Symptoms of Alcohol Withdrawal
In 2018, the National Survey on Drug Use and Health asked U.S. citizens how often they drank alcohol within a 30-day period. The survey reported that 16.6 million people aged 12 or older were heavy drinkers. In other words, they were binge drinking five or more days during the 30-day period. If heavy alcohol users attempt to quit drinking, they are at high risk of experiencing alcohol withdrawal. Symptoms of alcohol withdrawal range from mild to severe, and some are so serious they require hospitalization or immediate medical attention. Read ahead to learn what triggers alcohol withdrawal, and the common symptoms associated with it. By learning effective treatments for managing withdrawal, you can overcome alcohol addiction once and for all.
What Causes Alcohol Withdrawal?
For an easy way to understand alcohol withdrawal, think of alcohol as a chemical agent that’s capable of changing brain chemistry by impacting the nervous system. After a prolonged period of receiving that chemical agent, the nervous system adapts to its presence. When that chemical agent suddenly goes away, the nervous system must readjust to account for its absence. That readjustment is what causes withdrawal and the symptoms that go along with it.
More specifically, alcohol increases the effects of a neurotransmitter called GABA. This is known to produce the feelings of euphoria and relaxation people experience when they drink. At the same time, alcohol decreases the effects of a different neurotransmitter called glutamate, which increases excitability. But this new imbalance in brain chemicals causes the body to try to fix it and bring the levels back to normal. This means actively trying to bring GABA down and glutamate back up. Once you stop drinking, GABA levels are unnaturally low and glutamate spikes. This is the start of withdrawal.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention describe heavy drinkers as men who consume more than 15 drinks per week and women who consume more than 8 drinks per week. These are the most at risk for suffering symptoms of alcohol withdrawal.
What Are The Symptoms Of Alcohol Withdrawal?
Withdrawal symptoms will largely depend on your level of alcohol use. If you’re consistently a heavy drinker and suddenly stop, there’s a greater chance that your symptoms will be more severe. See below for the most common symptoms of alcohol withdrawal, from mild to potentially life-threatening.
Mild Symptoms - Occurring 6-8 Hours after Last Drink
Shortly after a long-term heavy alcohol user stops drinking, he or she may likely experience one or more of the following symptoms:
- Feeling Depressed
- Mood Swings
- Loss of Appetite
- Mild Confusion
More Serious Symptoms - Occurring 12-24 Hours after Last Drink
Withdrawal at this stage could include more pronounced confusion and disorientation. A person in withdrawal during this period may also experience seizures or hallucinations.
Most Serious Symptoms - 2-3 Days after Last Drink
You may have heard about an individual experiencing the “DTs” once withdrawal begins. But DTs - Delirium Tremens - affect only 3-5% of those going through withdrawal. Although rare, these symptoms are potentially life-threatening and require immediate medical attention:
- High Blood Pressure
- Increase in Heart Rate, Breathing Rate, or Pulse
- Extreme Confusion and Agitation
- Persistent Hallucinations (Visual, Auditory, and Tactile)
Treatment For Alcohol Withdrawal
While mild withdrawal from alcohol can often be addressed at home, more severe symptoms require medical attention. The first line of treatment includes managing symptoms, which may require medical assistance – also known as “detox.” The safest place to detox is at a hospital or inpatient residential program. As compared to outpatient treatment, inpatient detox programs provide critical 24-hour monitoring, as the patient may require medication or even a sudden intravenous administration of fluids. Additionally, a medical doctor will be able to rule out or factor in underlying health or mental conditions.
But detoxing is only the first step and doesn’t address the core problem: alcohol addiction. Inpatient residential treatment removes the patient from the social and environmental triggers which could cause relapse and also helps patients rebuild their lives without dependence on alcohol.
No two people are alike, and that’s why Clear Life Recovery in Costa Mesa, California, has a mission to develop an individual plan for each patient. Care at Clear Life Recovery is comprehensive and includes medication-assisted detox, mental and physical therapy, and an emphasis on aftercare.
After a period of detox, therapist and treatment specialists will often use cognitive behavior therapy (CBT) because it’s so quick and effective. Changing thought patterns is the key to changing behaviors. But Clear Life Recovery also includes Life Skills and Nutrition training to prepare the patient to begin anew once treatment ends.
The end of treatment can cause stress for some patients as they prepare to go back out into the world. That’s why Clear Life Recovery provides aftercare services to help bridge the transition from treatment center to real life.
Take Back Control Of Your Life With Clear Life Recovery
If you’ve made the decision to quit drinking, you’ll need to seek out the right environment to end your addictive behaviors once and for all. The experienced staff at Clear Life Recovery can tailor a program to specifically address your needs. Explore the ways Clear Life Recovery can help you take back control of your life. Clear Life is ready to help you start a new sober chapter, so contact us today!