Alcohol addiction runs rampant in America. It affects over 22.3 million adults and teenagers. Of those who have an alcohol use disorder (AUD) or addiction, only about 10% ever seek treatment when trying to get sober.
There’s no doubt that being sober is better than dealing with the addiction. In fact, getting sober is likely one of the best decisions you can ever make for yourself.
Unfortunately, alcohol withdrawals are not only painful, but also dangerous and deadly. Those who deal with withdrawals without any medical supervision can fall into a coma or die.
Medical supervision by staff at alcohol rehab centers is vital. With the right type of help by your side, the severity of withdrawal symptoms dampens. You’ll also be much more likely to stay sober and avoid relapses.
Alcohol Withdrawal Symptoms
Depending on alcohol use, withdrawal symptoms can range from mild to severe.
Mild withdrawal symptoms aren’t usually a big deal. They kick in about 2 to 10 hours after your last drink, and will usually reach peak intensity within 3 to 4 days. After that, mild withdrawal symptoms will start to subside.
These withdrawal symptoms aren’t too dangerous at all, although they might be uncomfortable. They are caused by a change in brain chemistry levels. Some common symptoms to expect include:
- Accelerated breathing
- Accelerated heart rate
- Elevated blood pressure
- Insomnia, often caused by nightmares
- Mood changes, like increased irritability
- Uncontrollable shaking
These mild symptoms can graduate and become much more severe one in heavy drinkers.
Some of the more life-threatening and serious alcohol withdrawal symptoms include seizures and delirium tremens.
Potentially Life-Threatening Liquor Withdrawal Symptoms
Heavy drinkers are more likely to experience delirium tremens. This condition has a mortality rate of about 8%. That’s with medical supervision too.
Delirium tremens can start to kick in anywhere from 24 to 96 hours after your last drink. It presents itself as confusion at first; however, it also involves other symptoms like:
- Body tremors and uncontrollable shaking
- Changes in one’s mental abilities and acuities
- Fatigue or extreme sleepiness that may result in deep sleep
- Hallucinations or vivid psychosis
- Hyperexcitability that causes either fear or excitement
- Hypersensitivity to stimuli like light, touch and sound
- Mood swings, like increased agitation and irritability
Seizures are often associated with delirium tremens, but they can occur on their own. Seizures often appear 48 hours after your last drink if you are a heavy drinker. They usually begin locally, but will quickly spread throughout the entire body.
Medical treatment for alcohol is necessary for preventing the onset of delirium tremens and seizures. These symptoms are involved with acute withdrawal syndrome.
That’s not all. A pulse of over 100 is also considered as a severe withdrawal symptom. Anyone experiencing this will need to get medical attention immediately.
Risk Factors for Severe ETOH Withdrawal Symptoms
Not everyone who tries to get sober will come face-to-face with severe withdrawal symptoms. In fact, many addicts only experience mild withdrawal symptoms.
To determine whether a patient will experience severe withdrawal symptoms, our staff will need to conduct a thorough examination and analysis. Some characteristics come with a higher risk of experiencing severe withdrawal symptoms. These risk factors include:
- Being more dependent on alcohol
- Being old
- Dealing with alcoholism for a long period of time
- Drinking booze for a much longer time
- Drinking a lot more alcohol than normal
- Experiencing more intense cravings
- Failing at previous alcohol detoxification attempts
- Having to deal with an acute illness
- Having a higher liquor tolerance
- Having an abnormal liver function
- Mixing other drugs with alcohol
Patients who score higher on the assessment will be under more scrutiny. They need more medical help and attention to get sober. They are not only more likely to experience life-threatening symptoms, but also more likely to relapse.
Our rehab program can introduce a variety of relapse prevention tactics. These tactics will keep you sober for longer. They teach you how to identify and deal with triggers, as well as build better habits.
Alcohol Withdrawal Timeline
While everyone responds in a different way to liquor withdrawals, there are three distinct withdrawal stages to expect. The onset of each stage, as well as the severity, is very telling on one’s condition.
Stage 1 kicks in an average of 8 hours after your last drink although it can appear as soon as 2 hours. This stage isn’t too difficult to deal with. It mainly involves symptoms like increased anxiety, abdominal pains and nausea.
Stage 2 usually starts to kick in about 1 to 3 days after your last drink. These symptoms are much more intense. You can expect to feel a bit confused, and to have an elevated blood pressure and heart rate. You might even find your body temperature increasing.
Stage 3 is the final stage in the alcohol withdrawal timeline. This stage usually begins 3 days after your last drink. This is when the withdrawal symptoms are the worst. You may begin to hallucinate, or even experience seizures. It’s not unusual to feel a huge change in your mood. Most people feel agitated and irritated. Hallucinations are also not uncommon.
While most alcoholics will go through stage 1 and 2, not all will experience stage 3. These symptoms mostly affect heavy drinkers and long-term drinkers.
These symptoms can also cause other health complications to arise. For example, some patients that go through stage 3 will also develop a wet brain.
What Is a Wet Brain?
Wet brain is also known as the Wernicke-Korsakoff syndrome. This syndrome is associated with brain damage caused by alcohol abuse.
It is due to a lack of important nutrients and vitamins in the body, like vitamin B1 and thiamine. This condition can be life threatening.
There are two parts to the Wernicke-Korsakoff syndrome. One part involves encephalopathy, while other involves psychosis. The first part usually happens first.
Encephalopathy involves bleeding in the lower region of the brain. This region controls both the nervous and endocrine systems. As a result, this syndrome has a profound negative impact on your balance, coordination and vision. It will also forever affect your cognitive thinking skills and your memory.
In the event that the encephalopathy is caught early on, medical professionals may be able to prevent the psychosis. This is because chronic brain damage causes the psychosis.
Factors that Cause Alcohol Withdrawal Symptoms
Why does quitting liquor result in alcohol withdrawal symptoms?
The answer can be found in little molecules in your brain known as neurotransmitters. Neurotransmitters are responsible for sending signals and messages from one part of the brain to another. They can amplify a signal to make it much stronger or dampen it by inhibiting it.
Alcohol has similar characteristics to the neurotransmitters involved in the GABA and glutamate system. Due to this reason, it can easily interfere with both of these systems while it’s in your body.
With long-term alcohol use, your brain will start to adapt to the presence of alcohol. Its natural signals are being altered. Soon, the brain believes that the altered state is a normal state. It will start to produce different levels of neurotransmitters as a response.
A sudden reduction in booze disrupts the chemistry levels in the brain. The adapted environment is no longer appropriate. Unfortunately, the brain does not respond fast enough to this new change in the environment.
This is where the withdrawal symptoms come in. They are merely your brain’s response to a new environment.
A Look at the GABA System and the Glutamate System
The GABA system and the glutamate system are the most highly affected system.
GABA molecules are blockers. They prevent signals within the brain from amplifying. This gives you that relaxing effect you experience from drinking. When withdrawing from booze, GABA levels in the brain will start to decline. As a result, the nerves become a lot more sensitive to its surrounding environment.
This is what causes withdrawal symptoms like an elevated heart rate or blood pressure. It is also responsible for causing body temperatures to rise.
Unlike GABA molecules, glutamate molecules amplify signals. They make them louder and clearer for other parts of the brain. Alcohol interferes with the glutamate system to create an analgesic effect.
When weaning off of alcohol, glutamate levels in the brain will rise. This causes your body to overreact to various stimuli. This is what causes withdrawal symptoms like seizures.
Taper Off of Alcohol
Medical detoxification is a recent invention. Before these medications were approved, many people were able to successfully quit drinking by tapering off.
This allows the body to adjust to the new environment. Brain chemistry levels change slowly to prevent withdrawal symptoms from emerging. While mild symptoms are still expected, this can keep severe symptoms at bay.
The easiest way of tapering off liquor is to switch to beer. Other types of booze, like hard liquor and wine, have a fairly high alcohol content and can be difficult to control. This method can take anywhere from three days to a week. It may take even longer for long-term alcoholics.
When you first start off with the taper method, drink just enough to avoid profuse shaking and sweating. Stay hydrated and replenish lost vitamins by drinking water and taking supplements.
Create a Taper Schedule
To successfully taper off, create a reasonable and feasible schedule.
If you need 20 or more beers in a day, taper off by elongating the time between beers. For example, drink a beer each hour on the first day. Next, try to lengthen this to a beer every 1.5 hours. Continue doing so until you’re down to zero.
If you need less than 20 beers a day, simply reduce the amount of beers you’re drinking by two beers a day. For example, in the first day, you might drink 10 beers. However, on the second day, try drinking 8 beers instead.
Depending on the intensity and severity of your withdrawal symptoms, you might have to go slow. This involves staying at a certain drinking level for a couple of days. This helps your body get accustomed.
Medical Detoxification with Medicine
If you seek help from a rehab center, the medical staff will assess your condition using the Clinical Institute Withdrawal Assessment for Alcohol (CIWA-Ar).
This test only takes several minutes, but will give the staff a good idea on the type of medications you need.
If your score is under 8, medical detoxification is often recommended. The administration of these medications can prevent withdrawal symptoms from appearing. They also help by curbing cravings.
The most common medications used in medical detoxification include:
Acamprosate works by targeting neurons that are being affected by the alcohol abuse. Benzodiazepines, on the other hand, prevent severe withdrawal symptoms like seizures and delirium tremens. Naltrexone is also used to block cravings. They prevent alcohol from having any pleasurable effect on the body.
One of the most interesting drugs used in medical detoxification is disulfiram. This drug is used in aversion therapy. Basically, it causes you to feel ill if you take it and then drink alcohol. The hope is that this will turn you away from drinking. After all, you’ll feel sick every time that you drink.
If the doctors prescribe medications for detoxification, the patient will be under a lot of supervision. The patient’s vitals need to be checked and assessed around-the-clock.
Dosage amounts will vary depending on each patient’s response to the medication. Many people are interested in medical detox because it can keep life-threatening symptoms at an arm’s length. It can also lead to fewer bed stays and quicker recovery times.
It’s much easier to detox from alcohol with the right cocktail of medications.
Taper Off of the Drugs
It’s important to note that some of the drugs used in medical detoxification can be addictive as well.
To prevent patients from getting addicted to another substance, doctors will slowly wean them off of the medications used in detox. As you recover from alcohol abuse and get sober, you will be prescribed with lower and lower dosages of the same medication.
On top of closely monitoring the dosage taken, doctors will also create a fixed regimen. The medications used in medical detox will only be taken at specific times. Only staff members have access to these drugs to prevent abuse or misuse.
Withdraw Safely and Become Sober
With the right resources by your side, you can withdraw safely and become sober. The withdrawal process will be a lot easier on your mind and body. In addition, you’re less likely to experience any life-threatening symptoms.
Here at Northpoint Seattle, we offer a wide range of different treatment options and plans. We can tailor each plan to fit your needs and expectations, so you have a much easier time at recovery.
Alcohol withdrawal symptoms can be difficult to deal with. It’s the primary reason why so many alcoholics relapse. Prevent relapses and get a head start with some professional help. We’ll make sure that you are on the right track.
You’ll also get all the support that you need from our staff members and other patients. We provide a safe environment for everyone who enters our doors. Free yourself from the grasps of addiction!