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Alcohol Withdrawal

Alcohol withdrawal is a set of symptoms that an individual who has suddenly stopped using alcohol experiences after long-term chronic use. Alcohol is a highly addictive sedative-hypnotic drug, and is known to cause physiological dependence in users. Alcohol withdrawal occurs because the brain adapts to chronic exposure to alcohol, and physical symptoms occur because of declining blood alcohol levels. Most individuals who have been drinking for a long period of time, drink frequently or drink heavily when they do drink, will experience some form of alcohol withdrawal when they stop drinking. The severity and length of duration of alcohol withdrawal is usually dependent on how chemically dependent the chronic drinker has become.

It is typical for an individual after an alcohol binge episode to feel physical discomfort, also known as a hangover, and swear to himself that he will never drink again or will drink less or less frequently. However, because of physical dependence to alcohol some individuals will start craving more alcohol as alcohol withdrawal symptoms set it. It sometimes seems like a more comfortable and easy solution to just have another drink, to avoid the symptoms altogether. This is the viscous cycle of alcohol addiction and one of the reasons it is so hard to quit.

Alcohol withdrawal symptoms typically occur within 5-10 hours after having consumed alcohol, but can occur days later. Symptoms may get worse and persist for weeks in the most extreme cases. Someone who is less dependent to alcohol might experience mild alcohol withdrawal symptoms such as getting the shakes, or the sweats, nausea, headache, anxiety, a rapid heartbeat, and increased blood pressure. These alcohol withdrawal symptoms are uncomfortable and irritating but not necessarily life-threatening. Symptoms such as sleep and mood changes as well as fatigue can last for months. Unfortunately, alcohol withdrawal symptoms are often accompanied by a craving for more alcohol. Other symptoms might include:

  • Nervousness
  • Irritability
  • Emotional volatility, rapid mood changes
  • Depression
  • Fatigue
  • Nightmares
  • Headache
  • Sweating
  • Nausea and Vomiting
  • Loss of appetite
  • Insomnia
  • Paleness
  • Dilated or enlarged pupils
  • Clammy skin
  • Abnormal movements
  • Hand tremors
  • Involuntary, abnormal movements of the eyelids
  • Mood swings
  • Not thinking clearly
  • Agitation

More serious alcohol withdrawal symptoms can result from long-term heavy alcohol use or serious binge-drinking which are especially dangerous if not medically treated. Within 6 to 48 hours of having consumed alcohol, the individual may develop hallucinations. These hallucinations can be so real that they may also contain sounds and smell. These symptoms can last anywhere from a few hours or up to weeks at a time. During this time, the individual may experience convulsions or seizures which are an indicator that the alcohol withdrawal has become dangerous and the individual should seek medical treatment immediately. These symptoms may progress to delirium tremens, which can cause confusion, disorientation, hallucinations, hyperactivity, and extreme cardiovascular disturbances. Once delirium tremens sets in, there is no known medical treatment to stop them. Grand mal seizures, heart attacks and stroke may occur during delirium tremens, all of which can be fatal.

For individuals who are extremely alcohol dependent or for those who want to quit drinking, alcohol withdrawal can be overcome and the person can return to good health if they seek proper professional and medical treatment. Inpatient alcohol treatment and rehab facilities treat alcohol withdrawal and administer proper detox programs which can get the individual through this difficult and dangerous process. As part of treatment, specialists will watch the individual closely for delirium tremens and other dangerous symptoms. Blood pressure, body temperature, heart rate and blood levels of different chemicals in the body will also be monitored to ensure the individual gets through alcohol withdrawal safely. The goal of treatment is to ease alcohol withdrawal symptoms, prevent complications associated with alcoholism and withdrawal, and getting the individual any needed therapy and counseling to resolve their alcohol addiction.

The sooner the individual who is going through alcohol withdrawal seeks help the better off they will be. Alcohol affects every organ in the body and over time organ damage can become a serious cause for concern. It is important that individuals going through alcohol withdrawal consult with alcohol treatment counselors and medical professionals immediately to get the help they need. If you are an alcoholic or abuse alcohol and want to quit, seek treatment as soon as possible at a treatment or rehab facility that specializes in alcohol treatment.


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