Does Alcohol Withdrawal Cause Chest Pain?

Robert Gerchalk

Robert is our health care professional reviewer of this website. He worked for many years in mental health and substance abuse facilities in Florida, as well as in home health (medical and psychiatric), and took care of people with medical and addictions problems at The Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore. He has a nursing and business/technology degrees from The Johns Hopkins University.

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Can You Develop Chest Pain During Alcohol Withdrawal?

After you quit using alcohol, you may begin going through alcohol withdrawal within a few hours after your last drink. For most people, the worst symptoms will end after just four or five days. During alcohol withdrawal, you may go through chest pain and other uncomfortable symptoms.

Does Alcohol Withdrawal Cause Chest Pain?

When you drink, alcohol depresses your central nervous system. This is why you feel drowsy after you have been drinking for a while. After drinking enough alcohol, your speech and muscle coordination will become affected. Once the vital parts of your mind are impacted, you can even develop a coma or die. 

Over time, your central nervous system adjusts to having alcohol present. It basically increases its baseline level of activity to accommodate alcohol’s depressant effect. When you suddenly stop drinking, your nervous system will still be overactive because it doesn’t realize that you won’t be drinking anymore.

This stage of becoming sober is when most people go through alcohol withdrawal symptoms. Initially, you may suffer from insomnia, nausea, vomiting, anxiety, shaky hands, and sweating. Hallucinations and other serious problems are more likely to develop 12 to 48 hours after you stop drinking.

Delirium tremens is a life-threatening condition that can occur 48 to 72 hours after your last drink. If you go through delirium tremens, you may suffer from delusions, seizures, hallucinations, fever, high blood pressure, confusion, and a racing heart.

During delirium tremens, you may experience chest pain. Because delirium tremens is a life-threatening emergency, it is important to get medical care right away. Once you go to a medical provider, they will most likely ask about rapid breathing, sweating, irregular heartbeat, issues with eye muscle movement, muscle tremors, rapid heartbeat, and other severe symptoms. Then, they will figure out the best way to alleviate your symptoms.

Why Is Chest Pain a Symptom of Alcohol Withdrawal?

Alcohol withdrawal syndrome has a mortality rate of 5% to 10%. If this syndrome develops, you may experience severe anxiety, seizures, and disorientation. This is why it is so dangerous to quit cold turkey. Other than being uncomfortable, quitting on your own means that there is no one there to monitor chest pains and other serious side effects.

Even in a healthy individual, drinking can cause episodes of chest pain and high blood pressure. Whether you are going through withdrawal symptoms or dealing with a hangover, these symptoms are extremely noticeable when they do occur. In addition, the stress of alcohol withdrawal can cause chest tightness.

Alcohol and Cardiomyopathy

You can also develop alcohol-induced cardiomyopathy. About 1% to 2% of people who consume excessive amounts of alcohol will end up developing this condition. It basically happens when you consume so much alcohol that it damages your heart.

With alcohol-induced cardiomyopathy, parts of your heart become larger and stretched out. Because this weakens your heart muscles, it makes it harder for your heart to pump blood properly. As a result, your body won’t receive an adequate amount of oxygen.

If this condition happens, your heart may develop scar tissue or become weaker. Your heart can go into fibrillation, which means that your heart’s chambers are beating so rapidly that they can only quiver. You may suffer from trouble breathing, bulging neck veins, feeling lightheaded, chest pain, coughing, edema, heart palpitations, and fatigue.

Fortunately, you can avoid alcohol-induced cardiomyopathy by making some lifestyle changes. When you do not drink more than the maximum number of drinks per week for your gender, you can decrease the likelihood that your heart will become damaged. In comparison, engaging in heavy alcohol use will make this condition more likely.

What Causes Alcohol Withdrawal?

Alcohol withdrawal occurs because your body is used to having alcohol present. It has changed how it functions to accommodate your alcohol consumption, so it essentially needs alcohol to feel normal. Your brain adjusts its chemistry to compensate for your drinking.

Because alcohol has a sedating effect, your body produces stimulating chemicals to counteract this effect. Serotonin and norepinephrine are both produced in larger quantities among drinkers. When you stop using alcohol, these chemicals will still get produced at an unnaturally high level.

What Else Can Cause Chest Pain?

It is incredibly important to get professional medical care when you go through alcohol withdrawal. Many people have died from withdrawal complications, so it is important to seek out professional medical treatment as you try to become sober. In addition, a doctor can help you find out if your symptoms are caused by withdrawal or another condition.

For example, alcohol use and detox can cause chest pain. You can develop chest pain from alcohol-induced cardiomyopathy, but you can also get chest pain from other medical ailments. For example, you can develop chest pain from a heart attack or poor blood flow to your heart. Aortic dissection and pericarditis are also causes of chest pain.

Sometimes, chest pain occurs for reasons that aren’t related to your heart. For example, you may be suffering from a panic attack, heartburn, swallowing issues, gallbladder inflammation, costochondritis, injured ribs, and sore muscles. Blood clots in your lungs, pulmonary hypertension, pleurisy, shingles, and a collapsed lung can also lead to chest pain.

No matter what the cause, it is important to remember that chest pain can be a symptom of a life-threatening condition. Alcohol withdrawal may have triggered the condition, or your pain could be a withdrawal symptom. Because this could potentially be a symptom of a very serious problem, you should always seek out professional medical care right away.

How Long Does Alcohol Withdrawal Last?

There are many factors that can impact how long your withdrawal symptoms last. For example, someone who drinks more alcohol or who has had a longer addiction history will generally have worse withdrawal symptoms. Your unique physical chemistry and co-occurring disorders can also impact how long withdrawal lasts. While four to five days is the norm, it’s the third day that is often considered the worst.

What Treatment Options Can You Use for Alcohol Addiction?

If you are suffering from alcohol use disorder, you don’t have to become sober on your own. There are many types of treatment programs that you can use to help you stop drinking. In addition, many of these programs involve a group environment, so you can recover in a supportive community of people who know exactly what you are going through.

Inpatient and Outpatient Treatment

If you are looking for addiction treatment, inpatient and outpatient treatment are the main formats to choose from. However, there are many options within this spectrum. While inpatient treatment requires a residential stay at the treatment center, outpatient centers allow you to go home each night.

Sometimes, people begin with an inpatient program and transition to gradually spending more time at home. For example, they may start an intensive outpatient program after an initial stay at an inpatient treatment center. While they still get to enjoy a high level of support, this approach allows them to slowly ease their way into normal life. Then, they can switch from an intensive outpatient program to a standard outpatient program when they no longer need the extra support.

Detox

Detox typically lasts for two to seven days. Before you start going to rehab, you should talk to an addiction specialist about your detox options. Professional medical supervision can help prevent and treat life-threatening complications, so there are many benefits to detoxing in a treatment center.

Group and Individual Therapy

Studies show that group therapy is as effective as individual therapy, and it is more efficient. Both options can be a useful part of addiction treatment. In individual therapy, you can work on addressing the root cause of your addiction and relapse triggers in a one-on-one environment.

With a group setting, you can focus on many of the same issues. You will also get the added support and encouragement that come from being in a group. Everyone in group therapy has experienced similar problems, so they can offer advice and provide moral support as you go through the recovery process together.

Physical and Mental Care

Many people use recreational drugs and alcohol to self-medicate for underlying disorders. For example, some people use alcohol to self-medicate for depression or anxiety. Instead of getting proper medical care for these disorders, they use alcohol to relax or feel happy.

Unfortunately, this can complicate addiction treatment. Once you decide to become sober, you will need a healthy way to cope with co-occurring disorders. When you begin rehab, you can talk to your rehab provider about diagnosing and treating other conditions at the same time.

Aftercare Options

Approximately 75% of people who have an addiction will go into recovery. Once you are sober, there are aftercare programs that can help you stay clean. They may use group meetings, therapy, or other options to help you maintain your sobriety over the long run.

Often, rehab centers will include aftercare as a part of your treatment program. For example, they may help you sign up for aftercare programs after you finish inpatient rehab. You can also learn about sober living and other options that can help you avoid a relapse.

Managing Chest Pain and Other Side Effects of Alcohol Withdrawal

If you are experiencing chest pain, the first thing you should do is get medical help right away. Whether you are experiencing withdrawal symptoms or a hangover, chest pain can be a symptom of several life-threatening disorders. Once a doctor has diagnosed the cause of your chest pain, you can get the appropriate treatment.

Chest pain is only one potential side effect of an alcohol use disorder. Over time, alcohol consumption can cause many acute and chronic conditions. To learn how to overcome your addiction and become sober, visit Alcohol Awareness today. We provide people with a free hotline and other resources about alcohol use disorder. From learning about support groups to treatment options, we can help you take the first step toward becoming sober.

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