NOTICE: Alcohol detox and withdrawal symptoms can be life threatening. If you are experiencing severe symptoms of alcohol withdrawal, call 9-1-1 for immediate medical attention.
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What is alcohol withdrawal?
Alcohol withdrawal describes the uncomfortable withdrawal symptoms a person may have after stopping drinking alcohol. Alcohol detox can effect physical, mental and emotional functions of the body. Depending on how much alcohol was consumed, alcohol withdrawal can be mild in nature or the alcohol detox can be fatal in certain conditions.
While alcohol withdrawal may be temporary, some people who have been drinking heavily need to have medical assistance to deal with more severe withdrawal symptoms that present serious medical concerns.
When someone stops drinking heavily, they will feel the effects between 8 hours and 48 hours from their last drink. Drinking more alcohol subsides alcohol withdrawal only temporarily, but can lead to fatal consequences at a later time. It is strongly recommended that you call an alcohol detox for professional help when feeling alcohol withdrawal symptoms due to the serious nature of the more severe symptoms.
Biochemistry of Alcohol Detox
Alcohol has been found to slow down cellular functions in the nervous system. If someone uses alcohol for longer stretches they can alter the brain chemistry of the individual’s brain. Since drinking can cause mood deterioration, a human body produces more stimulatory chemical responses. It also contains neurotransmitter dopamine and gamma aminobutyric acid (GABA), stimulating neurotransmitters, and permanently restoring brain chemistry equilibrium. This helps the body to combat the effects of prolonged drinking habits. Eventually, though, the brain develops tolerance towards alcohol. This causes someone to drink more to feel the same effects of intoxication they were feeling before.
What is Alcohol Withdrawal Syndrome?
Alcohol Withdrawal Syndrome (AWS) describes the set of symptoms that occur during the alcohol detox process once someone ceases heavy drinking abruptly.
Alcohol withdrawal is not the same as a common alcohol hangover. Typically, a medical professional diagnoses Alcohol Withdrawal Syndrome based on the alcohol withdrawal symptoms the patient is experiencing. If you believe you are experiencing the symptoms of alcohol withdrawal syndrome, an alcohol detox or your primary provider could help you navigate your next steps.
Recognizing Alcohol Withdrawal Symptoms
Is it a hangover or alcohol withdrawal? While both share common symptoms, they are not the same. Alcohol detox symptoms and hangover symptoms could both include a headache, nausea and fatigue.
Identifying the root cause of the symptoms is crucial in recognizing alcohol withdrawal. After a night of overindulging, the effects can be felt in the morning – this is known as a hangover. On the other hand, for someone struggling with alcohol use disorder or dependency, their body reacts differently: withdrawal symptoms occur those struggling with alcohol abuse reduce their drinking or abruptly stop consuming altogether.
Alcohol withdrawal symptoms can vary based on several different factors including amount consumed, over what time period, age of the person drinking and any other previous medical concerns. Recognizing when the body is going through an alcohol withdrawal is critical in treating the symptoms and reaching out for professional alcohol detox help at HEAL Behavioral Health when needed.
Common Mild Withdrawal Symptoms
Many of the mild withdrawal symptoms of alcohol withdrawal are similar to those of a common hangover. Mild symptoms can be mostly monitored at home with over the counter remedies and your general physician. These can include:
Severe Withdrawal Symptoms
Alcohol withdrawal can become quite severe and can even lead to death. If you experience more serious symptoms following your last drink, it is imperative to call an alcohol detox center, a treatment center or 9-1-1 in life threatening cases. It is not recommended to drink more alcohol or monitor the withdrawal symptoms at home.
Symptoms of Alcohol Withdrawal That Need Alcohol Detox
Alcohol withdrawal can be extremely dangerous for the body’s physical health. These severe symptoms could include abnormal liver function, withdrawal seizures, and other medical complications. If you experience severe symptoms of alcohol withdrawal syndrome, it is important to call a medical detox center for admission or visit the closest hospital.
Repetitive alcohol abuse and alcoholism could make it difficult for someone to stay sober through the uncomfortable withdrawal symptoms of alcohol detox. This could further the vicious cycle of alcoholism, requiring an alcohol treatment center to be a safe place to stop drinking and learn the coping tools to stay sober.
Mental Health Symptoms of Alcohol Withdrawal
Anxiety, depression, mood swings and insomnia can all be psychological symptoms of alcohol withdrawal. More severe withdrawal symptoms can include psychosis, paranoia or delirium. These mental health symptoms of alcohol withdrawal can make it more difficult to manage the physical withdrawal symptoms without outside support or professional medical help.
Individuals recognizing the depth of their alcoholism could be overwhelmed with feelings of shame, guilt or anxiety. This could cause someone to continue drinking heavily to numb their uncomfortable emotional responses.
While the alcohol withdrawal can bring about symptoms affecting mental health, those with underlying mental illness could experience more serious symptoms that are worsened by existing mental disorders. Medication management for psychiatric disorders can become harder when an individual is struggling with alcohol addiction.
Professional treatment or an alcohol detox center can help alleviate these issues and comfortably help individuals through their alcohol detox. Further inpatient care in treatment centers can help gain tools to cope with the mental health conditions that cause someone to drink heavily.
Alcohol Withdrawal Timeline
The exact time frame of symptoms can vary from person to person based on the amount of alcohol consumed and several other factors. Average alcohol withdrawal symptoms or alcohol detox can start to show within hours of the last drink – in some cases, as soon as 2 hours. The timeline of these withdrawal symptoms drastically vary based on how much and how long alcohol has been consumed.
3-12 hours after the last drink: mild withdrawal symptoms like a headache, nausea, changes in blood pressure, light sensitivity, sleep disturbances and irritability is common in the hours immediately after a person decides to quit drinking.
12-48 hours into alcohol withdrawal: during this time, more severe alcohol withdrawal symptoms can develop, requiring medical intervention. Symptoms could include serious fatigue, dehydration, vomiting, tremors, anxiety and mental confusion.
48-96 hours after the last drink: for light drinkers, alcohol withdrawal symptoms would start subsiding by the 96 hour mark. For heavy drinkers, symptoms could continue deteriorating. Withdrawal symptoms like seizures, delirium tremens, suicidal ideations require immediate 9-1-1 attention. An alcohol detox center can help mitigate severe alcohol withdrawal symptoms after discharge from the hospital.
10 Things To Help Your Alcohol Detox Process
- Reduce your alcohol consumption or stop drinking completely. Drinking more alcohol may subside symptoms temporarily, but will prolong the detox process. People who have been drinking heavily should not abruptly stop drinking without medical supervision.
- Hydrate with water and electrolytes. Water and Gatorade can help prevent dehydration. Taking small sips can help with nausea as well.
- Give your body time to rest and recuperate. Getting sleep and quiet time will help your body regenerate after heavy drinking. If you have sleep disturbances, consult a doctor for sleep aids.
- Visit with your primary care doctor for comfort medications. Your primary care physician may be able to prescribe common medications to help ease the more severe symptoms of alcohol withdrawal.
- Have a supportive environment. Having family and friends around to help monitor your condition, and support you will help you overcome these difficult few days.
- Eat healthy foods. Leafy greens and foods with less grease will absorb the alcohol in your stomach and help settle your GI tract. Foods heavy in carbohydrates may cause more nausea.
- Attend an Alcoholics Anonymous meeting. Alcoholics Anonymous meetings are free to attend and occur regularly throughout the day, across the country. Visit the Alcoholics Anonymous website to find a meeting near you. 12-step support groups have helped millions overcome alcoholism and substance use disorder.
- Move your body. Light exercise and movement like taking a walk or riding a bike could help kickstart your body’s metabolism, while taking in Vitamin D from the sun!
- Distract yourself with TV or a book. Overcoming the anxiety and racing thoughts that come with alcohol withdrawal can be difficult to do on your own. Reading books or binge watching a new television show could help focus your mind through the difficult parts of detox.
- Call for professional help. There is nothing wrong with asking for help. Millions of Americans struggle with alcohol use disorder (AUD) and asking for help from professionals at a detox center or a treatment center could help you overcome your struggles.
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Alcohol abuse or alcohol dependence?
If you’re evaluating yourself for alcohol abuse or an alcohol dependence, you could be struggling with the vicious cycle of binge drinking, alcohol withdrawal, shame and guilt, back to drinking heavily. Regardless of your unique circumstances, there is a recognition that drinking alcohol has consequences in your day to day life.
The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration defines alcohol dependence as the set of withdrawal symptoms, tolerance patterns and other physical attributes of the body’s dependence on alcohol. Alcohol abuse more regularly refers to the social and mental consequences of heavy drinking.
There are individuals who may partake in binge drinking once in a while or just consuming too much alcohol in social situations. These people are known as problem drinkers. Based on the diagnostic and statistical manual, they would not be diagnosed with alcohol use disorder.
Experts still recommend that problem drinkers are seen by medical professionals for their alcohol withdrawal symptoms and have clinical management of their mental health or to find healthier coping mechanisms.
According to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, alcohol addiction is defined as a chronic, relapsing disorder associated with the inability to stop drinking even after social, occupational or physical health consequences.
Alcohol Use Disorder (AUD) is accepted by the American Medical Association and the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual as a medical condition with symptoms, prognosis and treatments that follow similar, traceable patterns. The cause of alcohol addiction is rather unknown but can be attributed to a couple different factors including genetics, complex trauma and mental health.
If you feel you are struggling with alcohol addition, its important that you reach out to a loved one or a treatment professional for help. Help can come in the form of private therapy, family therapy, outpatient treatment, inpatient care or alcohol detox.
Frequently Asked Questions About Alcohol Detox
Going through the alcohol detox process can seem overwhelming and difficult. Consulting professionals to help is the best route to take when navigating alcohol withdrawal symptoms and alcohol detox. We’ve put together some frequently asked questions about alcohol withdrawal below.
Does your body recover when you stop drinking?
Over time, it is possible to heal from the physical effects of heavily drinking alcohol. Research supports that healing in the brain can start as soon as 2 weeks after stopping heavy drinking. Professional medical and psychological help along with supportive environment is critical to sustained long-term healing.
What to expect from your body when you stop drinking?
The onset of alcohol withdrawal symptoms can occur within a couple hours from the last drink. The body will experience physical, emotional and psychological effects of the alcohol withdrawal. Symptoms can be extremely uncomfortable and sometimes life threatening.
How to detox from alcohol at home?
Choosing to detox from alcohol at home could be extremely dangerous and even life threatening in certain cases. While it is not recommended, if an individual is starting the detox process at home, having another person around consistently is very important. Staying hydrated with water and electrolytes and treating symptoms as they arise with over the counter medication can also help.
Consulting with a primary care physician and having the supervision of a medical professional through an alcohol detox at home can be much safer than attempting to self diagnose and treat.
What is Delirium Tremens?
Delirium tremens is one of the most dangerous forms of alcohol withdrawal that a person can experience. According to clinical and diagnostic research, only 5% of those that abuse alcohol may be diagnosed with delirium tremens. Symptoms can include severe confusion, agitation, tremors and shaking, sweating, seizures or impaired consciousness.
How long does your body need to recover from alcohol?
New research shows that though severe symptoms from withdrawal can subside 2-3 weeks after the last drink, many struggle with Post Acute Withdrawal Syndrome (PAWS) for nearly 1 year after stopping drinking.
Finding Alcohol Detox and Alcoholism Treatment
Alcoholism is a serious problem in the country today and only a few people are actively seeking help. According to the National Institute of Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, a reported 15.6 million people have an alcohol problem. In contrast, only 47% seek treatment for their alcoholism or alcohol withdrawal.
While several treatment providers are available across the country, every individual has specialized needs that would be better served at treatment programs equipped to treat both the alcohol use and the co-occurring mental illness or trauma that may be present.
Treatment admissions specialists are available to help find the best treatment options based on your clinical and medical needs, as well as financial resources. Call the HEAL Behavioral Health team 24/7 for alcohol and addiction treatment options.
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The Importance of Alcohol Detox
The alcohol detox phase of treatment provides an initial medical management for withdrawal symptoms of alcohol addiction. Withdrawals usually subside 1-2 weeks before detox although it can be more complicated depending upon your severe symptoms or severity. From that point it’s imperative to concentrate on other parts of recovery like therapy sessions, counseling sessions, or other activities. Alcohol is a depressant and can become addictive over the long term, requiring therapy to return to equilibrium .
Detox is viewed as the first step to treatment, and many times is required for medical clearance before a patient starts traditional therapy. This is due to the dangerous nature of alcohol withdrawal syndrome, especially for heavy drinkers.
Substance Abuse Treatment and Mental Health Services
The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) provides national resources for help on their information service page. There are many factors to consider when choosing the right alcohol detox or treatment program for you.
Licensing & Accreditation: It may seem simple, but looking into the treatment center’s licenses and accreditations can give you a good picture of the legitimacy and quality of the program.
Level of Care & Length of Stay: Having options and flexibility to move through inpatient and outpatient treatment care levels is beneficial when choosing a program that works around your life and individualized needs.
Treatment Modalities: The type of clinical treatment and therapy provided at the treatment center is critical to the proper treatment of substance abuse or mental health. Exploring whether EMDR, Psychodrama, 12-step programs, CBT or if other types of therapy are offered can help you make the right choice.
Treatment Team: Addiction treatment programs can be structured in a variety of different ways, focusing on certain services over others. Asking questions about the therapists, medical doctors, psychiatrists, and support staff at a treatment center will allow you to feel more comfortable in the decision making process.
Treatment at HEAL Behavioral Health
The HEAL Behavioral Health team is made up of experienced treatment professionals with strong partner relationships to several alcohol detox centers, interventionists, and treatment centers. Once the patient completes alcohol detox and addresses major medical concerns from the alcohol withdrawal process, it is strongly recommended by medical and clinical experts to continue treatment to address the underlying causes beneath problem drinking or alcoholism.
At HEAL Behavioral Health, we provide individuals the chance to immerse themselves into nature and animals while participating in intensive trauma therapy to address the core underlying issues. Drinking or substance use usually act as symptoms of the underlying triggers from childhood and adulthood. Our clinical practice includes family therapy, medication management, trauma modalities and animal therapy immersion.
Our interdisciplinary team of medical professionals includes psychiatrists, doctors, therapists, and case managers to work with each individual on a treatment plan that is designed to meet individual needs. This can include treating the prolonged symptoms of alcohol withdrawal, sometimes referred to as Post Acute Withdrawal Syndrome (PAWS), while undergoing one to one therapy. Our proven method has seen great success amongst our alumni who have found happiness and peace in their lives after completing the HEAL program.