A Guide to Alcohol Withdrawal

Alcohol withdrawal can be quite difficult to go through. This is one of the reasons many struggling alcoholics put off getting the help they need. They're nervous about having to go through detox. In their minds, it's easier to just continue drinking.

Perhaps this is the situation you're in right now. You may know that you're an alcoholic, but you're scared to stop drinking. It's important to know as much as you can about alcohol withdrawal. Also, you should know that this isn't something you need to go through on your own. Alcohol detox is available to assist you with stopping the use of alcohol. It can be done safely, and it's even possible to minimize the symptoms of withdrawal from alcohol.


What are Alcohol Withdrawal Symptoms?

Alcohol withdrawal is what occurs when someone who is an alcoholic stops drinking. These symptoms usually start out being very mild. However, as more times passes, they become much more severe. In some cases, alcohol withdrawal can even be life threatening.

Signs of Alcohol Withdrawal

The most common symptoms people experience with alcohol withdrawal include:

  • Becoming very shaky
  • Experiencing hot or cold sweats
  • Having mild anxiety
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Having a painful headache
  • Difficulty sleeping

Some or most of these symptoms may be present when an individual stops consuming alcohol. People rarely understand the scope of how difficult alcohol withdrawal can be. Most alcoholics have experienced it in its mildest form. What they don't realize is that it usually can become much worse.

What is Alcohol Withdrawal Syndrome?

Alcohol withdrawal syndrome is the more severe form of alcoholism withdrawal. Once someone has been consuming alcohol for a period of time, these symptoms are quite typical. They can become very severe in nature, and they can include:

  • Having seizures
  • Having visual hallucinations
  • Having auditory hallucinations
  • Experiencing DTs, or delirium tremens
  • Becoming delirious

Alcohol withdrawal syndrome is a very dangerous condition. It is one that requires immediate medical attention. If alcohol withdrawal syndrome is left untreated, it can be fatal. This is the main reason why alcoholics should never stop drinking on their own.

Also, you do not have to have a prior medical history to develop alcohol withdrawal syndrome. If you have stopped drinking in the past without issues, it doesn't mean you couldn't develop alcohol withdrawal syndrome now. Every cessation attempt is different.

The DTs: Alcohol Withdrawal in its Most Severe Form

Delirium tremens (DTs) often occurs when alcoholics stop drinking.

It is a severe form of alcohol withdrawal that involves mental and nervous system changes. It is much more likely to occur if you quit drinking and don't eat enough food. The DTs are common among those who:

  • Drink 5 pints of wine every day
  • Drink 8 pints of beer each day
  • Drink 1 pint of hard alcohol each day
  • Have used alcohol for more than 10 years
  • Have an illness, injury or an infection along with a history of alcohol use

The symptoms of delirium tremens can begin as soon as 48 hours after the last drink. However, they don't always set in that quickly. In some people, the DTs can take as long as 14 days to begin.

The symptoms of delirium tremens include:

  • Experiencing sudden, severe confusion
  • Having tremors
  • Experiencing changes in mental function
  • Becoming agitated or irritated easily
  • Sleeping for days at a time
  • Feeling extreme excitement or fear
  • Having hallucinations
  • Quick changes in mood
  • Having seizures
  • Being very sensitive to light, touch and sound

Various tests will be done to determine if the individual is experiencing DTs. Alcohol cessation can wreak havoc in the body. Medical tests are necessary to get more information about the person's physical status. Doctors may perform any or all of the following:

  • Checking the blood magnesium level
  • Checking the blood phosphate level
  • Doing a comprehensive metabolic panel (CMP)
  • Doing an electrocardiogram (ECG)
  • Doing an electroencephalogram (EEG)
  • Doing a toxicology screen

If you experience DTs, you will most likely need to stay in the hospital. There, you will be cared for 24 hours a day, and get the treatment you need. The goal will be to relieve your symptoms and prevent further complications from happening.

What Causes Alcoholics to go Through Withdrawal?

Alcohol is generally viewed as a substance that's relatively safe. It's available in many stores and restaurants across the country. It's also legal as long as you're old enough to purchase it. This means that many people fail to understand how dangerous it can be.

alcohol addiction

When someone drinks too much alcohol for too long, alcohol withdrawal symptoms are a given. As the body suddenly stops getting this substance it's become so used to, it goes through changes. The reason this occurs is because of how dependent the central nervous system becomes on alcohol. When it is missing, the body goes into a type of shock. It's not easy for the body to adapt to the lack of alcohol, and doing so takes some time.

The Alcohol Withdrawal Timeline Explained

Alcohol withdrawal does not occur right away after the last drink. For some people, it may take as little as two hours before symptoms begin. For others, it can take six to eight hours, or even longer in some cases.

Everyone is different, as far as how they go through the alcohol withdrawal timeline. There are different stages of alcoholism withdrawal. Knowing what happens during each of these stages can be extremely helpful. The stages help to explain the alcohol withdrawal timeline in greater detail.

The Different Stages of Alcoholism Withdrawal

The following are all three of the different stages of alcoholism withdrawal that people generally go through. Stopping the use of alcohol is very serious, and very personal. People may go through these stages at different speeds.

Most people will begin the early stage of withdrawal from alcohol within the first eight hours. This stage is marked by tremors, and these can begin right at the eight-hour mark. Although, there are times when they don't begin for 12 hours, or so. Tremors can become worse with extreme agitation, and they can last for about 24 hours.

As the early stage of alcohol withdrawal presses on, other symptoms may begin to develop. These can include:

  • Rapid mood shifts
  • The onset of headaches
  • Nightmares and other sleep disturbances
  • Lack of appetite
  • Feeling depressed or anxious

Early withdrawal usually peaks right around the third day after the last drink. At that point, people move into the second stage of alcohol withdrawal.

Stage two of withdrawal from alcohol can begin in as little as 12 hours after the last drink. In this way, the first two stages can overlap for some people. People who experience symptoms from this stage are generally long-term alcoholics. Usually, they have been heavily drinking for a long time.

Blood pressure spikes are quite typical during this stage. Also, people may begin to have visual or auditory hallucinations. This occurs in about 25% of all recovering alcoholics, and they can come and go. Seizures are another common occurrence during this stage. Seizures can be grand mal seizures, or they can be generalized tonic-clonic seizures. These are characterized by:

  • Biting of the tongue or cheek
  • Clenching the teeth or jaw
  • Losing bladder or bowel control
  • Rigid muscles all over the body
  • Breathing problems

As many as 1/3 of all recovering alcoholics enter the third stage of alcohol withdrawal. This stage can start within three or four days after the last drink. However, it can begin as long as two weeks after. This is the stage that involves delirium tremens, or DTs. There is a very real risk for those who have entered stage three of alcoholism withdrawal. They could harm themselves or someone else unintentionally. Symptoms will continue to increase in severity until around the fifth day.

People who have a greater risk for entering stage three include those who:

  • Have consumed alcohol heavily for a long time
  • Have a history of seizures during alcohol withdrawal
  • Have experienced DTs during alcohol withdrawal in the past
  • Are middle-aged or older
  • Have liver problems
  • Have other medical issues

Who has a High Risk for Alcoholism Withdrawal Symptoms?

Generally, young people who drink alcohol heavily are at a very low risk for developing severe alcohol withdrawal. Even so, it has been known to happen. Even if young people don't develop severe symptoms, alcohol withdrawal will not be comfortable.

Those who have a higher risk for alcohol withdrawal are long-term alcoholics. If certain medical issues are present, the risk may be significantly higher. Heart problems, liver problems and kidney problems can all be contributing factors. Anyone can develop alcohol withdrawal if that person has been drinking excessively. It's always best to obtain professional alcoholism treatment prior to stopping the use of alcohol.

What is Alcoholism or an Alcohol Addiction?

It's important to understand what alcoholism (or alcohol addiction) really is. Alcoholism occurs when an individual desires to drink alcohol behind their ability to control it. They may or may not know they should not be consuming that much, but it doesn't matter to them. It has been described as both a mental obsession and a physical compulsion.

Alcoholism causes people to crave alcohol, regardless of the circumstances. They may crave it as soon as they wake up in the morning.

Many alcoholics will drink upon waking up, on their lunch hour, or even during work. Alcoholics think about their next drink constantly, and the idea of drinking never strays far from their minds.

Do You Need to Detox from Alcohol? How to Tell

More often than not, people can become alcoholics without knowing it. Many people don't realize the addictive nature of alcohol because of how available it is. Therefore, most people don't understand the need for alcohol detox.

You can find out if you would be a candidate for alcohol detox easily. One way to do that is to take a detox quiz. This quiz is very informative, as long as you answer the questions honestly. It will tell you if you are someone who needs to detox from alcohol in a professional setting.

There is another way you can tell if you need to detox from alcohol. You can take a look at some of the classic signs of alcoholism.

Signs of Alcoholism and the Need for Alcohol Detox

Some common signs of alcoholism include:

  • Being unable to stop drinking on your own
  • Not being able to control how much or how often you drink
  • Feeling like you need to drink more to get drunk
  • Experiencing alcohol withdrawal when you stop drinking
  • Spending most of your time planning to drink, drinking, or recovering from drinking
  • Giving up other activities you enjoy so you can drink
  • Drinking alcohol even though it is harming your health, your job or your relationships

The Long-Term Outlook for Alcohol Withdrawal Symptoms for Alcoholics

Typically, alcoholics feel stuck in their alcohol addictions. They worry that there may be no way out for them. Perhaps this is how you have felt as well. If it is, please be encouraged. The outlook for alcohol withdrawal symptoms is good, but only if you take certain steps.

You should consider going to alcohol rehab. This will begin with some time spent in alcohol detox. When both of these treatments are combined, patients generally thrive. They learn to overcome the physical aspect of the addiction during alcohol detox. In alcohol rehab, they learn why they turned to alcohol to cope. It is here that tremendous psychological healing from alcoholism takes place.

Alcohol Detox is the Best Way to Treat Symptoms of Alcohol Withdrawal

If you are an alcoholic, alcohol detox offers you the best way to treat alcohol withdrawal. These symptoms can become severe very quickly. You don't want to find yourself in a position where you need immediate medical treatment. Alcohol detox can prevent that from happening.

Alcohol detox has so many great benefits. These include:

  • Getting relief from many of the typical alcoholism withdrawal symptoms patients experience.
  • Being able to find support among staff members who are experts at treating alcoholism.
  • Getting support from other patients who understand what you're going through.
  • Protecting yourself from potentially fatal alcohol withdrawal symptoms.
  • Preparing your mind and your body to enter alcohol rehab for continued treatment.

Types of Treatment Offered During Alcohol Detoxification

Alcohol is a drug that requires detox in order to stop using it safely. Alcohol detox can make such a big difference when you are ready to recover from alcoholism. Of course, everyone is different as far as the type of detoxification they need.

There are a few different types of alcohol detox. You can go through medical detox, or you can opt for holistic detox.

Medical detox is an approach that is often used for substance abuse, alcoholism included. This type of detoxification is one that involves taking medications to help with withdrawal symptoms. For many alcoholics, this is an effective and welcome approach. The medications that are given quickly help to reduce the severity of withdrawal. There are even medications that aid in keeping the body from going into severe alcohol withdrawal.

Detox Drugs Used to Treat Withdrawal Symptoms from Alcohol

There are a number of detox drugs used to treat alcohol withdrawal symptoms. These include:

  • Ativan
  • Valium
  • Tranxene
  • Hydroxyzine HCl
  • Chlordiazepoxide HCl

These drugs all serve different purposes, and can be very effective. The issue is that many of them can also be addictive themselves. This is problematic for someone who already has a history of addiction. Forming a secondary addiction is only going to make the situation worse.

It is for this reason that many people opt for a more holistic approach to helping their alcohol withdrawal.

Holistic detox is a relatively new approach to treating alcohol withdrawal symptoms. It is based upon the belief that the body “knows” how to cleanse itself from toxins. In someone with a healthy liver and healthy kidneys, holistic detox is ideal. All that is usually necessary is improving the body's overall health and wellbeing. This is done in a few different ways.

  • Nutritional Instruction: Patients often find that they aren't getting all the vitamins and minerals they need in their diets. By making some changes, the body can adapt, and rid itself of toxins more easily.
  • Physical Exercise: Sweat is one way that toxins can leave the body. Adequate physical exercise can improve depression and anxiety associated with alcohol withdrawal. It can also make the withdrawal period become shorter.
  • Yoga: Yoga is a powerful tool during alcohol detox. It allows for exercise along with deep meditation.
  • Therapy: Various types of therapy are put into place during alcohol detox.
  • Education: It is vital to learn as much about alcohol withdrawal and recovery as you can during this process.

Should You Detox from Alcohol on Your Own?

Sometimes people do make the decision to go through alcohol withdrawal on their own. They may tell themselves that they want to give it a try. If it doesn't work, and they go back to drinking, they'll consider professional detox. As you have seen, this is not a good idea. In fact, it's quite dangerous.

Alcohol withdrawal can be fatal for some people. Also, more often than not, people have a difficult time abstaining from alcohol without treatment. Once withdrawal begins, the tendency is to go back to drinking to get relief. This is what is known as a relapse.

Relapsing Back into Alcohol Use

Relapses are dangerous in themselves. They can lead to alcohol poisoning because of quickly changing tolerance levels. Alcoholics don't realize how quickly the body adapts to having less alcohol in the system. This means it takes less time for them to experience getting drunk than it did before. As a result, they may drink too much alcohol all in one sitting, and suffer from alcohol poisoning.

Relapses also serve an additional purpose. Every relapse only reinforces the belief that you need alcohol as a part of your life. You know that this is not the case at all.

The Safest Way to Treat the Symptoms of Alcohol Withdrawal

If you're an alcoholic, all hope is not lost. You may feel as though you'll never able to stop drinking. Many alcoholics make this decision early on, before they even consider alcohol treatment. There is a safe way to stop drinking alcohol, and it involves professional alcohol detox and rehab. Alcohol withdrawal symptoms can be very difficult to deal with. For some, they can even be fatal, or lead to severe medical problems. That does not mean this has to happen to you. With the right professional guidance you can successfully recover from alcoholism.

At AspenRidge Recovery, we understand the severity of alcohol addiction. We've worked with many alcoholics, and we know the types of treatment that work. If you're seeking to recover from alcoholism, please don't take on this challenge by yourself. There's no need for you to do that. We can offer you support and the tools you need to recover successfully.

Are you concerned about alcohol withdrawal symptoms? Would you like to learn about getting help for alcoholism? Please contact us today.

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