Alcohol withdrawal syndrome can occur when you quit drinking and may trigger life-threatening health complications.
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What Is Alcohol Withdrawal?
During the first several days after you quit drinking, you may experience withdrawal symptoms. Over time, your body becomes dependent on your drinking frequency and patterns. However, when you abruptly stop drinking, your body requires time to figure out what chemicals it’s missing. This phase is what produces the painful side effects.
Alcohol withdrawal syndrome can occur when you quit drinking and may trigger life-threatening health complications. Whether you’ve been drinking for weeks, months or years, it’s possible to experience alcohol withdrawal syndrome. Professional care from a specialized alcohol rehab facility is highly recommended for those who are ready to stop drinking altogether.
Cause of Alcohol Withdrawal
There are numerous factors that go into what causes an alcohol withdrawal.
When you drink, alcohol is broken down by an enzyme in your liver. This process helps rid alcohol from your system through urine. Any alcohol that’s not metabolized is absorbed by other parts of your body, like your brain.
When alcohol impacts your brain, you may experience feelings of happiness and relaxation. An excessive amount of alcohol around the brain can lead to symptoms of drunkenness – slurred speech, difficulty walking and memory lapses. However, because chronic drinking affects your tolerance, your body will crave more alcohol in order to produce the same feelings.
Alcohol suppresses certain neurotransmitters in your brain which cause you to feel at ease after drinking. When you quit drinking, the neurotransmitters are no longer inhibited by alcohol. This results in hyperexcitability – the reason why withdrawal symptoms affect you differently from alcohol consumption.
Alcohol withdrawal side effects vary in each person. Many people are hesitant to quit drinking because of the thought of uncomfortable withdrawal symptoms. However, alcohol addiction treatment specialists can provide you with prescription medications to help relieve pain. By reducing withdrawal symptoms, you will be able to focus on getting better.
Don’t let the fear of possible withdrawal symptoms prevent you from getting the help you deserve. Learn more about treating alcoholism and support options by calling us today.
Alcohol Withdrawal Timeline of Symptoms
Alcohol withdrawal symptoms can occur as early as two hours after your last drink. Typically, symptoms will peak within the first 24 to 48 hours. This is when you may experience the most uncomfortable withdrawal symptoms such as insomnia, rapid heartbeat, changes in blood pressure, sweating, tremors and fever.
While some people experience very few withdrawal symptoms, others may suffer from more serious side effects. For example, delirium tremens is one of the most severe alcohol withdrawal symptoms. It can surface within the first 48 hours after your last drink and involves confusion, shaking, hallucinations and high blood pressure. Although delirium tremens is uncommon, it can be life-threatening. Heavy drinkers who suddenly stop drinking may experience any of a range of dangerous symptoms, so it’s important to be treated by a medical professional during detox.
The timeline for common withdrawal symptoms is:
Six to 12 hours post-ingestion
- Nausea and vomiting
12 to 24 hours post-ingestion
- Hand tremors
48 hours post-ingestion
- High blood pressure
- Tactile, auditory and visual hallucinations
- High fever and excessive sweating
- Delirium tremens
Alcohol withdrawal symptoms are impacted by several factors including frequency of drinking, amount consumed during drinking, length of time drinking, medical history and co-occurring health conditions. A person is more likely to experience severe withdrawal symptoms if they’ve abused alcohol and drugs.
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Acute Alcohol Withdrawal
An acute alcohol withdrawal syndrome occurs when you experience sudden and severe withdrawal symptoms. This frequently happens within the first couple of weeks after you quit drinking. During this time, you’re most at risk of temporarily losing consciousness, developing delirium tremens or having seizures. Because of the life-threatening health complications that can arise during acute alcohol withdrawal, it is recommended that you stay at a hospital or a specialized rehab facility for treatment. A medical professional will assess your mental and physical health frequently throughout the day to make sure symptoms do not escalate.
There are many facilities that have experience in treating acute alcohol withdrawal. These programs have a team of specialists that will help minimize your withdrawal symptoms, prevent complications and focus on your well-being. Contact a treatment expert to find the right alcohol treatment facility for you.
Post-Acute Withdrawal Syndrome (PAWS)
After the initial alcohol withdrawal symptoms have subsided, some people may experience prolonged side effects. This is known as Post-Acute Withdrawal Syndrome (PAWS). PAWS involves withdrawal symptoms that occur after an acute withdrawal and can make post-rehab life challenging for some individuals. Depending on the severity of your alcohol abuse, PAWS can last anywhere from a few weeks to a year.
Common symptoms of PAWS include:
- Irritability and emotional outbursts
- Low energy
- Trouble sleeping
- Memory problems
- Increased accident proneness
- Delayed reflexes
How to Safely Treat Alcohol Withdrawal Symptoms
Alcohol withdrawal symptoms can shift quickly and violently – you can experience minor symptoms to extremely severe side effects in a matter of hours. There are many alcohol treatment programs that focus on helping individuals overcome drinking problems, no matter how minor or how serious.
Specialized rehab facilities offer many benefits to those struggling with alcohol addiction. For example, treatment specialists will be able to alleviate some of your painful withdrawal symptoms, as well as provide guidance through your entire recovery process.
The types of therapy and services provided in rehab are based on your history with alcohol abuse, such as frequency and amount consumed.
Since there’s no one-size-fits-all approach to treating alcohol abuse, recovery programs usually consist of:
Inpatient rehab facilities offer a safe, supervised environment for patients struggling with alcohol addiction. With 24-hour care, this is the most intensive form of treatment and typically entails 30, 60 or 90-day programs.
Outpatient rehab allows patients to attend to their daily responsibilities while in recovery. This option is best suited for those with less severe forms of alcohol abuse since individuals will be around drinking triggers and other influences.
To help relieve uncomfortable withdrawal symptoms, many treatment programs offer medication-assisted therapy. Certain prescribed medications can treat alcohol withdrawal, allowing patients to focus on other aspects of recovery.
Alcohol rehab counselors provide support during the highs and lows of alcohol withdrawal. Counselors also look to see if there are underlying factors that may have influenced an alcohol addiction and coach patients on how to work through various matters.
Recovery continues long after rehab. Support groups, like Alcoholics Anonymous and Al-Anon, offer an outlet to discuss treatment goals and challenges with other people who are in alcohol recovery. This will provide you with motivation to maintain your sobriety.
After the alcohol withdrawal stage, you will transition into other treatment therapies, activities and programs. These will provide you with the tools and resources to prevent triggers, continue on-going recovery and live a well-balanced life after rehab.
Alcohol withdrawal syndrome affects nearly two million Americans each year.
Symptoms of alcohol withdrawal syndrome can surface as early as two hours after a person’s last drink.
Alcohol addiction rehabs offer a safe, secure and comfortable environment during the withdrawal phase.
Don’t Let Fear Keep You from Getting Help
Although alcohol withdrawal can be a dangerous and painful process, it is a necessary step on the road to recovery. When conducted under the supervision of medical professionals, alcohol withdrawal is a much safer and easier process.
Contact a treatment expert today to find out what options are available to you.
- Author — Last Edited: May 14, 2019
UW Health. Post-Acute Withdrawal Syndrome (PAWS). November 2016. http://www.uwhealth.org/healthfacts/psychiatry/7228.pdf
National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. (2004). Alcohol Alert. November 2016. http://pubs.niaaa.nih.gov/publications/aa63/aa63.htm
Highland Ridge Hospital. Alcohol Poisoning and Withdrawals. November 2016. http://www.highlandridgehospital.com/addiction/alcohol/withdrawal-overdose
U.S. National Library of Medicine. (2015). Alcohol Withdrawal. November 2016. https://medlineplus.gov/ency/article/000764.htm
Bayard, Mcintyre, Hill, Woodside. (2004). Alcohol Withdrawal Syndrome. November 2016. http://www.aafp.org/afp/2004/0315/p1443.html
Swanson, Jeanene. (2014). The Condition Many Recovering Addicts and Alcoholics Don’t Know About. November 2016. http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2014/02/12/post-acute-withdrawal-syndrome-addicts-alcoholics_n_4775009.html