What is Alcohol Withdrawal Syndrome and How to Cope With it?

Fighting addiction to alcohol is an uphill battle. The detox and withdrawal processes are very challenging to get through, but it is possible. Rehab programs and medical treatment are available to help you cope with alcohol withdrawal syndrome. This article aims to help you better understand alcohol withdrawal syndrome and your treatment and management options so that you will be empowered to begin your journey of sobriety.

This article will describe what alcohol withdrawal syndrome is, its symptoms and timeline, and how rehab can help minimize symptoms. It will also describe the types of rehab (inpatient, outpatient, and in-home) and discuss how each works to help you overcome addiction.

What is alcohol withdrawal syndrome?

Alcohol withdrawal syndrome (AWS) is a collective name for the symptoms you experience as a heavy drinker who has suddenly stopped or significantly reduced your consumption of alcohol.

AWS usually causes both physical and emotional symptoms. The symptoms you may experience can range from fatigue, nausea, and mild anxiety to hallucinations and seizures in more serious cases. Extreme AWS can be life-threatening.

woman sitting in bed with her legs to her chest, in desperate and anxiety sitting alone

What are the symptoms of alcohol withdrawal syndrome?

In addition to the symptoms mentioned above, other mild to moderate symptoms of AWS include at least two of the following:

  • Confusion
  • Headache
  • High blood pressure
  • Increased heart rate
  • Insomnia
  • Irritability
  • Nightmares
  • Sweating
  • Tremors
  • Vomiting

Delirium tremens (DT) is the most severe type of AWS. Signs and symptoms of DT include:

  • Excessive sweating
  • Extreme agitation
  • Extreme confusion
  • Fever
  • High blood pressure
  • Increased heart rate
  • Rapid breathing
  • Seizures
  • Auditory hallucinations, in which you hear things that are not there
  • Tactile hallucinations, such as a burning, itching, or numbing sensation that isn’t there
  • Visual hallucinations, in which you see things that are not there

It is important to understand that you are dealing with a medical emergency if you have symptoms of severe AWS, such as high fever, hallucinations, or heart disturbances. You need immediate medical care.

What is the timeline of alcohol withdrawal syndrome?

You may start to experience alcohol withdrawal symptoms within eight hours of your last drink, and you can expect these symptoms to last for several weeks.

Alcohol detoxification and withdrawal happen in three stages.

Stage 1

Stage 1 is when you begin to experience mild symptoms for 6-12 hours. These symptoms include anxiety, fast heart rate, and headaches. Other symptoms during Stage 1 are hand tremors, trouble sleeping, and an upset stomach.

Stage 2

Stage 2 lasts 1-3 days and can cause moderate symptoms like confusion, high blood pressure, increased heart rate, and rapid breathing. In addition to these moderate symptoms, you may still be experiencing some symptoms from Stage 1.

Stage 3

Stage 3 can last up to one week and causes severe symptoms, such as disorientation and hallucinations. In rare cases, some people have seizures during Stage 3. You may still have symptoms from Stages 1 and 2 as well as Stage 3 symptoms.

Some symptoms can still linger after the timeline of symptoms that occur in the timeline about ten days after your last drink. The symptoms that may persist past this point include:

  • Anxiety
  • Depression
  • Insomnia
  • Irritability
  • Lack of appetite
  • Social isolation

How can rehab help minimize symptoms?

Medically-managed and supervised alcohol detox is the safest way to go through the detox and withdrawal process. In a rehab program, you will get services from a doctor trained in addiction treatment. They can give you medication to curb the severity of your symptoms and make the process more comfortable for you. They can also check your blood pressure and perform diagnostic tests such as blood tests and urinalysis to monitor your progress.

Alcohol detox programs typically follow these three steps:

The doctor will review your drug, medical, psychiatric, and psychological history and create your patient treatment profile. This information will help them determine the treatment methods that will work best for you.

Your doctor will prescribe medications for several reasons. These medications will help manage or ease the symptoms you will be dealing with during detox. Your doctor will also prescribe you medication to treat any other conditions you have, if necessary.

There are two categories of medications used in alcohol detox treatment: medications for alcohol withdrawal symptoms and medications for alcohol detoxification.

Medications for alcohol withdrawal symptoms work because they have a similar effect on your brain as alcohol does, but without addictive tendencies. Benzodiazepines and barbiturates are used for this purpose. Benzodiazepines help your brain adjust to the lack of alcohol because they sedate like alcohol. Benzodiazepines help to reduce anxiety, hallucinations, and insomnia. Barbiturates are used if benzodiazepines have not worked for you. Barbiturates are sedatives that affect your central nervous system and can cause sedative death, so they are only used in emergencies.

Medications for alcohol detox work by changing or influencing the body functions that support your addiction. Three of the most common medications for alcohol detox are acamprosate, disulfiram, and naltrexone. Acamprosate balances out the excitatory and inhibitory neurotransmitters, which helps your central nervous system function properly without alcohol. Disulfiram reduces alcohol toxicity levels by discouraging you from drinking even small amounts of alcohol. When you drink alcohol while taking disulfiram, you will experience more severe negative side effects of alcohol consumption, including anxiety, blurred vision, nausea, sweating, and vomiting. Naltrexone will reduce your desire and urge to drink alcohol.

Your doctor will use medical and behavioral therapies to help you become stable again and prepare you to return to your normal life. This step aims to rebalance your body and mind so that you can have a lasting recovery.

What types of rehab, and how can each help me overcome addiction?

There are three types of alcohol addiction rehabilitation programs:

Inpatient treatment

There are two types of inpatient treatment. Depending on the severity of your addiction and other factors of your situation, you can choose between long-term treatment or short-term treatment. Long-term rehab programs typically last between six months to one year. Short-term rehab programs typically last for three to six weeks.

All inpatient treatment programs, whether long-term or short-term, include 24/7 medical care that will help decrease the severity of your withdrawal symptoms and prevent complications.

Inpatient rehab is the most intensive treatment option. It also has the highest success rate.

Outpatient treatment

Outpatient treatment is the most flexible option. It is also less expensive than inpatient rehab. It is ideal if you still need to work and/or uphold other responsibilities while in rehab.

If your alcohol addiction is not all that severe, you can opt for a low-intensity program that focuses mainly on education and abstinence techniques.

High-intensity day programs are also available that have similar features as inpatient programs. Day programs often incorporate a great deal of group counseling and activities that will teach you healthy coping skills to overcome the urge to drink alcohol.

It is important to note that outpatient treatment may not be supportive enough for some, especially in the less intensive programs. For this reason, outpatient treatment programs often have a lower success rate than inpatient rehab programs, especially for people who suffer from extreme alcohol dependency and severe alcohol use disorder.

In-home treatment

In-home treatment has similarities to both inpatient and outpatient treatment programs. The in-home treatment provides you with medical care similar to what is offered by inpatient programs while allowing you to continue to live at home as you would if you were in an outpatient treatment program.

With in-home treatment, you do not have to adhere to a set schedule or put your life on hold as you detox and get sober from alcohol. You and your doctor can work together to devise an agreed-upon schedule for in-home visits, or you can get treatment on an as-needed basis or a rotating schedule.

You will still be able to work and keep up with any other commitments while in an in-home treatment program, but you will also get the medical support you need to manage your withdrawal symptoms.

Easing withdrawal symptoms is an important factor in getting through the detox and withdrawal process. If your symptoms are made more mild and bearable by medication, you will be more likely to complete the program without relapsing. Many people who do not participate in a medically-managed rehab program and try to do it on their end up relapsing without getting completely sober. This is because the withdrawal symptoms are too severe to handle, so they just go back to drinking to stop the withdrawal symptoms.

In-Home Alcohol Addiction Recovery with Elite Home Detox

Elite Home Detox brings the services of a traditional rehabilitation clinic to the comfort of a patient’s home. Since every patient’s circumstances and needs are different, our comprehensive treatment plan is tailored to the individual.

In-home alcohol addiction recovery is a modern solution for the busy, fast-paced lifestyles of today.

Personalized attention

Unlike a traditional addiction rehabilitation clinic, where patients meet in groups, in-home rehab means that our patients get dedicated, one-on-one attention.

Elite Home Detox provides a 24/7 onsite medical professional to monitor the patient, make changes to the treatment plan as necessary, and answer any questions that the patient, friends, or family may have. We are with our patients every step of the way to ensure a safe and healthy recovery with long-lasting results.

Convenient and private

Both inpatient and outpatient clinics require patients to travel to their destination. This is not only costly, but it also requires a significant amount of the patient’s time. In-home addiction rehabilitation works with the patient’s schedule, minimizing disruptions while maximizing results.

Some people may find group therapy beneficial. However, since addiction recovery is an intense and involved process, many patients prefer discretion while rehabilitating. That’s why Elite Home Detox brings our services directly to our patients for unmatched convenience and privacy.

Comprehensive, quality care

From genetics to social environment, many factors can contribute to a person developing an addiction to alcohol. These same factors need to be addressed during alcohol addiction rehab for a successful and lasting recovery. From detox to counseling that helps patients develop healthy coping mechanisms, Elite Home Detox offers the same services and quality of care as traditional rehab clinics.

Our team is thoroughly trained in addiction recovery, and every program is overseen by our medical director to ensure quality care.

Experience Care with Elite Home Detox