Quitting alcohol is not as easy as tossing the bottle down. Since alcohol addiction has serious side effects, there are numerous mental and physical challenges to overcome.
Withdrawal is one of these challenges. Individuals struggle to become sober and maintain sobriety because they experience severe alcohol withdrawal.
Withdrawal starts about six hours after the last drink and can last a few days or weeks. It can be a significant barrier to recovery, but there are strategies for managing the discomfort and effectively attaining sobriety.
This article will discuss the major side effects of alcohol addiction, signs of alcohol withdrawal, and remedies for the discomfort of alcohol withdrawal. Read on to learn more!
What Causes Alcohol Withdrawal?
Alcohol withdrawal Syndrome (AWS) is one of the most apparent signs of alcoholism or alcohol use disorder. Alcohol affects the body in various ways.
Alcohol has a depressive impact on the central nervous system (CNS). It inhibits brain activity and affects how nerves transmit and receive signals.
Regular consumption of alcohol changes the chemical composition of your brain, leading to dependency and tolerance. The CNS gets used to having alcohol around all the time. It makes up for alcohol’s depressing effects on neural transmission and brain function.
Because of this, when the alcohol intake is suddenly reduced, your body attempts to restore the chemical imbalance while your brain remains overactive, leading to alcohol withdrawal symptoms.
AWS is more common among alcoholics and regular consumers who struggle to cut back gradually. Adults are more likely to have AWS. However, teenagers and young adults who drink alcohol excessively might also present symptoms.
If you have ever experienced signs of withdrawal or needed medical detox due to an alcohol use disorder, you are also susceptible to AWS.
Symptoms of Alcohol Withdrawal Syndrome
Various symptoms are associated with alcohol withdrawal, ranging in intensity from mild to severe. The severity of symptoms varies according to the degree of alcohol dependence. The worst symptoms tend to affect those with profound and chronic dependency.
Here are the most common symptoms:
- Alcohol cravings
- Anxiety and jitters
- Clammy skin
- Difficulty concentrating
- Impaired judgment and memory
- Light and sound sensitivity
- Loss of appetite
- Rapid heart rate
- Rapid mood swings
- Tremors (alcohol shakes)
Severe withdrawal symptoms include:
- High fever
- Increased agitation
- Increased blood pressure
- Increased heart rate
- Nausea or vomiting
- Severe tremors
Of these severe signs, alcohol withdrawal seizures are particularly life-threatening. These seizures can result in death if left without the proper care in a detox program.
Delirium Tremens (DTs) is another symptom of alcohol withdrawal that affect 2% of people with alcohol use disorders, according to the U.S. National Library of Medicine.
Alcohol withdrawal delirium presents the following symptoms:
- High blood pressure
- Seizures or convulsions
Research shows delirium tremens present a 1-4% fatality risk. So, severe withdrawal symptoms require immediate medical intervention. That means those at risk of DTs should be extra careful while undergoing AWS without medical attention.
DTs has been attributed to several illnesses, such as respiratory arrest, aspiration pneumonitis, oversedation, and cardiac arrhythmia. All these conditions can potentially cause fatal infections or death.
When Does Alcohol Withdrawal Start?
Alcohol withdrawal starts when the amount of alcohol in the bloodstream drops below the normal range for that person. Some individuals experience mild effects as soon as six hours after their last drink.
Several factors, including age, gender, genetics, general health, and history of alcohol use, affect how long it takes for alcohol withdrawal to kick in.
Withdrawal symptoms can also develop when you significantly reduce your alcohol intake and do not quit it entirely. In this case, the onset of alcohol withdrawal symptoms may be delayed and less severe.
Factors That Influence Alcohol Withdrawal Timeline
The onset of withdrawal symptoms differs from person to person, but you may start experiencing them a few hours after your last drink. Withdrawal affects people differently based on various factors, including:
- Family history of alcoholism
- Frequency of use
- Gender, weight, and age
- Length and amount of alcohol intake
- Mental and physical health
- Polysubstance abuse
- Previous alcohol withdrawal experience
- Severity of dependence
Alcohol Withdrawal Timeline
There are three levels of alcohol withdrawal magnitude: mild, moderate, and severe.
Mild stage (six to 12 hours)
Physical changes and a surge in agitation characterize the mild withdrawal stage. Since mild symptoms mimic a hangover, people frequently ignore how their bodies react.
The symptoms of the mild stage might include trembling, sweating, nausea, anxiety, and headaches. These symptoms often appear six to twelve hours after the last drink.
Moderate stage (12 to 48 hours)
Over the next 12 to 24 hours, mild withdrawal symptoms, such as anxiety and alcohol cravings, may worsen. One may experience breathing problems, irregular heartbeat, hypertension, excessive sweating, fever, irritability, and disorientation. The withdrawal symptoms reach their peak during their first 48 hours.
Severe stage (48-72 hours)
Alcohol withdrawal’s severe stage lasts between 48 and 72 hours, during which time health begins to deteriorate. After this, a patient will need medical supervision.
Symptoms of DTs usually appear between this time after ceasing excessive alcohol intake. The average duration of DTs is three to four days, but in some, they can extend up to eight days.
Some people experience symptoms for longer, but the effects of alcohol withdrawal typically go away in five days.
How Long Does Alcohol Withdrawal Last?
Withdrawal symptoms often manifest six hours after the last drink and peak 24-72 hours later. For most people, these symptoms usually begin to subside after 72 hours. Others stop experiencing the symptoms four to five days after their last drink.
Unfortunately, others experience long-term withdrawal symptoms that last for months or even years. This is an uncommon condition known as post-acute withdrawal syndrome (PAWS).
PAWS is the leading cause of relapse after undergoing alcohol addiction treatment. Most patients experience PAWS symptoms in cycles or waves; they are fine one day, and the next, they are exhausted and crave alcohol.
Resisting the temptation can be difficult during this withdrawal stage due to its impulsiveness. But knowing that any given PAWS episode usually only lasts a few days is crucial. If you can get through that particular episode, the symptoms will go as quickly as they came.
Is It Necessary to Seek Treatment for Alcohol Withdrawal?
Exposure to AWS poses significant health hazards for those with alcohol use disorders and increases their risk of relapse. Withdrawal and relapse will repeatedly occur if you don’t seek help.
That’s why those with addiction frequently require inpatient or outpatient treatment to effectively manage the physical and mental effects of chronic alcohol abuse.
When AWS is diagnosed, you will receive recommendations for treatment options that can successfully manage your withdrawal symptoms because, if left untreated, the symptoms can increase your likelihood of relapse.
Medical practitioners warn against sudden cessation for safe management of alcohol withdrawal. A medical assessment of your health should always come first while detoxing from alcohol. Don’t put your health at risk by attempting to detox on your own.
Treatment of Alcohol Withdrawal
Both inpatient and outpatient services are available for the treatment of alcohol withdrawal. In most situations, a complete and long-term recovery will be guaranteed through medication-assisted detox and evidence-based treatment regimens.
Alcohol detox is often accompanied by behavioral therapy and clinical management of withdrawal in a rehabilitation setting. Patients may be given prescription drugs as part of the clinical management of AWS to lessen the intensity of withdrawal.
There is no “one-size-fits-all” approach to treating alcoholism. For this reason, recovery programs often include the following:
- Inpatient care – Inpatient care offers a secure, closely monitored environment for those struggling with alcoholism. This type of treatment is the most intensive and includes 30-, 60-, or 90-day programs with support available round the clock.
- Outpatient therapy – Outpatient treatment allows patients to keep up with their regular duties while still receiving treatment. This approach is most suitable for people with mild forms of alcohol dependence since they have to face drinking triggers and other external influences.
It’s crucial to understand that detox is not an alcohol addiction treatment; it is a vital part of an extensive rehabilitation program that should complement emotional support and psychological therapy to guarantee long-term recovery.
Seek Professional Help Today!
Alcohol withdrawal syndrome affects around two million Americans each year. Therefore, when it comes to your recovery path, you must pick the appropriate program.
At CCIWA, we understand the challenges of the recovery journey and are committed to helping you navigate it.
We partner with skilled addiction recovery specialists and experts dedicated to providing comprehensive treatment programs tailored to individual patient needs.
If you or your loved one is struggling with alcohol withdrawal and needs alcohol detox and support, our partner specialists can help.
Contact us to book a free addiction assessment today.