Beer Withdrawal

Beer. We see it everywhere – on television, billboards, and countless other places. It’s advertised, glamorized, and embraced casually by society as a whole. According to a 2015 study, close to 60% of people over the age of 18 reported drinking alcohol within the past month, with beer undoubtedly being the drink of choice in many cases. It’s associated with many activities in American culture including drinking games and happy hours.

Beer Withdrawal - 3 young men sit on a couch drinking beer and eating pizza. The two men on either side high five each other over the other man who looks disappointed.

While beer often touts a relatively low alcohol content, the fact that it can be a dangerous and addictive substance goes unnoticed for many. This article will take a closer look at beer and how it can lead to alcohol addiction. This addiction can lead to beer withdrawal, which seems more prevalent than it might seem.  

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About Beer

Beer is an alcoholic drink comprised of water, barley, hops, and yeast. Its alcohol content is usually relatively low, generally remaining in the range of two to twelve percent, with most common beers falling between the four to six percent range. For most people, it takes three to five beers to be considered over the legal limit to drive.

As beer culture becomes increasingly prevalent in America, we see a rise in craft beers, microbreweries, and home brewers. While people may be happy to see an increase in quality beers and exotic flavors, these domestic drafts often have a higher alcohol content – sometimes as high as 11 or 12 percent.

How Beer Works in the Body

Although beer seems relatively harmless, it actually affects every organ in the body. It depresses the central nervous system causing drowsiness, lightheadedness, dizziness, and a loss of coordination. It can also decrease inhibition and increase aggressiveness, which can cloud judgment and result in poor decision making.

Drinking beer excessively can cause vomiting, nausea, a loss of consciousness, and even death if alcohol poisoning occurs. It can also cause birth defects and complications in pregnant women. One study showed that less than one day a week of maternal alcohol intake resulted in twice the risk for certain defects

How Much Beer Does It Take to Become Addicted

The amount of beer it takes to become addicted differs from person to person, and depends on a number of factors. For example, a man who drinks 15 or more beers a week runs the risk of becoming addicted, while for women, this number may be closer to 12. Anyone who consumes five or more alcoholic beverages every time they drink runs the risk of becoming addicted.

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Beer Withdrawal Symptoms

Think of these as the side effects when you stop drinking. When a person experiences withdrawal symptoms when abstaining, this is generally a good indicator of addiction. Withdrawal can occur when someone stops drinking alcohol, whether it is temporary or permanent. Beer withdrawal symptoms can range from mild to severe, but are typically more pronounced in someone who has drank more and for a longer amount of time. Here are some examples of beer withdrawal symptoms:

Mild or Minor Beer Withdrawal Symptoms: These usually begin to occur within 24 hours of when a person has had their last drink. They include shaking, insomnia, anxiety, panic, twitching, sweating, elevated pulse or blood pressure, and an upset stomach.

Moderate or Intermediate Beer Withdrawal Symptoms: These typically occur within 24-36 hours of when the last drink was consumed. They include more intense anxiety, tremors, insomnia, seizures, hallucination, high blood pressure, and racing pulse.

Severe or Major Beer Withdrawal Symptoms (aka Delirium Tremens): These symptoms usually occur within 48 hours of the last drink and are characterized by disorientation, rapid breathing, tremulousness, intense sweating, hallucinations, racing heart, fever, irregular heartbeat, and blood pressure spikes.

These effects are likely to occur in people who have remained drunk for an extended period of time, or reliably consumed alcohol on a daily basis over a long duration.

Beer withdrawal can be dangerous to those who have high blood pressure, as it will raise blood pressure even further. These people put themselves at risk for a heart attack or stroke. To mitigate these risks, the American Heart Association insists on a maximum of one drink a day for women, and two drinks a day for men. 

What Causes Beer Withdrawal

Beer withdrawal is caused by neurotransmitter rebound. The main neurotransmitter system that is affected by beer is the GABA (gamma-aminobutyric acid) system. When GABA receptors are affected by beer, it causes them to activate, resulting in feelings of calmness and happiness. When they are exposed to alcohol for long periods of time, it becomes more difficult to achieve this desired state. When the alcohol is no longer present, the receptors become desensitized and respond weakly to the presence of GABA, resulting in anxiety, panic, and insomnia.

Simultaneously, the brain tries to counterbalance its neurochemistry by producing adrenaline and other similar neurotransmitters. When the alcohol is taken away, adrenaline is still produced, but the absence of alcohol’s oppositional effect causes it to run rampant in the brain causing things like anxiety and high blood pressure.

Avoiding Beer Withdrawal

Withdrawal poses a hurdle for those looking overcome beer addiction. However, there are ways to wean yourself and keep withdrawal symptoms to a minimum. One way is to taper use slowly. This can be done by drinking just enough beer to eliminate symptoms and creating a schedule for yourself to follow while tapering.  However, it is difficult to know exactly how much to drink to eliminate symptoms while also avoiding relapse into heavier drinking.

To safely and effectively get over your addiction, rehab may be your best option. Alcohol detox can provide you with withdrawal experts who will make sure that you get through the withdrawal process as comfortably as possible with drastically reduced risk of relapse. It’s important to note that alcohol withdrawal can be deadly, and should be done under the care and supervision of a medical staff to mitigate serious health risks.

Longer term addiction care in an alcohol rehab facility can also provide you with therapy that can help identify issues that led to your addiction so the problem can be treated at its root. 

Beer can seem like a harmless, recreational commodity that helps people loosen up during social events or stressful times, but the potential for danger and addiction when drinking is excessive is not to be underestimated. If you suspect that you or a loved one is struggling with beer or alcohol addiction of any kind, seek out help immediately to stop dependence in its tracks.

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