If you are a long-term alcohol user and thinking about stopping, you should avoid the “cold turkey” approach.
Abruptly stopping alcohol use or cutting back on your consumption will lead to acute alcohol withdrawal (AW). In some instances, the withdrawal symptoms are relatively mild. In other instances, they can be quite severe. Once the acute withdrawal symptoms have stopped, it’s not uncommon for someone to experience protracted withdrawal symptoms that can affect mood, behavior, and physiology.
Mild Symptoms of Alcohol Withdrawal
The first symptoms of alcohol withdrawal can begin as early as six hours after the peak of intoxication was reached. These initial symptoms include the following:
For person with a mild level of alcohol dependence, this may represent the extent of the withdrawal symptoms. If this is the case, they may subside without medical treatment after a few days.
Serious Alcohol Withdrawal Symptoms
Approximately 10 percent of the time, more serious alcohol withdrawal syndrome symptoms occur. Sweating, low-grade fever, and rapid breathing are common. However, seizures and Delirium Tremens (DTs) are of particular concern.
Seizures occurring due to alcohol withdrawal generally happen within the first 48 hours after the last drink has been consumed. This type of seizure usually involves the affected person having convulsions and muscle contractions, as opposed to the type of seizure that starts with a limb twitching.
The likelihood of having an alcohol withdrawal-related seizure increases with the number of times a person has undergone withdrawal. The severity of the seizures also increases with the number of withdrawal sessions. The relationship between the number of seizures and the number of times someone has been through alcohol withdrawal has been linked to changes in an alcoholic’s brain over time due to long-term exposure to alcohol.
Delirium Tremens (DTs) is a severe complication that occurs one to four days after the onset of withdrawal symptoms in people who have been drinking to excess for several years. Symptoms include disorientation, mental confusion, and hallucinations. This is a potentially fatal complication with a mortality rate of 5-25 percent.
An alcoholic who has to stop drinking suddenly while awaiting medical treatment or surgery may experience DTs when regular alcohol consumption is suddenly cut off. Medical staff need to be alert for these symptoms, even in patients who may not admit to or be suspected of alcoholism.
Psychological Symptoms Related to Alcohol Withdrawal
Along with physical symptoms related to alcohol withdrawal, an alcoholic may also experience psychological symptoms such as anxiety, depression, and altered perception due to sleep deprivation.
Anxiety disorders produce symptoms like extreme fear in those affected by them. A person living with an anxiety problem may also experience shallow, hyperventilation, and heart palpitations.
In small amounts, alcohol use can make a user feel less anxious. For this reason, it is often used by those who wish to self-medicate. Over a long time, however, alcohol has the opposite effect. It makes symptoms of anxiety more pronounced and difficult to cope with.
Alcohol is often referred to as a depressant. Signs of depression can be observed in someone who is intoxicated or undergoing alcohol detox. As many as 15 percent of alcoholics die by suicide. Recent consumption of alcohol is a factor that increases the likelihood of success in taking one’s own life.
Sleep Disturbances Linked to Withdrawal
More than one type of sleep disturbance can contribute to sleep deprivation for a person undergoing alcohol withdrawal. These include insomnia, frequent waking at night, restless sleep, and night terrors.
Failure to get a good night’s sleep leads to excessive drowsiness during the day. As the sleep disturbances continue, their effects become more noticeable during daytime hours. It becomes more difficult to focus and process information.
Medically-Supervised Detox at Great Oaks Recovery
Great Oaks Recovery offers onsite detoxification services. Members of our medical team, which includes specially trained nurses, are available on a 24-hour basis to provide ongoing care. Clients also work with a therapist during detox, who provides support and guidance throughout the process.