Alcohol withdrawal describes the uncomfortable physical and psychological symptoms a person may encounter after excessive alcohol use is suddenly ceased. Alcohol detox can affect physical, mental, and emotional functions of the body. Depending on how much alcohol was or is consumed, alcohol withdrawal can range from mild discomfort to severe and potentially dangerous consequences.
What Is Alcohol Withdrawal?
While alcohol withdrawal may be temporary, some people who have been drinking heavily will require medical assistance to deal with the more severe withdrawal symptoms that present serious medical concerns. When someone stops long-term heavy drinking, they will feel the effects of withdrawal as soon as 8 hours and as long as 48 hours after their last drink.
Drinking more alcohol subsides alcohol withdrawal, but this is a temporary fix and can lead to near-fatal consequences. It is strongly recommended that you contact an alcohol detox center for professional help when feeling alcohol withdrawal symptoms are no longer within your control.
The Biochemistry Of Alcohol Detox
Alcohol has been found to slow down cellular functions within the central nervous system, or CNS. If someone uses alcohol heavily and consistently, it can alter their brain chemistry. The human body produces stimulatory chemical responses during withdrawal, as alcohol causes the release of two neurotransmitters: dopamine and Gamma-Aminobutyric Acid (GABA).
A sudden cessation of alcohol consumption causes a deteriorating effect on one’s brain chemistry. The desisting of alcohol suddenly causes a failure of the brain to produce these chemical messengers on its own. Eventually, the brain develops tolerance towards alcohol. This causes someone to drink more to feel the same effects of intoxication that they were feeling before.
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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 hangover. Typically, medical assistance is needed, or the consequences can be fatal. If you believe that you are experiencing symptoms of Alcohol Withdrawal Syndrome, an alcohol detox program such as Heal or your primary provider can assist you in navigating the many steps you will have to take to reach equilibrium.
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 may both include headaches, nausea, excessive sweating, 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 common hangover. On the flip side, for someone struggling with alcohol use disorder or dependency, the body reacts differently. Thus, withdrawal symptoms occur in those struggling with many alcohol abusers when they suddenly reduce their drinking or abruptly stop consuming alcohol altogether.
Alcohol withdrawal symptoms can vary based on several factors, including the amount consumed and its duration (how long have they been drinking daily?), the age of the person who is drinking, and their weight. Recognizing when the body is going through alcohol withdrawal is critical in treating its symptoms, as it is a dangerous reminder to reach out for professional alcohol detox help at Heal Behavioral Health when and as needed.
Common “Mild” Withdrawal Symptoms
Many of the “milder” symptoms of alcohol withdrawal may seem rather similar to those of a common hangover. This can typically be monitored at home with over-the-counter remedies and, if needed, assistance from your general physician. These can include:
Severe Withdrawal Symptoms
Alcohol withdrawal can become quite severe and can even lead to death. If you experience serious symptoms, it is imperative first to seek medical attention and then reach out to an alcohol detox treatment center. It is not recommended to drink more alcohol or to wait and monitor the withdrawal symptoms at home. This requires medical attention. Symptoms include:
Symptoms Of Alcohol Withdrawal That Require Alcohol Detox
Alcohol withdrawal can be extremely dangerous for the individual in question. These severe symptoms can include abnormal liver function, seizures, and other medical complications. If you experience severe symptoms of Alcohol Withdrawal Syndrome, it is important to call a medical detox center for immediate admission or to call for emergency services.
It can be difficult for someone to remain sober throughout the process of withdrawal, and many turn to alcohol to relieve the symptoms, thus causing the ongoing cycle of addiction. This could further the vicious cycle of alcoholism, requiring an alcohol detox treatment center to act as a safe place where one can stop drinking under medical supervision, receive guidance and support, and receive proper coping strategies.
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 bouts of psychosis, paranoia, or delirium. These symptoms of alcohol withdrawal can make it much more difficult to simultaneously manage the physical withdrawal symptoms without outside support or professional assistance.
Individuals recognizing the depth of their alcoholism may feel overwhelmed with feelings of shame, guilt, and even anxiety. This often leads to the individual continuing to drink simply to numb their uncomfortable emotional responses. While alcohol withdrawal can bring an assortment of symptoms that affect one’s mental health, those with underlying mental illness issues like Borderline Personality Disorder may experience intensified symptoms that are worsened by existing mental disorders. Medication management for psychiatric disorders can become much more difficult when an individual is struggling with alcohol addiction.
Professional treatment or an alcohol detox or treatment center can help alleviate these issues and comfortably help individuals through the daunting process of alcohol detox. This often requires dedicated inpatient care in treatment centers such as Heal, which can help guide you with tools to cope with mental health conditions that cause someone to drink heavily.
The Timeline Of Alcohol Withdrawal
The exact timeframe of symptoms can vary from person to person based on the amount of alcohol consumed and a number of other factors. Average alcohol withdrawal symptoms or alcohol detox can start to show within hours after the last drink (in some cases, as quickly as 2 hours). The timeline of these withdrawal symptoms drastically varies based on how much, as well as how long the individual has been consuming alcohol.
3-12 Hours After The Last Drink: Mild withdrawal symptoms such as headaches, nausea, changes in blood pressure, sensitivity to light, sleep disturbances, and irritability are common in the hours immediately after a person ceases to drink after heavy consumption.
12-48 Hours Into Alcohol Withdrawal: During this time, much more severe alcohol withdrawal symptoms can develop, requiring medical intervention. Symptoms include fatigue, dehydration, vomiting, tremors, anxiety, and confusion.
48-96 Hours After The Last Drink: For light drinkers, alcohol withdrawal symptoms typically start subsiding by the 96th-hour mark. For heavy drinkers, symptoms often progress. Withdrawal symptoms at this point involve but are not limited to seizures, Delirium Tremens, and, in severe cases, death. Suicidal ideations require immediate medical attention. An alcohol detox center can help mitigate severe alcohol withdrawal symptoms after discharge.
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 alcohol detox process. Those 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.
- Visit Your Primary Care Physician: 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 can help you monitor your condition and also support you as you overcome the alcohol detox process.
- Maintain A Healthy Diet: Leafy greens and foods with little to no grease will absorb the alcohol in your stomach and help settle your GI tract. Foods heavy in carbohydrates may cause more nausea.
- Alcoholics Anonymous: Alcoholics Anonymous meetings are free to attend and occur regularly throughout the day and all across the country. Visit the Alcoholics Anonymous website to find a meeting near you. Twelve-step support groups have helped millions overcome alcoholism and substance use disorders.
- Move Your Body: Light exercise and movement like walking or riding a bike can help kickstart your body’s metabolism while taking in Vitamin D from the sun!
- Distract Yourself: Overcoming the anxiety and racing thoughts that temper alongside alcohol withdrawal can be difficult to manage on your own. Reading books or watching a new television show can help focus your mind on something aside from discomfort.
- Seek 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 an alcohol detox or another form of treatment center typically helps overcome these struggles.
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Alcohol Abuse Or Alcohol Dependence?
If you are evaluating your alcohol abuse or dependence, you may be struggling with the vicious cycle of alcohol withdrawal, shame, and even guilt. This leads many to start drinking again. Regardless of your unique circumstances, there is a necessity to recognize 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 regularly refers to the dual dynamics of both social and mental dynamics that occur when engaging in heavy drinking.
There are individuals who may partake in binge drinking once in a while or may consume too much alcohol during social situations. These are “problem drinkers.” Based on the DSM-5 (i.e., the Diagnostic And Statistical Manual Of Mental Health Disorders), they would not be officially classified as having Alcohol Use Disorder. However, experts recommend that problem drinkers seek help from medical professionals for their alcohol withdrawal symptoms and receive some form of clinical management of their mental health.
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, and/or physical health consequences.
Alcohol Use Disorder (AUD) is accepted by the American Medical Association and the Diagnostic And Statistical Manual Of Mental Health Disorders as a medical condition. The cause of alcohol addiction is still unknown, but it can be attributed to several factors, including genetics, complex trauma, and the presence of mental health issues.
If you feel you are struggling with alcohol addiction, it is important that you reach out to a loved one or a treatment professional for help, which can come in the form of private therapy, family therapy, outpatient treatment, inpatient care, or an alcohol detox program.
Frequently Asked Questions About Alcohol Detox
Progressing through the alcohol detox process can seem overwhelming and difficult.
Consulting professionals to help you is the best route to take when navigating alcohol withdrawal symptoms and alcohol detox. We have put together some frequently asked questions about alcohol detox below.
Does your body ever recover after 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 begin as soon as two weeks after stopping heavy drinking. Professional medical and psychological help, alongside a supportive environment, is critical to sustain long-term healing.
What should I expect from my body when I stop drinking?
The onset of alcohol withdrawal symptoms can occur within a couple of hours from the last drink. The body will experience physical, emotional, and psychological effects during alcohol withdrawal. Symptoms can be extremely uncomfortable and sometimes life-threatening.
How can someone detox from alcohol at home?
Choosing to detox from alcohol at home is extremely dangerous and even life-threatening in certain cases. While it is not recommended, if an individual decides to begin the detox process at home, having another person around is very, very important.
Staying hydrated with plenty of water and electrolytes can help treat symptoms, as can the use of over-the-counter medication. Consulting with your primary care physician and having the supervision of a medical professional throughout the detox process at home is a safer alternative.
What is Delirium Tremens?
Delirium Tremens is one of the most dangerous forms of alcohol withdrawal one can experience. According to both clinical and diagnostic research, only 5 percent of those who abuse alcohol are diagnosed with Delirium Tremens. Symptoms include severe confusion, agitation, tremors and shaking, excessive sweating, seizures, and impaired consciousness.
How long does your body need to recover from alcohol?
New research shows that though severe symptoms from withdrawal can subside within 2-3 weeks after the last drink, many struggle with Post Acute Withdrawal Syndrome (PAWS) for up to 1 year after stopping drinking.
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