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Humans tend to have habits. Everyone has his own habits they seem to find difficult to stop. Some bad habits need some adjusting to get rid of, and in some cases, you’ll get some withdrawal symptoms and you’ll struggle to stop doing whatever that habit is.

You might be a habitual procrastinator, and you’ll find yourself feeling uneasy when you do everything on time and you’ll struggle.

If you or a loved one requires an alcohol detox, contact Rehab 4 Addiction now on 0800 140 4690.

Addiction, however, is a different animal altogether. It’s a bad habit, without having any control over your behaviour yourself. In many different cases, one might struggle with withdrawal symptoms, depending on your level of addiction of course.

Alcohol Withdrawal Syndrome (AWS) is when a heavy drinker, suddenly stops drinking. It will impact someone both physically and mentally. Depending on the level of addiction, you might suffer from things like mild anxiety or things like Delirium Tremens, which is a serious condition.

Defining alcohol withdrawal

Alcohol withdrawal occurs when an alcoholic suddenly stops drinking, resulting in symptoms that range from mild to severe during detoxification. In cases of severe long-term alcohol addiction, it may be fatal. Withdrawal is most common in adults but can also occur in teenagers or children.

While a night of drinking may produce similar initial symptoms, alcohol withdrawal syndrome typically stems from heavy drinking over a long period of time. For some, drinking for months or even weeks then stopping abruptly can cause acute alcohol withdrawal symptoms. For others, years of alcohol abuse can trigger more serious side effects.

Why does alcohol withdrawal occur?

Alcohol withdrawal symptoms occur in response to altering neurotransmitters in the brain. When a person drinks, the relaxed, friendly feelings alcohol inspires is actually due to the brain increasing the amount of its chief inhibitory neurotransmitter known as gamma-Aminobutyric acid (GABA). GABA is the neurotransmitter that halts impulses between the brain’s nerve cells.

Continuously depressing the central nervous system and altering brain chemistry with alcohol abuse creates dependency on the substance to feel good again. In addition, over time an alcoholic will need more drinks in one sitting to feel the desired effects, worsening the outcome on their body.

When an addict decides to go into recovery, the body does not immediately know how to respond to the chemical imbalance. Through years of alcohol dependency, the brain naturally stops producing normal levels of GABA and patients suffering from alcohol withdrawal often feel anxious, shaky and sick.

During the uncomfortable process, doctors may prescribe medications to reduce symptom severity.

Psychological Alcohol withdrawal symptoms

Many alcohol dependants will come across many mental health symptoms during their withdrawal stage. Depression, anxiety, and irritability are some of the most common. However, these are underlying issues most of the time that could have driven one to drink.

A lot of people who have been suffering from anxiety and depression self-medicate with alcohol, which could cause a vicious cycle to happen. Drinking alcohol might help someone with depression or anxiety in the short term, but binge drinking will lower the serotonin levels in your brain after a few hours, which regulates the feeling of happiness in your brain.

Explains Withdrawal Symptoms

You would feel even worse the next day, and it would push you to drink more, which in turn would exacerbate your mental health issue. After a period of prolonged drinking, your serotonin levels would be at a very low point, which they could develop into a full depression.

Restlessness and insomnia are some of the other well-known withdrawal symptoms. There are many reasons why one could suffer from insomnia during withdrawal. It might be a direct result of the depression caused by the lack of serotonin in your brain. Many people with depression will struggle with sleeping.

Not only will alcohol lower your serotonin levels, but also that of another chemical in your brain, dopamine. Dopamine is linked to your motivation levels and reinforcing pleasure.

If you struggle to fall asleep, it’s most likely cause you have a low level of these, which will, in turn, makes you less tired and you’ll be up all night before you know it.

If you or a loved one requires an alcohol detox, contact Rehab 4 Addiction now on 0800 140 4690.

Physical alcohol withdrawal symptoms

The ‘shakes’ is one of the most documented and well-known alcohol withdrawal symptoms, a lot of alcohol addicts come across. After a period of heavy and prolonged drinking, one might start experiencing body tremors. Alcoholism and alcohol abuse cause tremors in diverse ways.

In many cases, shaking from alcohol withdrawal is a physiologic tremor, which disappears after you complete the withdrawal process. Extreme emotions can increase physiologic tremors, so if you are anxious about withdrawal and detox, the trembling might be stronger.

How Long Symptoms Last

Shaking will also occur because alcohol abuse has damaged your nerve cells. Alcohol is considered a depressant, by reducing activities in your brain. Your brain becomes gradually more used to that consistent low level of stimulation as one maintains a heavy or frequent drinking habit.

Once you stop drinking, your brain gets stimulated with more activity than it is ready for. Your nervous system feels overwhelmed, and hyperactivity symptoms like shaking and tremors as a result.

Other withdrawal symptoms are night sweats for instance. This is because the alcohol is being broken down through sweating in your body. Only 10 per cent of the alcohol in your body goes out through your urine.

The rest will be broken down through metabolism working throughout your body. Therefore, after stopping drinking, your body will try and push and sweat all the alcohol out of the body.

If you or a loved one requires an alcohol detox, contact Rehab 4 Addiction now on 0800 140 4690.

Acute Alcohol Withdrawal

Acute Alcohol Withdrawal refers to the common physical symptoms recovering alcoholics experience in the first few weeks after abstaining from alcohol. While some symptoms cause discomfort, others can have serious consequences.

Th symptom of acute alcohol withdrawal include:

  • Anxiety
  • Shakiness
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Muscle tremors
  • Agitation
  • Dizziness
  • Headache
  • High blood pressure
  • Insomnia
  • Fever
  • Dilated pupils
  • Increased heart rate
  • Sweating
  • Disorientation
  • Hallucinations

Severe side effects of alcohol withdrawal

The alcohol withdrawal stage may also include severe symptoms in long-term heavy drinkers. In some cases, improperly handling the detoxification stage can prove fatal so long-term alcoholics should always seek medical help during the process.

1. Delirium Tremens

Delirium Tremens is a severe side effect of alcohol withdrawal that is marked by sudden confusion. It typically occurs 48 to 72 hours after abstaining from alcohol and lasts two to three days.

However, symptoms of the condition may arise up to 10 days after the last drink. During this time, patients may experience shakiness, increased heart rate, profuse sweating and auditory, visual or tactile hallucinations. [1]

The disorienting condition occurs when the nervous system and brain go into a state of shock. When a patient experiences Delirium Tremens, the chemical imbalance resulting from alcohol abstinence leaves the body incapable of properly responding to outside stimuli.

For most patients, the sensation will pass within a few days. In rare cases, long-term heavy alcoholics who fail to receive treatment can die from the condition if the neurotransmitter issues and increased glutamate levels overexcite the nervous system.

In a 2018 Upstate Medical University study, researchers concluded that the mortality rate for Delirium Tremens is less than 5 percent and is affected by factors like age and other health issues [2].

2. Seizures

Seizures occasionally occur as a side effect of Delirium Tremens. However, seizures can occur outside the presence of the condition as well.

With alcohol withdrawal, generalized tonic-clonic seizures and partial seizures are triggered in the brainstem and cause symptoms like blackouts, stiffness and intense jerking motions. Researchers differentiate these seizures from epileptic-style seizures because they are not triggered in the neocortex part of the brain.

Is it safe to do it on my own, withdrawing from alcohol?

It absolutely is not. The above-mentioned symptoms are minor compared to what some heavy drinkers can develop. For instance, delirium tremens. This is a serious condition, and the symptoms are all of the above, but much worse.

You could possibly die if you decide to suddenly withdraw from alcohol. We advise you to find a rehabilitation clinic and do this under the supervision of health professionals.

How long will it take for me to withdraw from alcohol?

The timeline can differ per person. There are many people who could take a while before they feel normal again. Some people will only have the symptoms for a few days. This varies per person, but the average heavy alcoholic will suffer from three stages of withdrawal.

Stage 1: The mild period, after 8 hours of not drinking

One might suffer from mild symptoms like anxiety, insomnia, nausea, abdominal pain and/or vomiting, loss of appetite, fatigue, tremors, depression, foggy thinking, mood swings, and heart palpitations.

Stage 2: The moderate period, after 24 hours of not drinking

Most withdrawal symptoms will be; increased blood pressure, body temperature and respiration, irregular heart rate, mental confusion, sweating, irritability, and heightened mood disturbances

Stage 3: Severe/delirium tremens, after 72 hours of not drinking

Hallucinations, fever, seizures, severe confusion, and agitation.

After 3-5 days, most of the alcohol withdrawal symptoms should be gone. If you would like to read more information on how to get help for alcohol detox and rehab, visit our homepage.

Alternatively, you can make an appointment with your GP, who can help you find a free clinic if you cannot afford one.

alcohol-withdrawal-symptoms-infographic

What is PAWS?

PAWS refers to Post-Acute Withdrawal Symptoms. Typically, alcohol withdrawal symptoms subside after the first two weeks of abstinence. However, some patients suffer from PAWS for the first year of their recovery.

During this time, Post-Acute Withdrawal patients may experience symptoms like mood swings, lack of energy and motivation, memory issues, balance problems, delayed reflexes, regular nausea and depression. Symptoms typically come in waves, lasting days at a time.

Extended treatment is especially important for patients experiencing PAWS because they are more likely to relapse during the first year as symptoms seem never-ending. However, if patients continue to abstain, symptoms typically reduce and disappear over time.

Diagnosing alcohol withdrawal

When diagnosing alcohol withdrawal, doctors start by observing a patient’s appearance and asking questions about their medical history and alcohol consumption habits.

A toxicology screening with blood and urine tests is also common to determine the amount of alcohol in a patient’s system.

After conducting basic tests, doctors often consult the Clinical Institute Withdrawal Assessment for Alcohol to determine a patient’s score and thus the severity of their withdrawal symptoms.

Clinical Institute Withdrawal Assessment for Alcohol

The Clinical Institute Withdrawal Assessment for Alcohol questions patients about various symptoms including nausea and vomiting, tremors, paroxysmal sweats, anxiety, tactile disturbances, auditory disturbances, visual disturbances, headache and fullness in head, agitation and orientation or clouding of sensorium.

Each category has up to seven options available to describe the symptom prevalence and severity.

A score of 67 is considered the most severe case of alcohol withdrawal, while a score over 20 is considered a severe case where Delirium Tremens becomes possible.

Scores from 16 to 20 are considered moderate level symptoms and scores from 10 to 15 constitute mild symptoms. The test explains scores under 10 typically do not need medications to assist with recovery [3]

Treatments for alcohol withdrawal

Patients experiencing minor to moderate alcohol withdrawal symptoms can typically manage symptoms by rehydrating and avoiding high sensory outputs like loud sounds and bright lights. They may also benefit from a sedative prescription to better handle the stressful period.

Patients suffering from strong to severe alcohol withdrawal symptoms should consider further treatment options to ensure a safe and lasting recovery.

These include undergoing a residential treatment program, working with a specialist to develop a medication-assisted therapy strategy, seeking additional outpatient centres and counselling programs and possibly moving to a sober living community.

1. Residential treatment

In-patient residential treatment is best for long-term heavy drinkers who need medical supervision during the detoxification process and the following weeks. Residential treatment programs are best for struggling recovering addicts because they keep patients safe and away from alcohol, monitoring their needs and progress 24 hours a day.

In addition to helping alcoholics recover and return to physical health. these programs typically have licensed therapists on hand to help patients sort out the mental aspects of addiction. Residential treatment programs usually last for 30, 60 or 90 days to jumpstart a patient’s recovery.

2. Medication-assisted therapy

Medication-assisted therapy is often used in conjunction with hospitalized or residential treatment. Doctors treating alcohol withdrawal patients may prescribe sedatives, pain medications or other pills to avoid distracting symptoms and further complications like seizures.

3. Outpatient treatment and counselling

Following a 30, 60 or 90 day program, recovering alcoholics are vulnerable in their new state of sobriety. Outpatient treatment centres are intended to keep former alcoholics on the path of recovery. These facilities typically offer additional educational resources and individual. group or family counselling services to help patients cope with recovery without relapse.

4. Alcoholics Anonymous

In addition to the counselling programs offered through outpatient treatment centres, Alcoholics Anonymous offers weekly meetings to bring recovering and recovered alcoholics together with a sense of community and sober contacts. AA follows a 12-step program that emphasizes a person’s desire to quit drinking, self-forgiveness and making amends with people harmed by their bad drinking habits.

5. Sober Living

Sober living offers recovering alcoholics a sober community to go home to if they are serious about a life change. These communities rely on the notion that peer support is invaluable, with recovering addicts possessing the unique capability to understand each other’s compulsions. With encouraged meeting attendance and peer support, sober living helps former alcoholics stay on course and foster healthier friendships and lifestyles.

Is it possible to detox from alcohol and recover on your own?

While it is possible to nurse minor alcohol withdrawal symptoms from home, doing so often negates the seriousness of alcohol dependence and only defers the problem.

Eventually, withdrawal symptoms worsen with alcohol abuse and detoxification will require medical intervention. In cases where symptoms are already advanced, not seeking medical attention can lead to serious complications and even be fatal.

In addition, recovery beyond the detoxification period should not be handled alone. A 2006 study from the National Library of Medicine found that recovering addicts who attempted to recover alone displayed unhealthy coping mechanisms were less likely to reach the three-year sober mark and were more likely to relapse within 16 years than recovering alcoholics who attended subsequent outpatient, counselling or 12-step programs [4].

Fighting fear during recovery

While alcohol withdrawal is serious, it is not something to be afraid of. Learning about alcohol’s harmful effects, choosing to undergo treatment and finding a supportive network allows patients to recover with the resources they need.

In addition to the resources and treatment options above, recovering alcoholics should also seek healthier lifestyle choices like a nutritious diet and exercise plan including stress-relieving activities like yoga. In addition to restoring self-connection, these healthier habits can bring recovering addicts a sense of happiness and purpose.

Contact Rehab 4 Addiction today in confidence

Our alcohol detox programme is available to NHS and privately paying patients. We also accept payment by way of a medical insurance policy.

Allow our team of qualified experts to steer you towards an alcohol-free future. Call Rehab 4 Addiction today on 0800 140 4690 or complete the enquiry form.

References

[1] https://www.mdedge.com/ccjm/article/105413/critical-care/alcohol-withdrawal-syndrome-medical-patients

[2] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK482134/

[3] https://umem.org/files/uploads/1104212257_CIWA-Ar.pdf

[4] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1976118/