You’ve come to the honest and courageous realization that alcohol has a grip on your life and is leading you down a path of emotional, spiritual, relational, vocational and physical destruction. You have decided to put the bottle down for good! While this is a decision to be proud of, depending on how heavily you’ve been drinking, it can be a potentially dangerous adventure to detox by yourself.
A condition known as alcohol withdrawal syndrome can occur when people who have been drinking heavily for weeks, months or years decide to suddenly stop consuming alcohol, which can be potentially life threatening.
Alcohol withdrawal symptoms can include anxiety, shakiness, seizures, and delirium tremens or DTs. These withdrawal symptoms can begin as early as two hours after the last drink and can persist for weeks.
Alcohol withdrawal symptoms can quickly worsen. So even if your symptoms are mild, it is very important that you seek out medical attention, especially if you have other health issues such as a history of seizures, any infections, or if you have heart or lung disease. Proper medical attention to these withdrawal symptoms can help reduce the risk of experiencing DTs. If you experience seizures, fever, severe confusion, hallucinations or an irregular heartbeat be aware that these are severe alcohol withdrawal symptoms and are considered to be a medical emergency and call 911 immediately!
What Causes Alcohol Withdrawal Symptoms?
Heavy prolonged drinking – especially excessive daily drinking – disrupts the brain’s neurotransmitters, the brain chemicals that transmit messages.
When heavy drinkers suddenly stop, or significantly reduce, their alcohol consumption, the neurotransmitters previously suppressed by alcohol are no longer suppressed. They basically spring back in a way that creates a reaction known as brain hyper excitability. This brain hyper excitability manifests itself through what is known as withdrawal symptoms such as anxiety, irritability, agitation, tremors, seizures and DTs.
Severity of Alcohol Withdrawal Symptoms
The severity of alcohol withdrawal symptoms is dependent upon how much and for how long a person has been drinking. It is not uncommon for minor alcohol withdrawal symptoms to appear six to 12 hours after a person stops drinking. A person can still have a significant blood alcohol level when symptoms begin. These symptoms include:
- Shaky hands
- Mild anxiety
Between 12 and 24 hours after drinking has stopped, some people may experience visual, auditory or tactile hallucinations. These usually end after 48 hours. This condition is known as alcoholic hallucinosis and is not the same as the hallucinations one gets with DTs. The difference is that during the hallucinosis, the person is usually aware that the hallucinations are not real, whereas hallucinations with DTs are difficult to distinguish from reality.
Withdrawal seizures usually happen between 24 and 48 hours after someone stops drinking, although they can appear as early as two hours after drinking stops. The risk of seizures is especially high with people who have previously gone through multiple detoxifications.
DTs typically begin between 48 and 72 hours after drinking has stopped. Your risk for DTs increases if you have a history of withdrawal seizures or DTs, acute medical illness, abnormal liver function, and older age. Symptoms of DTs usually peak at five days and usually include:
- Disorientation, confusion and severe anxiety
- Hallucinations (primarily visual and difficult to distinguish from reality)
- Profuse sweating
- Low-grade fever
- High blood pressure
- Racing and irregular heartbeat
- Severe tremors
Treatment For Alcohol Withdrawal Symptoms
If you have mild to moderate alcohol withdrawal symptoms, you may need assistance with inpatient detox treatment if you don’t have a reliable social network, you are pregnant or you have a history of any of the following:
- Severe withdrawal symptoms
- Withdrawal seizures or DTs
- Certain medical or psychiatric illnesses
- Multiple previous detoxifications
The goals of a detox treatment are threefold: reducing immediate withdrawal symptoms, preventing complications, and beginning long-term therapy to promote alcohol abstinence.
Preventing Future Alcohol Withdrawal Symptoms
Treatment of alcohol withdrawal symptoms does not address the underlying emotional and spiritual issues of addiction. To prevent future alcohol withdrawal symptoms, serious consideration should be given to entering into a long-term rehab program (30-90 days) to help overcome your alcohol abuse, dependence or addiction.