Alcohol use disorder can impact your life in many ways – not only can it destroy relationships and impact your finances, but it can also impact your physical and mental health.
If you have a physical dependency on alcohol and you suddenly stop drinking, you’ll experience withdrawal symptoms – but what exactly are withdrawal symptoms, and what causes them?
The alcohol withdrawal timeline and the severity of the symptoms can vary from person to person – depending on factors such as your addiction history, your medical history, and your age, height, and weight.
Some people may experience withdrawal symptoms within a few hours after their last drink, but others won’t notice symptoms for a couple of days.
Read on to learn more about alcohol withdrawal. On this page, we’ll be exploring some common withdrawal symptoms as well as severe withdrawal symptoms.
Alcohol withdrawal symptoms can occur in anybody who has previously consumed excessive amounts of alcohol or had a dependence on alcohol (alcohol addiction).
Many people experience withdrawal symptoms within the first couple of days after their last drink – however, those with a severe dependence may experience symptoms in as little as a few hours after stopping drinking.
When you drink heavily, your GABA levels (a neurotransmitter in your central nervous system) rise, leading to feelings of calmness, relaxation, and sometimes even euphoria. Excessive drinking can also lower glutamate levels, ultimately decreasing your excitability levels.
Over time, excessive drinking can lead to dependence – and when you are dependent on alcohol, you feel like you need alcohol to feel ‘normal’. Your body gets used to the changes and finds it difficult to increase GABA effects over time and decrease glutamate levels.
This causes an imbalance. When you stop drinking, the GABA receptors remain less responsivewhich is worsened by the increase in glutamate levels.
This leaves you feeling unpleasant symptoms when you stop drinking suddenly – for example, you may feel anxious, restless, hyper or shaky.
The symptoms can vary depending on the severity of your addiction. Read on to learn more about physical withdrawal symptoms and psychological withdrawal symptoms.
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Withdrawal can take its toll on your body, leaving you feeling under the weather. Many people only feel mild symptoms of alcohol withdrawal such as nausea or stomach ache. Some common physical withdrawal symptoms can include:
However, some people can experience more severe symptoms. See ‘Severe Withdrawal Symptoms’ to learn more.
As well as affecting you physically, alcohol withdrawal can cause psychological symptoms too. For example, you may experience anxiety, depression, and other mental health problems.
You may also experience behavioural symptoms – you may have trouble sleeping, which can impact your mood. Some people also experience hallucinations, although this is very rare, and is classed as a severe withdrawal symptom.
Psychological withdrawal symptoms can be difficult to manage, which is why many people choose to detox from alcohol in a rehab facility, under the supervision of medical professionals.
Having a solid support network throughout the withdrawal process is key – whether it be friends, family, or medical professionals. Therapy is a key stage of alcohol rehab, and can help you better manage your mental health. This can ultimately ease the unpleasant psychological withdrawal symptoms.
Therapy in rehab can also help you address any unhealthy behaviours or thinking patterns that may have contributed to your addiction.
Therapies such as CBT (cognitive behavioural therapy), counselling and group therapy can not only build your confidence and improve your general well-being but can teach you valuable coping skills that you can implement in your life.
If you are experiencing severe symptoms of withdrawal, we highly recommend that you seek medical attention.
Medical professionals may provide you with medication or medical supervision to ensure your safety, as some withdrawal symptoms can be dangerous – for example, high blood pressure. Read on to learn about Post Acute Withdrawal Syndrome and delirium tremens.
Referred to as PAWS, Post Acute Withdrawal Syndrome is characterised by a set of symptoms that can make alcohol withdrawal more complicated – and ultimately, more difficult for those experiencing it.
These symptoms often persist for one to two weeks after stopping drinking – these symptoms are also known as prolonged symptoms. However, some symptoms of PAWS can last for years after detoxing from alcohol. The symptoms of PAWS can be effectively managed with therapy.
Delirium tremens is the most severe form of alcohol withdrawal and requires immediate medical attention as it can be life-threatening.
Delirium tremens is a rare disorder – however, certain factors can contribute to the risk. For example, major injuries, liver or heart disease, and traumatic brain injuries can increase the risk of developing DTs. Age can also be a risk factor, as can mental health issues.
However, one of the biggest risk factors for delirium tremens is the severity of your alcohol addiction. Excessive alcohol use ultimately increases the risk of developing acute alcohol withdrawal symptoms – the more severe your addiction, the higher the risk of experiencing severe withdrawal symptoms.
Delirium Tremens is a clinical condition that includes both symptoms of withdrawal and symptoms of delirium. It’s important to note that delirium isn’t always caused solely by alcohol withdrawal – other risk factors such as head injuries can also cause it.
The term ‘cold turkey’ refers to when somebody completely cuts off their alcohol use suddenly. If you quit cold turkey, you will quit alcohol all at once without recovery treatment or attending alcohol rehab.
We never recommend that you quit drinking using the ‘cold turkey’ method. This is because when you detox suddenly without treatment, the withdrawal symptoms can be severe – and in some cases, life-threatening.
Instead, it’s important to have your situation medically reviewed. This can give you a better chance to get help and stop drinking for good. At Help4Addiction, we can discuss your situation and find the right treatment plan for you – nobody should deal with addiction alone.
At Help4Addiction, we can connect you with the right rehab clinic for you, considering your preferences, requirements, and your story.
Detoxing from home without help can be difficult, which is why many people choose to undergo an alcohol detox program in a rehab facility.
At Help4Addiction, we can also provide you with an at-home detox kit, depending on whether you are eligible or not. Check out this helpful page on what to expect when detoxing from home.
Depending on your situation, you may benefit from a medically-supervised detox. This involves medical supervision and may involve detox medication to ease the symptoms and streamline the process. Speak to our experts today to get the ball rolling on your recovery journey.
Nicholas Conn is a leading industry addiction expert who runs the UK’s largest addiction advisory service and is regularly featured in the national press, radio and TV. He is the founder and CEO of a drug and alcohol rehab center called Help4addiction, which was founded in 2015. He has been clean himself since 2009 and has worked in the Addiction and Rehab Industry for over a decade. Nick is dedicated to helping others recover and get treatment for drug and alcohol abuse. In 2013, he released a book ‘The Thin White’ line that is available on Amazon.
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