If you have been drinking alcohol for a long time and have developed an alcohol addiction, alcohol withdrawal happens when you begin to cut down or significantly reduce your alcohol intake. As your brain and body will have adjusted to alcohol, alcohol withdrawal symptoms may arise.
Alcohol withdrawal presents physical and psychological symptoms. However, the severity of alcohol withdrawal depends on several factors, including how long you have been drinking, the frequency at which you drink, and the volume of alcohol you drink.
As alcohol is a central nervous system depressant, it slows down brain functions. When you drink regularly, you build up a physical alcohol dependence, and the body adapts to the effects of the substance. The central nervous system becomes overstimulated when you decrease alcohol intake or stop drinking altogether, which causes alcohol withdrawal symptoms to arise.
If you are withdrawing from alcohol or are considering treatment, it is common to ask the question, "can you die from alcohol withdrawal?"
This blog outlines what alcohol withdrawal symptoms are and how treatment can mitigate them.
What Are Alcohol Withdrawal Symptoms?
Symptoms of alcohol withdrawal vary. Some people will experience mild withdrawal, while other people can experience potentially dangerous or even life-threatening symptoms.
Generally, the longer you have been consuming alcohol, the more severe your withdrawal symptoms will be. Typically symptoms will improve after around one week, although they may persist for longer for some people.
Stage One Symptoms
The first symptoms can appear within a few hours of your last drink, and they typically last for one day. These could include:
- Mild tremors
- Upset or painful stomach
- Excessive sweating
In people with mild alcohol dependence, symptoms may not progress from here. However, for people who have been living with an alcohol use disorder for some time, symptoms will generally increase.
Stage Two Symptoms
Within one day of your last drink, you may begin to experience some additional unpleasant symptoms. However, this entirely depends on the severity of your relationships with alcohol. Usually, stage two symptoms can include:
- Visual hallucinations
- Auditory hallucinations
- Tactile hallucinations
In very rare cases, some people may experience seizures called status epilepticus. If these symptoms arise, medical treatment should be sought.
Stage Three Symptoms
Not everybody who goes through withdrawal will develop stage three symptoms. However, some people will develop symptoms two to seven days after consuming alcohol. These particular symptoms include:
- Increased heart rate
- High blood pressure
- Delirium tremens (DTs)
What Are Delirium Tremens?
Delirium tremens is the most serious symptom of alcohol withdrawal. Usually, somebody will experience these symptoms within two or three days after stopping drinking. Typical symptoms of DTs include:
- Increased heart rate
- Increased breathing
- High blood pressure
- Excessive sweating
- Loss of consciousness
With medical supervision and early intervention, it is rare for withdrawal symptoms to be fatal.
How Is Withdrawal Diagnosed?
While there aren't any specific tests to determine if you are experiencing withdrawal symptoms, medical professionals will look at your medical history and the severity of your addiction before conducting physical examinations to understand the intensity of symptoms you may experience.
They may also ask you the following questions to build a picture of your situation:
- How long have you been drinking alcohol?
- How much alcohol do you drink?
- When did you last use alcohol?
- Have you ever experienced withdrawal before?
- Do you have any other mental or physical conditions?
If you are currently going through withdrawal, it is essential to be open and honest with medical professionals. Doing so enables them to understand your unique condition and build an appropriate treatment program, which is crucial to your recovery.
Prolonged, excessive drinking can adversely affect your brain, body, and mind. Heavy drinking can have a permanent impact, particularly on your heart, liver, and nervous system. The earlier you seek help, the more likely you are to make a complete, long-term recovery.
Managing Withdrawal in Alcohol Addiction
Alcohol withdrawal treatment usually involves a combination of treatment options, including comprehensive care and Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved medication.
Comprehensive Medical Care
Medical supervision could include doctors and nurses:
- ensuring you drink or consume enough fluids to keep you well hydrated.
- offering treatments to help maintain your electrolyte levels.
- measuring your vital signs.
- administering any missing nutrients, including folate, thiamine, and dextrose.
The FDA has approved three medications to treat alcohol dependence.
These drugs are used partly because they are not addictive and because they don't replace alcohol in the body. Instead, they are designed as long-term medication for chronic conditions.
These three drugs are:
- Acamprosate. This helps to decrease the presence of withdrawal symptoms.
- Disulfiram. This drug causes people to feel nauseous when they consume alcohol.
- Naltrexone. Naltrexone blocks receptors in the brain to stop the user from experiencing cravings.
In addition, benzodiazepines are regularly used for treating withdrawal as they can successfully ease symptoms and prevent severe withdrawal symptoms. Examples include:
How Can You Go Through Alcohol Withdrawal Safely?
Alcohol withdrawal can be troublesome, especially for those recovering from a severe level of alcohol dependency. Having safety precautions in place alongside the supervision of expert medical staff is crucial to keeping you and those around you safe.
At many rehab centers, such as our own, personalized treatment plans are available. Choosing an option, such as medical detox, with medical supervision is the safest.
Those with mild cases of alcohol abuse can choose to detox in an outpatient setting, with regular, possibly daily, check-ins. However, those with more severe or long-term alcohol addictions should be treated in an inpatient setting. Here, round-the-clock care and continuous monitoring are available.
Does Everybody Experience Withdrawal Symptoms?
If you are physically dependent on alcohol, you will likely experience some form of alcohol withdrawal symptoms.
However, if you are currently experiencing a form of alcohol abuse but aren't dependent on the substance, there are some steps you can take to reduce your intake and decrease the chances of severe withdrawal symptoms.
- Make personal goals. You could set yourself some goals surrounding your alcohol consumption. For example, you could make a plan to reduce your alcohol intake gradually.
- Keep a note of how much alcohol you are drinking. This can make you aware of how much you’ve consumed and help you slow down.
- Measure how much alcohol is in each drink. Measuring the amount of alcohol in each drink may sound time-consuming, but doing so will enable you to adhere to recommended guidelines and standard drink sizing.
- Find alternative places and people to spend time with. Rather than spending a lot of time with those who continue to drink alcohol in environments where alcohol is normalized, find a sober support group or make friends with those who do not use alcohol.
- Be open and honest with those around you. Let people you trust know you are trying to reduce your intake.
Treatment for Alcohol Addiction
If you or someone you love is considering alcohol detox, seeking medical help is the best step you can take, especially as it's important to have clinical professionals monitor any symptoms.
During detox, remaining in a calm and safe environment can prevent mild symptoms from progressing into hallucinations or delirium tremens.
When you discuss detoxing with your doctor, they will explain that it's the first step of a comprehensive treatment plan. Following detox, you can access therapy for any mental health disorders you are experiencing, join a support group with others in recovery from alcohol abuse, and secure treatment for any co-occurring substance abuse disorders.
Contact Us Today
If you are contemplating recovery, get in touch with us today. We can help you every step of the way, and together we can assess your situation and find a treatment plan that works for you.
If you have any questions about what withdrawal will be like, one of our clinical experts can talk you through the common symptoms, our therapy options, and the medications they might prescribe to ease your symptoms and treat alcohol withdrawal.
Stepping onto the path of recovery from alcohol can be a difficult first step. Still, by arming yourself with the right information and choosing a recovery plan that suits your needs, you can find your way to lifelong recovery.