What Happens During Alcohol Withdrawal
Table of Contents
- What Happens During Alcohol Withdrawal
- Alcohol Withdrawal & the Characteristics of Drunks
- Alcohol, What is it?
- How Does Alcohol Affect The Body?
- What Is Alcohol Addiction?
- Alcohol Withdrawal and the Characteristics of Drunks
- So What Happens During Alcohol Withdrawal?
- It Really Depends on the Type of Drinker
- Alcohol Withdrawal and the Nervous System
- Hence, Why Detox and Treatment Are So Crucial
- Inpatient and Outpatient Treatment
- The Types Of Treatment Programs
- The Long Term
- Freedom From Alcohol: Found Here!
- Medically Reviewed By
We have all heard it at meetings, drinking alcohol used to be fun. It starts out for everyone as something that could make us feel confident, funny, coordinated, and sexy. What happens during alcohol withdrawal for those of us who are real alcoholics, is that over time, drinking becomes less a leisurely activity, and turns into an absolute necessity. Our bodies and minds begin to rely upon it, until one day, we try to stop drinking and realize that are unable to – either because of the alcohol addiction or because of the torture of the alcohol withdrawal.
At this point, we are officially in a pickle. Keep reading to find out about ways to avoid the worst effects of alcohol withdrawals and how to find lasting sobriety!
Alcohol Withdrawal & the Characteristics of Drunks
Alcohol has been around for thousands of years with evidence tracing it back to the stone age over 10,000 years ago. It is safe to assume that people have been abusing the drink since then, and ancient texts even discuss the characteristics of drunks and the decline of their mental and physical health over time.
Every year, thousands of people are hospitalized or die due to alcohol-related causes, and alcohol withdrawal is well known to be the most potentially fatal detox process. This is why it is ABSOLUTELY CRUCIAL to seek professional detoxification after a heavy binge and alcoholic drinking.
Alcohol, What is it?
Alcohol is a chemical found in beer, wine, and distilled spirits like whiskey and rum. It’s also present in some non-alcoholic beverages, including mouthwashes and perfumes.
Alcohol is a depressant that acts on the central nervous system (CNS). The CNS controls much of the body’s functions, including breathing and heart rate. Alcohol can affect each person differently, depending on how much they drink, their size, and how much food they’ve eaten before drinking.
Alcohol is toxic to the human body. Alcohol poisoning occurs when someone drinks too much alcohol too quickly — usually more than four drinks in two hours for men or three drinks in two hours for women — which can lead to coma or death.
When people drink alcohol regularly over time, they build up a tolerance for it. That means they need more alcohol to feel its effects. As a result, binging becomes more likely because an abuser will try to catch up with what he or she missed while sobering up from the last episode of intoxication or hangover.
How Does Alcohol Affect The Body?
Long-term alcohol consumption is associated with substantial health problems. Alcohol has serious physical and mental health effects. It interferes with the brain’s communication pathways, which is why it’s so easy to develop alcohol dependence. Some of the most common severe symptoms of an alcohol use disorder are:
- Liver damage. Alcohol abuse can lead to liver inflammation (alcoholic hepatitis), fibrosis (scarring), and cirrhosis (permanent liver damage).
- Heart disease. Heavy drinking is associated with high blood pressure, heart failure, and stroke.
- Cancer risk. Alcohol increases the risk of cancers of the mouth, throat, esophagus, and liver disease.
- Psychological effects. Alcohol abuse can lead to or make worse mental disorders like depression, anxiety, insomnia, and other mental health problems.
Severe alcohol dependence may also affect fertility in both men and women. Men who drink heavily have lower testosterone levels than those who do not drink or drink less heavily. Women who drink heavily may be more likely to experience menstrual irregularity and infertility than women who do not drink heavily.
What Is Alcohol Addiction?
Alcohol addiction is a disease that affects the brain and behavior. Alcohol affects the way the brain works by changing its chemical makeup. This can make it difficult to stop drinking once the habit has begun.
Alcohol is a drug, which means that if you drink too much over time, your body can become dependent on it. This is why alcoholism is classified as an “alcohol use disorder” or a habit of “drug abuse”. Alcohol dependence means that you develop tolerance to the substance and need more of it to achieve the desired effect.
Tolerance can be physical or psychological. Physical tolerance occurs when your body becomes accustomed to a certain amount of alcohol so that larger amounts are needed to produce the same effect. Psychological dependence occurs when you become psychologically dependent on alcohol so that you have an uncontrollable desire for it and cannot function without it.
If you are dependent on alcohol, you may experience alcohol withdrawal symptoms if you suddenly stop drinking or reduce your drinking significantly. Alcohol withdrawal syndrome symptoms differ depending on how long you have been drinking heavily and the type of alcoholic beverage consumed.
Alcohol Withdrawal and the Characteristics of Drunks
Alcohol withdrawal is an extremely dangerous, potentially life-threatening condition that occurs when people with a history of alcohol dependence abruptly stop drinking. If you have ever had an alcohol problem, chances are that you will experience the severe symptoms of alcohol withdrawal at some point in your life.
Alcohol withdrawal can occur after just a few days without drinking and is often unpredictable. It can range from mild symptoms to severe withdrawal and can include symptoms such as mild anxiety, insomnia, tremors (shakes), hallucinations, alcohol withdrawal seizures, and more.
The symptoms are often mistaken for other conditions, so it’s important to seek medical attention and alcoholism treatment as soon as possible if you think you may be having alcohol withdrawal symptoms.
The severity of symptoms depends on factors such as how long it has been since your last drink and how extensive your chronic alcohol use was, on average, each day. The length of time between your last drink and onset of withdrawal may also play a role in determining how severe, or life-threatening, your symptoms are.
So What Happens During Alcohol Withdrawal?
Alcohol Withdrawal Syndrome is what comes shortly after stopping the consumption of alcohol for a prolonged period. The Alcohol withdrawal timeline can be broken down into 3 phases, beginning anywhere from 6 to 24 hours after the last drink. They are:
Anxiety, insomnia, nausea, abdominal pain and/or vomiting, loss of appetite, fatigue, tremors, depression, foggy thinking, mood swings, and heart palpitations.
- This stage of alcohol withdrawal usually occurs anywhere between 6-8 hours after the last drink for someone who drinks excessively
- This is usually the stage of acute alcohol withdrawal in which an alcoholic, who is not detoxing, will just go out and get another drink to combat the continuation of the withdrawal process. All this really does is result in prolonged symptoms. Those of us who drank heavily are well aware of the “Hair of the Dog” method, and how a stiff drink will calm the shakes and the headaches. In essence, this is how alcohol dependency and alcohol use disorders are allowed to thrive.
Increased blood pressure, body temperature and respiration, irregular heart rate, mental confusion, sweating, irritability, and heightened mood disturbances.
- Occurring anywhere between 1-3 days after the last drink
- The increased blood pressure and heart rate here are what bring about the most damage. As the alcohol level suddenly drops, this can send the body into a state of shock, and if enough damage has been created through drinking, many of the organs here can go into the beginning stages of failure. These are some of the more serious symptoms of withdrawal syndrome.
Hallucinations, fever, seizures, severe confusion, and agitation
- Occurring anywhere from 3 days to a week, and potentially lasting several weeks or permanently if left untreated.
- This is primarily the stage in which people develop delirium tremens or a wet brain. Although many of the physical effects will subside, it is possible for many of the psychological effects to become permanent. These are very serious medical and psychiatric conditions.
It Really Depends on the Type of Drinker
Not everyone who consumes alcohol will experience withdrawal symptoms. It depends largely on a multitude of factors that can either lessen or increase the severity of the alcohol withdrawal such as:
Frequency and amount ingested, medical history, co-occurring disorders, stress levels, amount of time alcohol abuse has been present, presence of any drug use or prescription medications, etc.
The timeline will also be slightly different for each person, but these 3 stages have been shown to be the most common in heavy drinkers.
Alcohol Withdrawal and the Nervous System
By in large, alcohol is a depressant, although sometimes it can feel like a stimulant. That feeling of euphoria and loss of inhibition is actually a numbing and suppression of the area of the brain that controls these feelings. Over time, with excessive drinking, comes excessive numbing of the brain and nervous system.
As alcohol use increases, the body adjusts by slowing down its functions. This can lead to serious health problems when a person suddenly stops drinking alcohol. The central nervous system continues to slow down even after a person stops drinking alcohol. This can cause severe symptoms of withdrawal, which can last for weeks or months after stopping alcohol use.
This is why, when a person stops drinking, insomnia, anxiety, tremors, mood swings, and blood pressure all go out of whack.
Hence, Why Detox and Treatment Are So Crucial
There are a lot of drugs out there that, while alcohol detox makes the process easier, could sometimes be safe enough to treat withdrawal from on the couch at home. However, for people who struggle with drinking, or even drink excessively in combination with other drugs, detox is the safest bet every single time.
Not only do detox facilities and treatment centers have staff on hand around the clock, but they also ensure that there are trained medical professionals either on the property or on call, in case of any emergencies. Most detox facilities do rounds every few hours to ensure that the blood pressure, respiration, temperature, and heart rate are all normal.
Detox and treatment programs also provide the option of highly monitored and professionally administered prescription medications that can stabilize and alleviate many of the physical and mental side effects of drug and alcohol withdrawal.
Most people that come in for alcohol abuse are highly malnourished and suffer from nutritional deficiencies. Medical detox can help get the person back into a routine eating schedule, with healthy foods and supplements. A good diet, in conjunction with enough rest, can help alleviate the severe withdrawal symptoms dramatically.
Inpatient and Outpatient Treatment
Inpatient alcohol treatment is a type of substance abuse treatment that requires patients to live at the facility while they undergo treatment. The length of an inpatient stay can vary, but it typically lasts from 30 days to 90 days. In this type of treatment, patients receive around-the-clock care from doctors, nurses, and other medical professionals. They also meet with counselors on a regular basis to discuss their progress and address any issues that may arise.
Inpatient alcohol rehab is appropriate for people with severe cases of alcoholism or drug addiction who need intense help breaking their habits and management of alcohol withdrawal. The goal is for patients to get sober and stay that way after leaving the facility. This can be difficult if they return home or go back to environments where drugs or alcohol are easily accessible.
The goal of inpatient care is to help people recover from their addiction so they can return home and lead a sober life again.
Outpatient alcohol rehab treatment is a less intensive form of addiction treatment that allows you to continue your daily routine. You’ll attend group therapy sessions and receive counseling, but you’ll also have the freedom to do things like go to work or run errands during the day. The goal of outpatient rehab is to help you maintain your current lifestyle while providing you with the tools and resources needed to stay sober long-term.
Because outpatient alcohol rehab provides flexibility, it allows patients to continue living their lives as usual while receiving treatment for their addiction. This form of treatment gives individuals the opportunity to learn from others who have struggled with similar issues and overcome them through encouragement and support from other members in their group therapy sessions as well as their counselors who work with them one-on-one throughout their recovery process.
Whether you choose inpatient or outpatient therapy treatment is a complicated decision that can rely on many factors including to what extent is the client experiencing withdrawal symptoms, how severe the alcohol addiction is, and more. Also, it should be noted that, in general, inpatient care can be more expensive than outpatient programs.
The Types Of Treatment Programs
Alcohol Withdrawal Syndrome is one aspect of the treatment that must be considered. It is important to remember that withdrawal symptoms, in and of themselves, are but a single element of addiction. The importance of mental health services to truly cure drug abuse habits cannot be understated.
The truth is that, in many cases, underlying trauma and mental illness has played a significant role in driving an individual down the road of alcohol addiction. For this reason, many treatment plans comprise a suite of services intended to result in long-term sobriety by addressing all facets of life that have caused the addiction in the first place.
Detox is the first step in the rehabilitation process. The purpose of detox is to safely withdraw an individual from drugs or alcohol so that they can begin their recovery program. Detoxification is a medical procedure that can help individuals overcome physical dependence on drugs or alcohol.
The detoxification process typically lasts anywhere from three to 10 days, depending on the severity of your addiction and other factors. It involves gradually reducing your intake of alcohol or other substances until you’re ready to stop using altogether.
If you’ve been drinking heavily for some time, your body has built up a tolerance to alcohol. When you suddenly stop drinking, your body may go into shock and react as if it’s under attack. This can cause physical symptoms such as vomiting, sweating, and shaking. Stabilizing your body after stopping drug or alcohol use. This may involve medications that ease withdrawal symptoms and other physical problems, such as vomiting or diarrhea.
Therapy is a crucial part of the alcohol rehabilitation process. Alcoholics and addicts often have deep-seated emotional issues that need to be addressed. Therapy can help them work through these issues so they can move forward in their recovery process. Therapy can also help them find new coping skills and learn how to develop healthy relationships with others.
The type of therapy used depends on the individual’s needs and goals for treatment. Some common types of therapy include:
Psychotherapy – This helps people examine their thoughts, feelings, and behaviors in order to better understand themselves. The goal is not only to gain insight into their problems but also to change their behavior so they can live more comfortably with themselves and others.
Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) – CBT focuses on how your thoughts affect your feelings, behaviors, and emotions. This type of therapy helps you change negative thinking patterns so that you can change your outlook on life for the better.
Family Therapy – This can be indispensable as an option. Many persons struggling with substance use disorder have very shaky support systems and come from family systems that are mired in dysfunctional bonds and behaviors. In the case where a family chooses to let a medical professional in to unravel the various idiosyncratic behaviors at play and put in the work, it can work wonders for ensuring long-term sobriety and reinforced, healthier support.
Holistic therapy is a treatment approach that focuses on the whole person. It includes the body, mind, and spirit. Holistic therapies are used in alcohol rehabilitation to help people become healthy physically, mentally, and emotionally. Holistic therapy can be used in conjunction with other types of treatment for alcohol abuse, such as outpatient treatment, inpatient treatment, and self-help groups.
The concept behind holistic therapy is that every person has unique needs that must be addressed in order for them to heal from addiction. The goal is not just to treat symptoms like withdrawal or cravings but to improve overall health so that the individual no longer feels compelled to drink and can start leading a healthier life.
Examples of Holistic Therapy practices are acupuncture, meditation, exercise, nutritional education, yoga, and more. At the end of the day, the focus is on the large-scale overview of the person’s life as a whole. The importance is to help them develop habits that give back to them rather than drain their will.
Twelve-step programs are designed to help people overcome addiction. These programs use a holistic approach, addressing both the physical and mental aspects of addiction. Twelve-step groups encourage members to work together in order to overcome their addictions.
Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) is an organization with the sole purpose of helping people maintain sobriety from alcohol abuse. AA has over 2 million members in over 150 countries worldwide and has been around since 1935.
The 12 Steps are a set of guiding principles that were created by Alcoholics Anonymous to help people achieve and maintain sobriety. The 12 steps are used in all types of addiction treatment, including rehab facilities and group therapy programs.
The 12 steps can be grouped into two different categories: personal inventory and amends. Personal inventory involves taking a look at your own life and identifying the areas where you need improvement. Amends involves making amends with those you have hurt while under the influence of alcohol or drugs. While AA can be immensely helpful for those needing support, it is important to weigh ‘AA vs rehab’ carefully when deciding the level of care you need for your current alcohol intake.
The Long Term
The danger of alcohol is that it is legal and widely accepted. That being said, people who are looking to truly stop drinking, once and for all, will often require a longer stay at an inpatient substance abuse center. This will allow them to not only be separated from alcohol and other substances for an extended period of time, but they can work with therapists and other alcoholics and drug addicts, to delve into the reasons behind their drinking.
Many people struggle with co-occurring disorders for years and have no idea. Most people who suffer from addiction have, at some point in their lives, experienced trauma.
Being on-site with medical professionals and therapeutic doctors allows the person to not only identify some of the root causes of their drinking and substance abuse but will also help them learn tools to combat the cravings in the future.
Freedom From Alcohol: Found Here!
If you or a loved one is suffering from alcoholism or addiction, understand that you are not alone in your struggles! If you are ready to change your life and finally be free of your addiction, then Find Addiction Rehabs can help. We can give you the jump-start you need in order to experience the recovery you have always wanted.
The holistic programs we frequently refer clients to are unique in that they don’t just treat the addiction, but rather they treat the whole person, so if you are interested in finding out more information, please do not hesitate to give us a call today at 1-877-959-7271.
Deborah Tayloe is a freelance writer specializing in health and sciences. Deborah earned a B.S.Ed. in Secondary Education/English, accompanied by a Spanish minor. Her writing expertise allows her to craft engaging, impactful articles to help people be well.
In addition, she holds a fully accredited Certificate of Natural Medicine and is a certified Herbalist. Through her understanding of complementary medicine, Deborah helps medical professionals give people the information they need to embrace natural approaches to wellness.
When she’s not working, Deborah trains for 5K races and advocates for animal rights.