Do You Go Through Withdrawal?
Your chance of withdrawal can be influenced by the amount of alcohol you drink, and how often you drink it. Drinking alcohol influences your brain and your central nervous system (CNS). According to American Family Physician (AFP), it enhances the impact of γ-amino-butyric acid (GABA), which is an inhibitory neurotransmitter, this results in an “in decreased overall brain excitability.” It also works towards suppressing your CNS activity. This is why alcohol is a depressant.
They continue to say that when a person drinks chronically, certain neuroreceptors called N-methyl-D-aspartate (NMDA) are occupied by the influx of alcohol. When a person abruptly stops drinking, these neuroreceptors are suddenly freed up, causing excessive brain excitability; this paired with the heightened activity to your CNS takes you to the opposite end of the spectrum, which manifests as various withdrawal symptoms.
Alcohol Withdrawal Is Evident On Both Your Body And Mind
When your body realizes that it is without alcohol, its reaction presents as what we call withdrawal. Alcohol withdrawal needs to be taken seriously—it can cause many complications, and in the most severe instances, it can cause death.
According to Medscape, there are four categories of withdrawal, they include: minor withdrawal, major withdrawal, withdrawal seizures, and delirium tremens (DTs).
In the case of minor withdrawal, it may only be six to eight hours after a person stops drinking that they experience these things. AFP says that these symptoms “can occur while the patient still has a measurable blood alcohol level.”
Here follows the most common symptoms, keep in mind, though these may accompany mild withdrawal, they may also be present in more severe forms.
- Pale, clammy or sweaty skin
- Tremors and “the shakes”
- Mild confusion and cognitive impairment
- Mood disturbances, including irritability, nervousness, anxiety, or depression
- Being on edge or jumpy
- Dilated pupils
- Sleep disturbances, including insomnia or nightmares
- A suppressed appetite and gastrointestinal problems, including nausea and vomiting
- Hypertension and heart palpitations
During major withdrawal—which can occur anywhere from 10 to 72 hours after the cessation of drinking—a chronic drinker may experience the above symptoms, however, as stated by Medscape, they may also experience another complication of this alcohol abuse and withdrawal, which is called alcoholic hallucinosis.
A study originally published in Industrial Psychiatry Journal elaborates on this, stating “Usually it presents with acoustic verbal hallucinations, delusions and mood disturbances arising in clear consciousness and sometimes may progress to a chronic form mimicking schizophrenia.” This condition may be independent of delirium tremens. A person may also experience whole-body tremors.
These seizures, at times called “rum fits,” are commonly brief, and may appear at onset of withdrawal before any other symptoms arise. This can happen 6-48 hours after the discontinuation of alcohol. They are also more common in individuals who have undergone detoxification numerous times. Medscape notes that of those who experience these, 30-40 percent move into the stages of DTs.
The most severe cases of withdrawal are called delirium tremens or DTs. This condition is a medical emergency. According to MedlinePlus, these symptoms of withdrawal typically arise 48-96 hours after a person has their last drink, however, they do note that it may be upwards of seven to ten days before this presents.
Several things put a person at increased odds of developing this, as stated by MedlinePlus, “It is especially common in those who drink 4 to 5 pints of wine, 7 to 8 pints of beer, or 1 pint of “hard” alcohol every day for several months. Delirium tremens also commonly affects people who have used alcohol for more than 10 years.”
When a person suffers from DTs, they encounter additional symptoms that are more severe, they include:
- Tremors throughout the body
- Low-grade fever
- Changes in mental function, a person may become confused or disoriented, and have trouble maintaining attention
- Being overcome by a state of stupor
- Intense fatigue, may even sleep for 24 hours or more
- Unpredictable and changeable moods
- Changes in behavior, including restlessness, irritability, excitability, becoming more active, an increased state of agitation, and fear
- Increased sensitivity to aural, visual (specifically light), and tactile stimulation
- Pain, specifically in the areas of the chest or stomach
- Hallucinations or delirium
The latter two symptoms can cause a fairly extreme disassociation with reality and a person’s surroundings. A person may also encounter the other more generalized symptoms of withdrawal.
DTs may cause seizure, however, it is important to note that a seizure may occur independently without any other symptoms. These tend to appear in 12-48 hours after a person stops drinking, but may take as long as ten days. They are more apt to occur in a person that has a history of experiencing complications due to withdrawal.
MedlinePlus tells us that these seizures are predominantly generalized tonic-clonic seizures, which many people may refer to as a grand mal seizure. This form of seizure overtakes a person’s entire body. These seizures can be life-threatening, which is due to several things, one being that a person may experience a head injury in the process of seizing, or that they may breathe vomit into their airway or lungs, causing them to suffocate.
How Is Withdrawal Treated?
As we’ve discussed, alcohol withdrawal can be very dangerous; it is something that should never be attempted on your own. It is best undergone in a medically-supervised environment, which can happen in either inpatient or outpatient rehabilitation, depending on the severity of the addiction. In conjunction with this, receiving supportive care can help to alleviate the risk of relapse, as the symptoms of alcohol withdrawal often drive a person to drink again. If you’re looking to find sobriety within a program, your first step will be undergoing detoxification.
This can be very uncomfortable and at times painful, due to the symptoms we outlined above. In the most severe instances a person’s life may be in jeopardy. That is why detoxing within a supervised environment, under the care and observation of a highly-trained staff, is strongly recommended.
During this time, the medical support staff will monitor your vitals and do various tests so that they may fully ascertain the state of your health. They will likely administer medications to help you during this transition. According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, acamprosate may be useful for treating the symptoms of long-lasting withdrawal. It may work better in people who have more intense addictions.
In order to alleviate the stress, anxiety, muscle spasms, and seizures that often accompany acute withdrawal, benzodiazepines such as diazepam may be utilized. According to AFP, other medicines may be administered, they suggest that “carbamazepine, oxcarbazepine, valproic acid, and gabapentin, have less abuse potential but do not prevent seizures,” another publication by them also suggests that “Medications such as haloperidol, beta blockers, clonidine, and phenytoin may be used as adjuncts to a benzodiazepine in the treatment of complications of withdrawal.”
It is important that you are honest and explicit with your doctor about any current or past drug use, either illicit or prescribed, and any health conditions that you may suffer from. These things may affect your treatment or options for medication.
Let Us Help You Ease Into Sobriety
We are your biggest supporter in your desire to be sober, however, we want you to go about it in the right way. If you are worried about your alcohol addiction, and are fearful about contending with withdrawal, please contact us. Our staff at AlcoholTreatment.net can further educate you on these concerns, and inform you about your best treatment options.
National Institutes of Health – Complications of Alcohol Withdrawal
American Family Physician – Alcohol Withdrawal Syndrome
MedlinePlus – Alcohol withdrawal
Medscape – Delirium Tremens (DTs) Clinical Presentation
National Institute on Drug Abuse – DrugFacts: Treatment Approaches for Drug Addiction