If you’ve been using alcohol heavily for any amount of time, you may be curious about alcohol withdrawal. How will it affect you? Will it be difficult for you? Or maybe someone you love has decided to quit drinking alcohol. It’s important to know how you can support your friend. Here’s what you need to know about alcohol withdrawal.
Alcohol Withdrawal Symptoms
The alcohol withdrawal symptoms that you experience will, as with any other substance, depend on the frequency and duration of your use. If you’re a heavier user, your symptoms will likely be more severe than if you only drink occasionally.
Symptoms of withdrawal include the following:
In severe cases, hallucinations and other symptoms may occur. If this is the case, please contact a medical professional immediately.
Stages of Alcohol Withdrawal
There are three basic stages to withdrawal. Of course, many people drink from time to time with no withdrawal symptoms at all. However, heavy and regular users of alcohol will likely experience these three stages of alcohol withdrawal.
First, the user will experience a severe headache. Ordinarily this is a dull “hangover” headache, and can be remedied with an over the counter pain medication.
Secondary to this headache, however, are insomnia, anxiety and nausea. Sometimes severe stomach pains will result from withdrawal.
Stage two of alcohol withdrawal will include more physiological symptoms. High blood sugar is common, and heart palpitations may occur. Those suffering from withdrawal are usually very confused or disoriented at this point, and may need assistance.
Stage three of alcohol withdrawal will usually exhibit in the form of hallucinations. Fever, seizures, and excessive anxiety also occur.
Alcohol Withdrawal Timeline
The onset of alcohol withdrawal usually occurs within 8 hours of the user’s last drink. As the alcohol begins to leave the body, stage one of withdrawal begins.
Stage two of withdrawal will typically occur within 24 to 72 hours of the last drink. Stage two is immediately followed by stage three.
The good news for those suffering alcohol withdrawal symptoms is that those symptoms decrease in intensity, or disappear altogether, within 5 to 7 days.
How to Treat Alcohol Withdrawal
As discussed in other articles on the Addictive Addiction website, there are certainly detox treatment centers available to users of alcohol. These centers hire professionals who are familiar with how to treat withdrawal, and are the safest place to detox.
However, should you choose to go through withdrawal on your own, we strongly encourage you to, at the very least, gain the support of a friend. Should anything go wrong, your friend will be available to contact medical personnel.
Alcohol acts as a depressant to your central nervous system, and the sudden removal of the substance can cause serious side effects. Your brain will literally rebound, and the hormonal and other effects can be life threatening. For heavy users of alcohol, “at-home” detox is never recommended.
Alcohol Withdrawals and Sleep
One of the most frequently reported symptoms of alcohol withdrawal is insomnia. This is actually true for most substances, and it can last for months. As a result, you’re exhausted, and that can make the process seem unbearable.
Speak to a healthcare practitioner if you’re having difficulty sleeping after quitting alcohol. Don’t rely on over the counter medications (Valerian, Melatonin), as they can cause more harm than good.
Headache on Alcohol Withdrawal
You will most likely experience headaches following cessation of alcohol. Headache is usually the first symptom of alcohol withdrawal, but it should be bearable with an over the counter pain relief remedy.
If you find your headaches to be debilitating, see a physician immediately. This could be a dangerous problem with your central nervous system, and can be fatal.
Alcohol Withdrawal and Delirium
Alcohol withdrawal and delirium is relatively rare. Look at it this way. Of heavy drinkers, only about half will suffer severe withdrawal symptoms. And of that half, only around 5% will suffer delirium.
That said, it’s dangerous – fatal, even. Delirium is a result of severe “misfires” in your central nervous system. It’s important to garner the support of friends or family before you quit alcohol. If you begin to experience severe symptoms, your support system can call for help. Left untreated, delirium can cause permanent or fatal consequences.
Alcohol Withdrawal and Shakes
Shaking is a common symptom of withdrawal, and it’s not urgent to call paramedics if shaking does occur. However, if shaking symptoms do not diminish or disappear within a few days of your last drink, please seek medical advice.
Alcohol Withdrawal Seizures
Alcohol withdrawal seizures, like delirium, only occur in a small population of those experiencing alcohol withdrawal. However, also like delirium, seizures require medical attention.
Alcohol withdrawal seizures are one of the most serious symptoms and may be fatal if not treated. This is particularly true for those who have gone through detox before. The first time you detox, your seizures may be bad. But with subsequent detox periods, the intensity of the seizures will increase.
Blood Pressure on Alcohol Withdrawal
During withdrawal, it’s quite common for a person to experience a sharp spike in blood pressure. High blood pressure can be dangerous, leading to heart attack, heart failure, and stroke.
In most cases, following the detox period, blood pressure will decrease dramatically. There may or may not be long term effects on heart health.
Is Alcohol Withdrawal Fatal?
Is alcohol withdrawal fatal? In short, yes. It can be. Does that mean that you shouldn’t stop drinking? Of course not. Alcohol cessation could be the single most important decision you make; it can be life changing.
It’s recommended that if you make the decision to quit drinking, you speak with your (or any) doctor. There are medications which can be prescribed for you – they may help to level out your hormones and to help you sleep. Detox is healthy for your body, but only when done safely.