Alcohol Withdrawal and Detox
A heavy drinker who wants to stop drinking or cuts back on the alcohol consumption will experience withdrawal symptoms.
What Causes Alcohol Withdrawal?
People who drink heavily for long periods of time develop a tolerance for alcohol. Like any other drug, once this happens, the person will have to begin consuming larger amounts of alcohol to achieve the same effects.
When a tolerance for alcohol develops, the user becomes dependent on it. They will need to drink to prevent withdrawal. Withdrawal symptoms from alcohol can be intense and sometimes deadly.
There are multiple treatments for alcohol addiction that can help users safely and comfortably quit drinking.
Alcohol Withdrawal Symptoms
Withdrawal symptoms can be physical and psychological. The severity of the withdrawal symptoms depends on how much, how often, and for how long someone consumed alcohol. Someone who drinks often and consumes large amounts of alcohol will experience the most extreme symptoms.
Common symptoms include:
Delirium tremens is a severe form of alcohol withdrawal. Delirium tremens is most common in people who drink the equivalent of one pint of liquor every day for several months.
Delirium tremens is life-threatening. It can cause confusion, tremors, hallucinations, heart problems, and fatal injuries from sudden seizures. Approximately 1 out of every 20 people who experience withdrawal will suffer from delirium tremens.
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Duration of Withdrawal
The first withdrawal symptoms usually occur within the first five to 10 hours after the last drink. Tremors and shakes are commonly the first signs of withdrawal. In the most severe cases, seizures and hallucinations can follow.
Symptoms from alcohol withdrawal are worst a day or two
after the last drink and begin to subside throughout the first week.
The physical withdrawal symptoms begin taper off sooner than psychological withdrawal symptoms do. Long-term effects, such as sleep disturbances or lingering depression, can last for months or even years after the last drink.
Alcohol Withdrawal Timeline
|First 12 hours||Heavy drinkers experience tremors a few hours after their last drink. Symptoms during the first 12 hours include sweating, irritability, rapid heartbeat, high blood pressure, nausea, vomiting and insomnia.|
|Days 1-2||Symptoms peak 24 to 48 hours after the last drink. Symptoms are most severe and may include seizures, night terrors, hallucinations and panic attacks.|
|Days 3-5||Ongoing feelings of nervousness, shakiness and mood swings can last up to a week after the last drink. Delirium tremens may occur during this time as well.|
|Days 6+||After detox, some former heavy drinkers experience longer-lasting effects of withdrawal. Symptoms are mostly psychological. They may include mood swings, anxiety, irritability, changing levels of energy and trouble sleeping. These symptoms come in waves and can last for months after the last drink.|
Detoxification returns the drinker’s system to normal after extended alcohol abuse. Intense side effects from detoxification are present in people who have been drinking for a long period of time.
As with detoxification from other drugs, it is important to detoxify from alcohol under the supervision of a medical professional. Medical detoxification makes sure that the abuser is carefully monitored and given supervised medication when needed.
In the cases of long-term alcohol abusers, detoxing
“cold turkey” can be dangerous and even fatal.
Some of the more severe side effects of alcohol detoxification include heart arrhythmias, seizures, kidney or liver dysfunction, and hallucinations. These severe side effects are rare but can occur.
Medications Used in Detoxification
It is important to keep the patient’s system in balance and prevent complications during the detoxification process. Sometimes the administration of medications is necessary for this to happen.
Medications that prevent seizures, reduce cravings, and treat co-occurring disorders are used during the detoxification process.
- Benzodiazepines reduce psychological withdrawal symptoms like anxiety. Sedation with benzodiazepines allows people to detox without the risk of seizure. Even though they are effective in preventing certain symptoms of alcohol withdrawal, benzodiazepines are extremely addictive. When the medication is used, the patient must be monitored closely.
- Anticonvulsant or anti-seizure medication may be used along with benzodiazepines. Anticonvulsants often aren’t helpful on their own.
Treatment for Alcohol Addiction
The first step in treating an alcohol addiction is detoxification. Treatment centers specializing in detoxification work to create a healthy environment as part of the inpatient rehabilitation program.
Detoxification in an outpatient treatment center is also an option for those with a mild alcohol addiction. Outpatient clinics can provide medications and support during the withdrawal period.
After the detoxification is complete, patients will need ongoing therapy and support groups to help the recovering alcoholic learn how to cope without alcohol.
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