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What Are Common Alcohol Withdrawal Symptoms?

alcohol withdrawal three step process

Alcohol withdrawal, commonly known as the alcohol withdrawal syndrome (AWS), is the uncomfortable process your body undergoes when you try to quit drinking alcohol or cannot consume alcohol for any reason (for example, if you can’t get it). 

The mind and body become dependent on drinking patterns and frequency over time. When you suddenly quit drinking, your body is deprived of alcohol’s effects and needs time to adjust to functioning without it. This adjustment phase is accompanied by withdrawal symptoms such as insomnia, tremors, nausea, and anxiety.

Alcoholism can cause physical changes in the body, making it challenging to manage alcohol use. It can also make it extremely difficult to lessen or quit alcohol abuse. As alcohol withdrawal may be a painful phase, it is highly recommended that anyone seeking to quit drinking receive professional treatment at a specialized alcohol rehab center.

Who is at Risk for Alcohol Withdrawal?

People with an alcohol addiction or who drink significantly regularly and cannot progressively reduce their intake are at a greater risk of alcohol withdrawal syndrome (AWS).

AWS is more common in adults, although it can also affect children and teens who drink heavily. If you’ve already had withdrawal symptoms or required medical detox for a drinking issue, you’re also at risk for AWS.

Heavy drinking is defined by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention as more than eight alcoholic drinks per week for women and 15 alcoholic beverages per week for men. One drink is equivalent to the following:

  • 1.5 ounces of distilled spirits or liquor, including gin, rum, vodka, and whiskey
  • 5 ounces of wine
  • 8 ounces of malt liquor
  • 12 ounces of beer

The most common form of heavy alcohol consumption is binge drinking. It is defined as four or more drinks consumed in one sitting for women and five or more drinks consumed in one sitting for men.

Causes of Alcohol Withdrawal

When attempting to quit drinking, alcohol affects many bodily functions, resulting in alcohol withdrawal. First and foremost, excessive alcohol consumption stimulates and irritates the central nervous system. Alcohol has a sedative impact on the brain, suppressing particular neurotransmitters and making individuals feel relaxed after drinking. This explains why, after drinking alcohol, people experience sensations of euphoria, greater sociability, and relaxation.

The brain of a heavy alcohol drinker is nearly always exposed to the depressive effects of alcohol. As a result, the individual develops an alcohol dependency. When the body grows dependent on alcohol, it takes increasing amounts of the substance to produce the same effects. 

When someone quickly stops drinking, the neurotransmitters are no longer blocked by alcohol, and the brain struggles to adjust itself to the new chemical imbalance, resulting in severe withdrawal symptoms that are distinct from the “feel good” effects of alcohol intake.

The side effects of alcohol withdrawal differ from person to person. Many people are scared to stop drinking because the idea of unpleasant withdrawal symptoms is frightening. However, it is crucial to remember that alcohol addiction treatment doctors can prescribe medications to help relieve pain. By alleviating withdrawal symptoms, you can concentrate on recovery and getting better.

Timeline of Alcohol Withdrawal Symptoms

Symptoms of alcohol withdrawal can begin as early as two hours after the last drink. Typically, withdrawal symptoms peak occurs between 24 and 48 hours after quitting. This is when you may experience the most unpleasant withdrawal symptoms, including rapid heartbeat, insomnia, changes in blood pressure, perspiration, tremors, and fever.

Some people experience relatively few withdrawal symptoms, but others encounter severe adverse effects. For instance, Delerium Tremens (DTs) is one of the most severe alcohol withdrawal symptoms. Within the first 48 hours after your last drink, confusion, severe shaking, hallucinations, and increased blood pressure might emerge. 

Although Delirium Tremens is uncommon, it is potentially fatal. Heavy drinkers who suddenly quit drinking may experience various potentially deadly withdrawal symptoms. Those experiencing withdrawal must undergo medically assisted detox.

Typically, alcohol withdrawal symptoms manifest according to the following schedule:

Table showing timeline of alcohol withdrawal symptoms

Alcohol withdrawal symptoms typically subside after five days, while some people may have prolonged symptoms. Several factors affect the intensity and duration of alcohol withdrawal symptoms, including frequency, length of time drinking, medical history, and other co-occurring health issues. A person is more prone to encounter severe withdrawal symptoms if they have abused alcohol in combination with other addictive drugs.

Acute Alcohol Withdrawal (AWS)

In the first few days and weeks following cessation of alcohol consumption, a person may suffer acute alcohol withdrawal symptoms. Acute alcohol withdrawal syndrome refers to the usual withdrawal symptoms experienced by heavy drinkers who suddenly cease their alcohol consumption after long periods of excessive use. During this period, you will most likely have a temporary loss of consciousness, delirium tremens, and seizures.

Due to the potentially life-threatening health consequences that might occur during acute alcohol withdrawal, it is advised that you never quit drinking on your own and instead seek treatment at a hospital or a specialist rehab center. A medical practitioner can monitor your mental and physical health throughout the day to prevent symptoms from worsening.

Post-Acute Withdrawal Syndrome (PAWS)

After the early symptoms of alcohol withdrawal fade, some people may endure prolonged side effects. This less common phase is known as post-acute withdrawal syndrome (PAWS). PAWS encompasses withdrawal symptoms that occur after acute withdrawal and can make life after rehabilitation challenging for some people. PAWS can persist anywhere from a few weeks to a year, depending on the degree of your alcoholism.

Common symptoms of PAWS include:

  • Intense cravings
  • Chronic nausea
  • Dizziness
  • Increased accident proneness
  • Anxiety
  • Trouble sleeping
  • Delayed reflexes
  • Low energy
  • Memory problems
  • Irritability and emotional outbursts

PAWS is one of the primary causes of relapse after alcohol addiction treatment has been completed. Many patients suffer PAWS symptoms in cyclical waves; one day, they feel good, and the next, they are tormented by fatigue and excessive alcohol cravings. 

The spontaneity of this withdrawal period might make it difficult to resist temptation. However, it is essential to remember that each PAWS episode often lasts only a few days. If a person can make it through this period, the symptoms will go as swiftly as they arise.

Getting Help for Alcohol Withdrawal

If you are experiencing symptoms of alcohol withdrawal, it may be a sign that you are abusing alcohol and have developed a dependence on it. There are methods to get help and support if you or a loved one are experiencing alcohol withdrawal symptoms.

Detox

A medically-assisted alcohol withdrawal program may be the most effective method of overcoming an alcohol addiction for people experiencing severe or prolonged withdrawal symptoms. 

Detoxification from alcohol takes place in an inpatient facility, where medical specialists can provide round-the-clock care and assist you in managing your unpleasant withdrawal symptoms. Medications such as chlordiazepoxide or diazepam will likely be used to reduce the severity of symptoms and maintain your health.

Patients often remain in the residential inpatient environment for alcohol recovery after detoxification. Here, you may concentrate only on long-term recovery from addiction, engaging in counseling, support groups, and other types of treatment designed to produce lasting results.

Therapy

Therapies, such as cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT), dialectical behavior therapy (DBT), and eye movement desensitization and reprocessing (EMDR), can help alcoholics identify and address the underlying causes of alcoholism. 

After detox, you are still at risk of relapsing, particularly if you are exposed to triggers that make you want to drink to cope. Typical factors for relapses include stressful life events and flashbacks of past traumas.

Understanding and resolving the issues that lead to your addiction, as well as developing coping mechanisms for future triggers, can be accomplished via therapy. Addiction therapy can be done on an individual, family, or group basis.

Aftercare

Addiction recovery is a continuous process. Aftercare programs continue to assist individuals after they have completed their original course of treatment, allowing them to benefit from a network of empathic people who aid in long-term abstinence. Secondary care, which assists patients in returning to normalcy after their first treatment, is also an effective means of ensuring that their recovery is long-lasting.

Prevention

The most effective method of preventing alcohol withdrawal syndrome is to abstain from alcohol or to use it in moderation.

The official definition of moderate drinking is one drink or fewer per day for women and two drinks or less per day for men. However, a person with an alcohol use disorder (AUD) can prevent specific withdrawal symptoms by seeing a doctor about safe withdrawal.

Risk factors for AUD include a family history of alcohol issues, depression and other mental health disorders, and genetic factors.

Those who suspect they have an alcohol use disorder (AUD) or are dependent on alcohol must get professional help immediately.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

How does your body feel when you quit drinking?

The body goes through withdrawal symptoms after you suddenly quit drinking. Withdrawal symptoms may include sweating, tremors, sleep disturbances, a fast heartbeat, nausea and vomiting, hallucinations, anxiety, restlessness, and even convulsions.

What are common signs & symptoms of withdrawal?

The most common withdrawal symptoms include:

– Anxiety
– Intense cravings for the drug
– Seizures
– Rapid heart rate
– Depression
– Irritability and agitation
– hallucinations
– shaking/shivering
– Insomnia
– Difficulty focusing or concentrating
– Confusion

How long after you stop drinking do you feel the effects?

Withdrawal symptoms are likely to begin within the first twenty-four hours after quitting alcohol. Depending on the individual and the frequency with which they use alcohol, they may start as early as two hours after their last drink.

How long does it take your brain to go back to normal after stopping drinking?

According to current studies, it takes at least two weeks for the brain to begin returning to normal, which is the starting point for the alcohol recovery timeline. The brain is less able to resist the impulse to drink until it has fully recovered. This is because alcohol impairs the brain’s cognitive function.

The Haven Detox Can Help You Through Withdrawal Phase

Although going through alcohol withdrawal can be uncomfortable, it is an essential step on the road to recovery. Alcohol withdrawal is a safer and less complicated procedure under medical specialists’ guidance.

The Haven Detox provides various addiction treatment options that may be customized to meet your specific needs, including the most cutting-edge alcohol rehab care. The Haven offers assistance to many people who are battling addiction and works with them to create a better future under the direction of a top-notch team of medical experts, including doctors, therapists, and other healthcare professionals.

If you or your loved one is dealing with alcohol addiction, we are here to help you with various treatment options, such as detox, inpatient treatment, aftercare, and more. Contact us at (561) 328-8627 today!

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