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Symptoms of Alcohol Withdrawal


Alcohol consumption often begins as a social activity, and it stays that way for most people. However, alcohol use can sometimes turn into alcohol abuse. All alcoholic beverages contain a substance called ethanol. When you drink alcohol, ethanol enters your digestive system, travels through your bloodstream, and finds its way to your vital organs, including the brain.

In the brain, ethanol acts as a central nervous system depressant and causes a number of changes. First of all, your brain releases dopamine. Secondly, ethanol binds to gamma aminobutyric acid (GABA) to make you feel relaxed and it deactivates glutamate to slow your brain’s response to stimuli. The end result is a feeling of drunkenness.

For most people, alcohol is something that they enjoy socially without ever becoming addicted to it. However, some people consume excessive alcohol and ultimately develop an alcohol addiction, which can be life-altering and life-threatening.

The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM) is a tool that is used to diagnose mental disorders and substance abuse. The DSM refers to alcohol addiction as an alcohol use disorder (AUD). If you answer yes to two or more of the following questions in a 12-month period, you can be diagnosed with an AUD.

  • Have you drank alcohol more or longer than you intended?
  • Have you failed to reduce or stop drinking alcohol more than once?
  • Do you need to drink more to produce the same effect?
  • Do you have a strong urge to drink alcohol?
  • Do you spend a great deal of time drinking alcohol or recovering from it?
  • Does drinking alcohol or its effects interfere with your responsibilities?
  • Has drinking alcohol made you give up on activities you enjoy?
  • Has drinking alcohol gotten you into a dangerous situation more than once?
  • Do you continue to drink alcohol even when it causes problems?
  • Do you continue to drink alcohol after experiencing health problems or a blackout?
  • Do you have withdrawal symptoms when you stop or reduce your drinking?

If you answered yes to two or more of the above questions, you aren’t alone. The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA) found that 17 million adults (7.2%) in the United States had an AUD in 2012. However, only 1.4 million of these people received treatment for their alcohol addiction at a specialized treatment center.

It is important to know what to expect when you are preparing to undergo treatment for an alcohol addiction. The first step of treatment is the detox process when you stop drinking alcohol. During this time, you can experience symptoms of alcohol withdrawal. By understanding what to expect when going through withdrawals, you can increase the likelihood that you will detox and recover from addiction.


Tolerance and Dependence in Alcohol Addiction

With excessive and extended use, alcohol use can transform into an alcohol addiction. Alcohol abuse can cause serious and long-lasting changes in your brain and body.

Two of the biggest changes in the brain are tolerance and dependence. Tolerance means that you need to drink more alcohol over time to achieve the same effect. Dependence means that you need to keep drinking alcohol to prevent withdrawal symptoms of alcohol. These unpleasant, and sometimes dangerous, symptoms can occur within hours of your last drink and may last for weeks.


Alcohol Withdrawal Symptoms

If you have an alcohol addiction and you stop or cut back on your alcohol consumption, you will experience alcohol withdrawal symptoms. Some of the symptoms are mild, while others can be life-threatening. The intensity, length, and type of symptoms vary from person to person. Some of the factors that influence the symptoms of alcohol withdrawal include how long and how much you’ve been drinking, your age, your physical and mental health, and if you’ve experienced the symptoms of alcohol withdrawal before.

Some people give up on the alcohol treatment process, as a way to avoid the pain and discomfort of alcohol withdrawal symptoms. While it’s not easy to undergo the symptoms of alcohol detox, you can get through it, especially when you understand alcohol withdrawal symptoms and seek treatment.

The minor symptoms of alcohol withdrawal tend to begin five to 10 hours after your last drink, with their peak occurring at 24 to 48 hours. These symptoms can include anxiety, excessive sweating, headaches, insomnia, irritability, nausea, nightmares, rapid breathing and pulse, tremors, and vomiting.

Then, 12 to 24 hours after your last drink, you may start to experience moderate symptoms of alcohol withdrawal, namely hallucinations of multiple, small moving objects. Many people describe the objects as insects or coins. These hallucinations can be very distracting, although most people realize that they are not real, and they often end after 48 hours.

Withdrawal seizures are one of the most serious alcohol withdrawal symptoms, which tend to occur six to forty-eight hours after the last drink, with the highest risk at 24 hours. You have a higher risk of having withdrawal seizures if you have done multiple rounds of detox or if you have had withdrawal seizures in the past.

The most severe withdrawal symptom is delirium tremens (DTs). DTs strike 48 to 72 hours after the last drink, and tend to peak at Day 4 or Day 5. However, delayed onset is possible, with some people experiencing them more than a week after the last drink. The symptoms of DTs include confusion, dehydration, fever, hallucinations, high blood pressure, profuse sweating, racing heartbeat, seizures, severe anxiety, and severe tremors.

Since alcohol withdrawal symptoms can quickly get worse, you should seek medical attention, even if you have only mild symptoms. The right medical treatment can reduce your risk of developing more severe symptoms like withdrawal seizures and DTs. It can also increase your likelihood of successfully completing detox.

It is also recommended that you speak to your physician if you have had withdrawal symptoms in the past or if you have health problems such as heart disease, lung disease, or a history of seizures.


Alcohol Addiction Treatment

The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) have found that detox and treatment programs that are at least 90 days long produce greater success rates than shorter programs. Three months might seem like a significant amount of time, but it is what’s needed to treat alcohol withdrawal symptoms and alcohol addiction. Addiction does not appear overnight, so treating it takes time.

Recovering from any addiction is a long process that requires detox, counseling, medication, and ongoing support from many different sources. It is critically important to speak with your physician about your unique situation and goals for addiction treatment, so they can help you find the right treatment program. It might seem like a simple step, but it can make an enormous difference in your detox and treatment. Every person is different so they will require an individualized approach to their treatment and care for the best results.

You can undergo alcohol detox in several different locations, but not every setting will be right for every patient. The severity of your withdrawal symptoms will dictate the best location for you. If you are experiencing minor symptoms, you may be able to complete the entire detox process at home with the proper medication and support. However, if you are facing more severe symptoms like withdrawal seizures or DTs, you should only complete detox under direct medical supervision in an alcohol and drug treatment center or a hospital.

Again, speaking with your physician about your home environment, medical history, and withdrawal symptoms can help you find the right treatment setting for your unique situation.

Although not often recommended, completing detox at home can be an option if you are dealing with mild withdrawal symptoms. If you and your physician decide that this is a good option for you, you will need to find the right medications and support to ensure that your at-home detox is safe and successful.

Alcohol and drug treatment centers, like Luminance Recovery, are great locations for alcohol detox and addiction recovery. In such a setting, you will have access to caring and experienced drug and alcohol treatment professionals who follow a holistic approach that utilizes a variety of therapies. The ultimate goal is to help you safely and effectively complete the detox process and begin treatment to overcome addiction.

When you stop drinking alcohol during the detox process, you may find yourself feeling overwhelmed by alcohol withdrawal symptoms. However, you don’t have to suffer without relief. Your physician may prescribe medications or nutritional supplements to help you manage the symptoms of alcohol withdrawal.

After completing the detox process, you will begin the actual treatment process for alcohol addiction. For the best results, you should seek out a program, like Luminance Recovery, which utilizes a holistic treatment approach. A holistic approach incorporates counseling, treatment of coexisting mental disorder, and ongoing support. This is a proven combination that can help you recover from alcohol addiction and achieve lasting sobriety.

  • Counseling is a critical component of alcohol addiction treatment, because it is designed to identify and change the behaviors, relationships, and thoughts that caused your addiction. You can attend counseling on an inpatient or outpatient basis in a drug and alcohol treatment center. You also have the option to attend individual, family, or group counseling. Each form of counseling has unique advantages, so you may decide to attend all three types.
  • Treating coexisting mental disorders also occurs during the treatment process. Many patients with an alcohol addiction also have undiagnosed and untreated psychological disorders. Two of the most common are anxiety and depression. Diagnosing and treating such disorders reduces your risk of relapse and improves your life.
  • Ongoing support from friends, family, medical professionals, and support group members is also important when you are in recovery. Strong support from many sources can help you stay accountable and on track, and support group members can show you that you aren’t the only one to struggle with addiction.

Many people feel overwhelmed when they are preparing to undergo detox and face alcohol withdrawal symptoms. However, the right treatment can make withdrawal symptoms much more manageable and can increase the likelihood that you will get clean and sober.

If you or someone you love is suffering from an alcohol addiction, Luminance Recovery can help. Please contact us to learn more about our holistic approach to treating alcohol addiction and how our team of compassionate and experienced treatment professionals help clients overcome the symptoms of alcohol withdrawal.

Luminance Recovery offers a holistic approach to addiction recovery. With a wide variety of effective therapies in a supportive and caring environment, we help clients detox from alcohol and overcome addiction. After treatment, all clients leave with a long-term care plan to help them maintain their sobriety.

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