Alcohol Misuse or Addiction?
Alcohol misuse and alcohol addiction are big problems for many in America today. Sometimes people use these two terms interchangeably, but they refer to different things.
Alcohol abuse refers to problematic use of alcohol that impairs judgment or results in risky behavior. Alcohol addiction refers to regular drinking that creates a bodily dependence on the substance. One way of understanding the difference is that someone who struggles with alcohol abuse does not need a drink to get through the day, whereas someone struggling with alcohol addiction possibly does.
When someone becomes addicted to alcohol, their body becomes dependent on the substance and adjusts internally to its presence. This often makes it uncomfortable or distressing when someone stops drinking, as the person goes through alcohol withdrawal syndrome.
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What is Alcohol Withdrawal Syndrome?
Causes of Alcohol Withdrawal Syndrome
Alcohol withdrawal syndrome (AWS) is a term that health professionals use to describe what happens when someone who is dependent on alcohol radically reduces (or ceases) their alcohol consumption. It results from a person’s brain compensating for the disruption to normal brain function that occurred when they were drinking heavily.
One of the effects of alcohol is to slow down our nervous system - this makes us feel relaxed. However, over a long period of regular use, our nervous system responds by overfiring as it attempts to restore balance. When we stop drinking suddenly, our nervous system takes time to return to normal, which can lead to anxiety, physical shakes and, worst case, fatal seizures.
Unmedicated alcohol detox is never pleasant, and while the withdrawal symptoms don’t last forever, it can be challenging. Medical intervention ensures that symptoms are as bearable and as least dangerous as possible.
Signs of Alcohol Withdrawal Syndrome
Signs of alcohol withdrawal syndrome include:
- hand tremors
Alcohol withdrawal syndrome may sometimes become a medical emergency. You should seek medical attention immediately if a person begins to experience:
- extreme vomiting
Stages of Alcohol Withdrawal
Several factors alter how alcohol withdrawal affects you, such as your size, drinking habits, genetics, age, and gender, as well as your level of alcohol dependence. Experts have outlined three stages that someone may pass through during alcohol withdrawal:
- First stage - these symptoms are relatively mild. A person may experience feelings of anxiety, stomach problems, heart palpitations, and difficulty sleeping (insomnia). These symptoms are usually experienced within the six to twelve hours since the last drink.
- Second stage - these symptoms are moderate. A person may experience some or all of the symptoms from the first stage, as well as rapid breathing, increased heart rate, increased blood pressure, hyperthermia, and feelings of confusion. These symptoms may be experienced around twenty-four hours after the last drink.
- Third stage - these symptoms are severe. Most of the symptoms from the earlier stage usually level off, although some people continue to experience these symptoms for many more days or even weeks. New symptoms may now appear, and the risk of seizure is highest and most dangerous in the third stage. The person experiencing alcohol withdrawal may also now become delirious or begin to hallucinate. This stage usually occurs around forty-eight to seventy-two hours after the last drink.
Sometimes (but not very often), people continue to suffer from alcohol withdrawal symptoms for a long time after they stop drinking. However, this is very unusual, and most people can look forward to feeling better within three to four days since they ceased or radically reduced their alcohol intake.
Treatment for Alcohol Addiction
Detoxing is an important stage of overcoming alcohol addiction. Overcoming alcohol addiction also requires dealing with the underlying problems that led to the addiction in the first place.
There are many treatments to support other stages of recovery, such as:
- Talking therapies like Cognitive Behavioral Therapy
- Treatment with medicine such as acamprosate or nalmefene
- Alcoholics Anonymous groups that support people through their recovery journey in a group setting
- Family therapy to support families affected by alcohol addiction
Medical assistance through alcohol withdrawal syndrome can prevent dangerous complications and allow healthcare professionals to monitor the person’s symptoms and condition. Additionally, trained professionals offer the best in the way of emotional support. Reaching out for help drastically improves your chances of successfully transitioning into recovery.