Learn The Signs And Symptoms Of Alcohol Withdrawal

Alcohol withdrawal symptoms can be quite a challenge for someone going through alcohol detox. Although they vary from person to person, it is important to understand what they are and how best to manage them. In this short guide, we explain all the basics about alcohol withdrawal symptoms to help you or someone you know better understand how they affect the alcohol detox process.

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What Are Alcohol Withdrawal Symptoms?

Alcohol withdrawal symptoms or alcohol withdrawal syndrome (AWS) results from prolonged and heavy alcohol use, which changes how the body and brain work. Over time, the body becomes dependent on alcohol for normal functioning.

In such a situation, if the individual suddenly stops drinking, they will experience withdrawal symptoms. This happens because the body must now adjust to life without alcohol.

The adjustment process is often uncomfortable and comes with some or all the following symptoms:

Whether a person has been drinking for a few weeks or years, they may experience these symptoms. An individual undergoing alcohol detox must be aware that they may need medical supervision and medication to help manage alcohol withdrawal complications.

What Causes Alcohol Withdrawals?

When a person takes alcohol, it acts as a depressant influencing the brain’s neural pathways that are involved in excitation/reward. That is why taking alcohol results in an initial high that comes with feelings of wellbeing and excitement. When alcohol is taken in excessive quantities, this effect (also called dysregulation) starts to fundamentally change how the brain works.

As the brain adjusts to the new norm of large amounts of alcohol in the body, it starts needing alcohol to remain in balance and maintain “normal” functions. Over time, the dysregulation requires higher quantities of alcohol to maintain the new norm, resulting in alcohol use disorder (AUD).

In such a state, when the person stops taking alcohol, several things happen that result in alcohol withdrawal symptoms:

  1. The brain, now adjusted to the new norm, scrambles to find a way of coping with no alcohol.
  2. Next, the neural pathways that were used to hyperstimulation fall out of balance, resulting in anxiety, panic attacks, insomnia, and other symptoms.
  3. After a few days of no alcohol, withdrawal symptoms peak as the body goes into shock from the sudden change.

The detox process can last from a few days to weeks, depending on factors like how long the person has been drinking and how much they were drinking on a daily basis.

Stages Of Alcohol Withdrawal

Alcohol withdrawal can be broadly categorized into two stages: acute alcohol withdrawal side effects and post-acute alcohol withdrawal side effects.

Stage 1: Acute alcohol withdrawal

Once a person stops taking alcohol, the body experiences a drastic change in alcohol levels. This sudden change leads to acute or short-term alcohol withdrawals, which come within hours or days of stopping. If the person was a light drinker, they might experience mild side effects. However, for heavier drinkers, these effects can be severe.

Since the body is going through a sudden change, the person is most at risk at this stage. If they had a strong dependence on alcohol, suddenly stopping can cause unconsciousness, delirium tremens, or even death. It is highly recommended that anyone starting this journey do so with medical support to help reduce the effects of such severe side effects for safe and effective detox.

Stage 2: Post-acute alcohol withdrawal

Post-acute alcohol withdrawal syndrome or PAWS is the next stage after the initial detox is over. Although not as common as the side effects of the acute stage, they can be equally frustrating for someone on the road to recovery.

PAWS symptoms significantly affect long-term alcohol abusers who have also adjusted their lifestyles to accommodate the habit.

PAWS is characterized by feelings of:

  • Despondence
  • Anxiety
  • Depression
  • Memory lapses
  • Dizziness
  • Lethargy
  • Chronic nausea

Because of the abrupt change in lifestyle, alcohol withdrawal side effects become tied to social, mental, psychological, and behavioral aspects of the person’s life. This stage can last from a few months to a year and is one of the leading causes of relapse.

The Alcohol Withdrawal Timeline

The most severe side effects of alcohol withdrawal occur within the first 24 to 48 hours. While for some people, onset can be as quick as two hours, for most, the effects are increasingly felt from six hours onwards. The severity of symptoms also varies from person to person.

For some, withdrawal symptoms are mild and fade away by the first or second day. For others, especially heavy drinkers, severe and even life-threatening side effects can take hold from six hours onwards.

Although not as common, delirium tremens or DT may also occur at the 48-hour mark. This side effect is characterized by severe shaking, vivid hallucinations, heart palpitations, and intense confusion.

If you or someone you know are experiencing the side effects of alcohol detoxification, here is the general timeline of symptoms to expect:

  • 6 – 12 hours: Anxiety, agitation, nausea, vomiting, and/or headache.
  • 12 – 24 hours: Previous side effects plus hand alcohol withdrawal tremors, diarrhea, disorientation, itching, chest pain, and/or sweating.
  • 24 – 48 hours: Previous side effects plus insomnia, DTs, hallucinations, seizures, fever, excessive sweating, and/or hypertension.
  • 48 hours – one week: Most side effects have subsided. However, the person may continue experiencing post-acute symptoms such as anxiety, lethargy, and panic attacks.

Safe Treatment Of Alcohol Withdrawal Side Effects

Alcohol detox side effects can be mild to severe and can occur unpredictably. An individual may experience a few side effects at one time but encounter severe effects at another. This unpredictability makes the dangers of alcohol withdrawal very real for both the individual and those around them.

The safe treatment of alcohol withdrawal side effects involves a combination of drugs, therapy, and support.

Medication

Medications such as Chlordiazepoxide, Diazepam, Clorazepate, and Oxazepam help reduce acute alcohol withdrawal symptoms. They help the body gradually and safely adjust to life without alcohol. Other drugs like Disulfiram, Naltrexone, and Acamprosate help the individual avoid alcohol intake even when the withdrawal symptoms become intense.

Therapy

Therapy helps reprogram and adjust the individual to living without alcohol. Therapy is especially important during withdrawal because the individual may feel that taking alcohol will stop the pain. Working with a professional detox and rehab professional will help the individual overcome these feelings to complete the detox program and achieve long-term sobriety.

Support

Support from family and friends is crucial to a successful recovery. Since the individual may feel overwhelmed by withdrawals, having people around to remind them of their goal and the importance of sticking to the program is crucial. Support structures should, however, avoid the same structures that promoted or supported the habit.

In-Home Treatment For A Safe Alcohol Detox

Alcohol withdrawal side effects can be tough. That is why doctors do not recommend going “cold turkey.” If a person would like to go through the detox process safely and less uncomfortably, it is best to seek the care and guidance of a healthcare professional.

Since facility-based options often mean a rigid structure with prescriptive, one-size-fits-all plans, the person may want to go through the process in the comfort and convenience of their home. Elite Home Detox treatments are delivered in the comfort of your home and are not set to a fixed program. We walk with patients every step of the way, for as long as they need, all while staying in the familiar environment of their home.

If you or someone you know would like to find out more about how Elite Home Detox can help you overcome addiction and safely manage alcohol withdrawal symptoms, contact us today to speak with a knowledgeable representative.



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