Alcohol Withdrawal Symptoms
For someone who has become alcohol dependent, trying to cut your alcohol intake can be challenging. Known as “Alcohol Withdrawal Syndrome”, the severity of the alcohol withdrawal symptoms you may experience and how long they might last is generally dependent on how long and how much you have been drinking. There is no set timeframe but most cases of acute withdrawal will be over within a week to ten days.
Understanding alcohol withdrawal symptoms
Alcoholism is a condition that affects the entire body. People often misunderstand the condition and consider it as something that can easily be dealt with if you have enough willpower. Unfortunately, there’s a common misconception that alcoholism is just “in your head”. The reality is that once the addiction has taken hold, it affects your entire body including your brain, meaning it is a mental issue that requires proper medical attention or rehab in order to overcome. Simply telling someone to get over it or exert more willpower does not work and will only make them feel weak and powerless.
How Does Alcoholism Affect the Brain and Your Body?
Alcohol can start to interfere with how the brain communicates with the rest of your body especially when a large amount is consumed. These interferences will change the way you behave and react to certain functions in the body, resulting in a lack of coordination or mood swings. This is commonly seen in drunk people and often seen as comical and lighthearted, but there are serious implications when you are drunk.
Your heart also suffers during this process. Drinking a high amount of alcohol over a long period of time or binging on alcohol at a party can cause serious heart issues like high blood pressure, an irregular heartbeat and even the stretching of the heart muscle. Your liver also takes a heavy toll when you drink a lot and you could suffer a number of different liver inflammations if you’re too careless.
Alcoholism and Building a Tolerance for Alcohol
Unfortunately, most of these issues are difficult to discern because alcohol makes people feel relaxed, happy and occasionally sleepy. Your brain compensates for these responses by trying to balance your body. Excessive drinking will make you tired, so the brain tries to keep you awake as best as it can.
However, as you drink more, your body starts to consider it a “normal” state of your body. This is otherwise known as building a tolerance for alcohol. If you become tolerant of alcohol, then you need to drink more in order to experience the same relaxed and happy feelings.
Building an Unwanted Dependency on Alcohol
However, it also has the unfortunate side effect of being detrimental to your body and training your brain to believe that your body is almost always in need of more chemicals to keep you awake and in control. This eventually turns into dependence on alcohol, meaning that your body cannot function normally without alcohol. Many people that suffer from alcoholism will drink when they experience these symptoms and it will generally help to alleviate the symptoms.
As you can see, this creates an unwanted relationship between your body and the alcohol that you are consuming. The alcohol is bad for your body and causes damage, but your body has become so used to alcohol that it cannot function correctly without it. This can spiral out of control very easily, hence why it’s important to break the cycle and stop consuming alcohol.
Going “Cold Turkey”
The term cold turkey refers to completely cutting off your alcohol consumption. This is the usual response to someone that has realised that they have an alcoholism problem and wants to do something about it. While the intentions are good, you are essentially preventing your body from utilising something that it has grown used to.
The dependency created during alcoholism means that if you do not drink alcohol, your body will continue to assume that there is alcohol in your body that needs to be metabolised but it can’t find any, so your body responds by producing symptoms to indicate that something is wrong with your body. This is what we refer to as withdrawal symptoms and it’s the main reason why overcoming alcoholism isn’t as simple as going cold turkey.
You can often cope with mild withdrawal symptoms if you’re not a heavy drinker. It may feel like you have the flu, you might have a fever and you may experience headaches. However, going cold turkey when you only have a mild case of alcohol dependency can be an effective way to deal with your alcoholism. Unfortunately, this isn’t the case for most people and the dependency will have grown out of control, meaning that withdrawal symptoms could be severe and incredibly dangerous.
Stages of Alcohol Withdrawal Symptoms
Alcohol withdrawal symptoms can often be expressed in four stages.
- Stage One – Stage one starts with light symptoms such as tremors, anxiety, headaches, sweating, abdominal pain, vomiting, depression and fatigue. These start within 12 hours of your last drink and the severity depends on how much alcohol your body has consumed.
- Stage Two – Stage two introduces hallucinations. This often starts after 12 hours and you may find that the hallucinations will become increasingly vivid as the hours pass. Symptoms from stage one will typically overlap with these hallucinations, amplifying their severity.
- Stage Three – Stage three starts around 48 hours in and this is when a person can start to experience seizures due to dehydration. This stage will affect the entire body and the tremors may begin to affect the entire body.
- Stage Four – Stage four is known as delirium tremens or DTs. During this stage, you will experience confusion, delirium, continued hallucinations, an impending feeling of doom, heart palpitations, seizures, fever, sweating and potentially even a stroke. This can start around three to four days after you stop drinking but is known to also start around two weeks after your last drink. There is currently no way to stop the delirium tremens stage once it begins and it is considered the most dangerous one. Only a small percentage of heavy drinkers will experience DTs but it can often be fatal. Immediate medical attention is required to deal with the symptoms.
The stage of alcohol withdrawal symptoms that you experience will depend on how much alcohol you consume. Many people don’t reach stage three or beyond unless they have a history of abusing alcohol. However, the withdrawal symptoms are serious regardless of their stage and it’s vital to seek medical attention should have experienced these symptoms in the past or know someone that has.
Common Alcohol Withdrawal Symptoms
These common alcohol withdrawal symptoms tend to occur at around stage one to two. They include:
- A feeling of anxiety
- Depressive thoughts
- Excessive fatigue
- Easily irritated
- Regular nightmares
- Difficulty focusing
- Constant mood swings
These symptoms should be taken seriously even if they are only experienced in a minor way. These may seem like common symptoms of other illnesses and conditions, but it’s vital to understand that these are common alcohol withdrawal symptoms that indicate a dependency on alcohol is not being met and the person should seek immediate medical attention.
Severe Alcohol Withdrawal Symptoms
These are the common alcohol withdrawal symptoms that occur during stage three and four:
- Constant headaches
- Body tremors
- Profuse sweating
- A loss of appetite
If you, a friend or a loved one experiences these withdrawal symptoms then it’s vital to seek immediate medical attention because these symptoms could easily escalate to DTs. When that happens, you will need to be in the care of medical professionals in order to deal with the symptoms that could potentially be fatal.
Dealing With Alcohol Withdrawal Symptoms
If you are only experience stage one or two symptoms, then a comfortable environment in the care of a loved one or trustworthy friends will be all you need to deal with your alcohol withdrawal symptoms. It’s important to drink plenty of fluids to replenish your body and to eat healthy meals to keep your body’s nutrients up. You may want to ask someone to watch over you if you fall asleep so that you do not start exhibiting stage three symptoms.
However, if you exhibit stage three or four symptoms, then the risk of DTs increases. Although only a small percentage of alcohol withdrawal symptoms will suffer from DTs, it’s important to prepare so that in the event you do suffer from hallucinations and delusions, you at least have professional medical attention that is ready to assist.
The-long term solution for solving alcohol withdrawal symptoms lies within your alcoholism itself. You need to work on training your body to operate normally without alcohol in your system. This can be a time-consuming process that could be sped up with the help of alcohol rehab treatment. Specialised medication can help deal with the symptoms, but it will not help with the underlying issue of alcohol abuse or dependency.
Doctors can often refer you to an alcohol rehab clinic to help you overcome your reliance on alcohol. If it starts to look hopeless, then getting in touch with someone and expressing your concerns is the best way to start the long healing process. This is known as alcohol detoxification and is often the first step to cleaning up your body so that you are no longer dependent on alcohol. However, as mentioned before, it cannot deal with the underlying issues that are causing you to drink excessive amounts of alcohol, and that’s something that an alcohol rehab centre can help you with.
Is It Possible to Self-Detoxify From Alcohol?
Early-stage alcohol abuse can be dealt with at home if you’re surrounded by loved ones, supportive friends and a peaceful environment. Medical supervision isn’t required, but it’s never a bad idea to have someone watching over you in case the symptoms do get progressively worse. If you don’t have a history of heavy drinking then your body may just be in shock at the alcohol in your system. One night of drinking often isn’t enough to build dependency on alcohol, but it’s important that you do everything you can to stay hydrated and replenish the nutrients in your body with healthy foods.
Self-detox is possible, but it’s often easier to handle if you’re willing to speak to a medical professional or reach out for support. Distractions are important when attempting to get rid of alcohol withdrawal symptoms, hence why surrounding yourself with positive support is always recommended.
Where to Go for More Assistance
If you’d like to learn more about alcohol withdrawal symptoms or want advice on clinics to get in touch with, then feel free to contact us on 0203 955 7700. We’re always willing to offer impartial and non-judgemental advice and you can remain anonymous if it makes you more comfortable.