Alcohol Withdrawal And Detox
What Is Alcohol Withdrawal?
Alcohol withdrawal is a collection of symptoms which binge drinkers or alcoholics experience when they suddenly stop drinking alcohol. The symptoms of alcohol withdrawal can be fairly mild, but sometimes alcohol withdrawal can be life-threatening. Withdrawal is most common in adults, but children and adolescents who have an alcohol use disorder can experience it as well. Although many people who suffer alcohol withdrawal will survive if they receive treatment, it is imperative for those who are regular heavy drinkers to receive medically-supervised detox.
Alcohol is a central nervous system (CNS) depressant. It impairs certain functions of the brain by disrupting connections between neurons. This is why someone who drinks too much alcohol will have trouble with coordination and judgment. When someone drinks alcohol regularly or in large quantities, their brain will begin to adapt to the effects of alcohol and develop a tolerance. Eventually the person will feel that they need to drink to feel normal or get through the day.
When someone with alcohol dependence stops drinking the sudden absence of alcohol in their body shocks their nervous system, which causes withdrawal. To avoid withdrawal people who are addicted to alcohol drink compulsively, even though they know that alcohol is harming their health and their relationships. Alcohol withdrawal is not only physically dangerous, but it’s also a major obstacle to overcoming alcohol addiction.
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What Is Alcohol Detox?
The best way to conquer addiction to alcohol or any other substance is to stop using. When someone undergoes alcohol detox, they deliberately abstain from drinking to give their body time to adjust to functioning without alcohol. Alcohol detox can be painful, distressing, and dangerous because it requires a person to experience the full range of withdrawal symptoms. Withdrawal often causes a person to relapse, but detox affords them the opportunity to stop drinking safely and less painfully. Someone who resolves to experience withdrawal and not suppress it by having another drink will take the process most seriously, but the gain is lost if they endanger their life by using again.
Since some symptoms of alcohol withdrawal are dangerous, people should undergo alcohol detox under medical supervision at a rehab facility. People who detox from alcohol with professional help are more likely to weather the process safely and successfully. Detox may not be pleasant, but it is a necessary first step for anyone who wants to recover from alcoholism. After detox is over, a person in recovery can begin therapy in a treatment program.
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What Are The Symptoms Of Alcohol Withdrawal?
Everyone who undergoes alcohol withdrawal will have a different experience, but the most common symptoms of alcohol withdrawal are:
- Heart palpitations
- Heightened blood pressure
- Nausea and vomiting
- Shaking and tremors
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Delirium tremens is a condition which characterizes extreme alcohol withdrawal. Delirium tremens (the “DTs”) is potentially fatal because it can cause seizures. About 1 in every 20 people who experience alcohol withdrawal will also suffer delirium tremens. The condition is most likely to occur in people who are severely addicted to alcohol and have experienced alcohol withdrawal in the past.
Most symptoms of delirium tremens usually begin within 2 to 3 days after a person stops drinking. If you or someone you know exhibits signs of delirium tremens, it is important to get help right away. The symptoms of delirium tremens include:
- Emotional distress
- Hypersensitivity to sound, touch, and light
- Intense agitation or irritability
- Intense confusion
- Seizures (usually within 1 day of the last drink)
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Alcohol Withdrawal And Detox Timeline
Most alcohol withdrawal symptoms begin within 6 hours after a person stops drinking, and they usually become most intense after 2 or 3 days. Withdrawal usually lasts for about 1 week.
During the first 12 hours of withdrawal, a person may start sweating and become nauseous and irritable. Their blood pressure will rise, and their heartbeat will accelerate. Withdrawal-induced insomnia and tremors usually begin within the first 12 hours as well. After 24 to 48 hours, the symptoms will worsen. In severe cases of withdrawal, the seizures (“shakes”) and hallucinations which characterize delirium tremens will begin to occur.
During the third, fourth, and fifth days of withdrawal, a person will experience emotional distress and delirium tremens may continue. After 5 days the physical symptoms of withdrawal begin to subside; psychological symptoms often persist, however. Some people will continue to have anxiety, irritability, and insomnia for weeks or even months.
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Treatment For Alcohol Withdrawal During Detox
No one should attempt to detox from alcohol alone. Medical professionals at hospitals and recovery centers are able to help people with the symptoms of alcohol withdrawal. For example, doctors and nurses often provide detox patients with Benzodiazepines and medications to help them cope with anxiety and avoid seizures. They also monitor their patients’ blood pressure and other vital signs and make sure they stay hydrated.
In addition, recovery centers often have therapists and counselors on staff to talk to patients and help them manage their emotions as they progress through detox. Someone who is detoxing at a treatment center will probably also receive a thorough diagnosis of any physical or mental problems which co-exist with their addiction.
Get Help With Alcohol Addiction Today
Withdrawal is one of many terrible consequences of alcohol abuse, but there is hope for a better tomorrow. If you or someone you know is ready to start a life without alcohol addiction, contact a treatment provider today to learn more about treatment centers that offer alcohol detox. The fear of withdrawal shouldn’t prevent your recovery. One phone call could make a tremendous difference.
Nathan Yerby is a writer and researcher. He is a graduate of the University of Central Florida.
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Reviewed by Certified Addiction Professional:
Deborah Montross Nagel
Deborah has a Master’s Degree from Lesley University and has been certified as an Addictions Counselor in PA since 1986. She is currently a Certified Advanced Alcohol and Drug Counselor – CAADC. She is nationally certified as a MAC – Master Addictions Counselor – by NAADAC (The National Association of Alcohol and Drug Abuse Counselors). Her 37 years of experience and education are in addiction, recovery, and codependency. Addiction affects the entire system around the addict. There is no "bad guy" in the system. Fight the addiction, and help the addict. I help loved ones restore sanity to their lives and hence encourage change. Recovery is possible!
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