Does Alcohol Withdrawal Cause Flu Symptoms?

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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Does Alcohol Withdrawal Cause Flu Symptoms?

When you’re ready to break free of the restraints of a substance or an alcohol use disorder, chances are that you’re ready to finally feel good again. Anyone caught in the grips of addiction knows that much of an addict’s day is spent trying to make themselves feel better, often by the very substance that made them feel ill in the first place.

While we wish that we could tell you that ditching alcohol will instantly make you feel completely better, the fact of the matter is that this isn’t always the case. When you’re physically addicted to alcohol, withdrawals and withdrawal symptoms are sadly a fact of life when you’re trying to get sober. While there are some medical interventions and medications that can be dispensed by healthcare professionals to help ease your discomfort, many of these symptoms are simply an inevitable part of the road to recovery.

One of these unfortunate withdrawal side effects can often include flu-like symptoms, which can often be exacerbated by other withdrawal symptoms. While pushing through these discomforts can often be necessary in your recovery journey, there are steps you can take to mitigate your unease. Here’s what you need to know about alcohol withdrawal and flu symptoms.

What Is Alcohol Withdrawal?

When someone has been consuming alcohol in excess for a prolonged period of time, they become both psychologically and physically addicted to it. While these addicts rarely feel “good” so to speak, they often need to consume alcohol to feel “just OK.”

A person with alcohol use disorder relies on alcohol in order to raise their dopamine levels in order to not feel overwhelmed by depression and melancholy. Furthermore, a person with alcohol use disorder experiences a change in how their brain’s neurotransmitters send signals, which is often what causes them to have that constant urge to take another drink. While alcohol use disorder heavily affects a person neurologically, additional dysfunction can occur in the other organs of the body, primarily the liver and the kidneys.

Prolonged alcohol use disorder can negatively affect the body’s immune response. While those active in their addictions tend to numb these responses, a sudden discontinuation of alcohol consumption can cause the immune system to essentially overreact, becoming ultra-sensitive. This can cause the body to become vulnerable to viruses and airborne pathogens, which means that the person will experience extreme flu responses.

The Mind-Body Connection

The flu symptoms experienced during alcohol withdrawal aren’t solely caused by a reaction to external pathogens or a compromised immune system. Alcohol withdrawal or sudden alcohol discontinuation can create immense stress and unease for the client, which can often exacerbate any physical symptoms. Think of it like being sick with a cold in bed versus being sick with a cold at work. In bed, your discomfort feels minimal. At work, every little email or sound of a phone ringing makes your existing illness feel all the more extreme.

This is why the flu symptoms experienced by clients in withdrawal can feel so extreme. The serious mental component of any addiction is ever-present during the withdrawal stage, which means that any physical reactions only make that much worse the stress and upset that they’re already experiencing. Even though prolonged alcohol use is what caused these physical symptoms to occur in the first place, the addict’s brain is often screaming at them to take another drink to ease the physical pain and mental agony.

This is one of the many reasons why attempting to withdraw on one’s own or at home can be so dangerous. When both the mind and body are screaming at you to take another drink for the instant pain relief it will provide, it can be very difficult to resist the lure of feeling instantaneously better when you’re in agony. While many people who’ve never struggled with addiction might erroneously think that withdrawal is merely a physical experience, the mind-body component cannot be overstated.

The Importance of Support

It’s one thing to understand why exactly you are experiencing what you’re experiencing when you’re actively enduring withdrawal. It’s another thing entirely to understand what you need to do in order to push through it, rather than allowing these severe symptoms to guide you toward another relapse. Addiction specialists strongly suggest that those enduring these symptoms seek professional treatment.

Your healthcare providers will make a judgement call about what medications you may or may not be able to utilize in order to mitigate these flu symptoms. While some people might be able to handle pain relief medication as part of their withdrawal treatment protocol, others may not be determined to be candidates for such treatment options. If you find yourself being denied medication or a specific treatment while undergoing withdrawal in a professional setting, it’s important to trust that your providers have the best in mind for you. Sometimes, the risk of a specific medication might outweigh its benefits in providing you relief from your flu symptoms.

However, some treatment protocols will almost universally be used when trying to combat these flu symptoms. Those who’ve been suffering from alcohol use disorder often experience extreme dehydration due to their prolonged alcohol consumption, so steps taken to rehydrate the client will almost always be a part of combatting withdrawal pain. Oftentimes, a simple hydration drip can make a world of difference in a client’s discomfort.

Those in active addiction also often exhibit poor nutrition practices, which means that their bodies might be deprived of the essential vitamins and minerals that they need to feel their best. Aside from supplementing these vitamins and minerals with an IV drip, you may also be put on a dietary regimen that emphasizes foods that contain immune-boosting nutrients, such as zinc or vitamin C.

Pushing Through the Discomfort

In a professional recovery setting, healthcare professionals will do everything in their power to ensure that you experience the least amount of discomfort possible. However, a part of getting through this difficult withdrawal period might come down to you being willing to push through the pain and unease in order to come out on the other side. This can be much easier said than done as enduring these flu symptoms and the other symptoms associated with withdrawal can be massively difficult and challenging.

If you are in a professional setting, this will help a great deal. As you are undergoing supervised withdrawal, you’ll be able to speak with mental health professionals who can guide you toward the mental health tactics and tools that you need in order to endure something so challenging. However, compliance is essential if you want to succeed.

“Compliance” is basically just a fancy way of saying that you are obeying the directives and treatment protocols presented to you by your healthcare professionals. Sadly, those in recovery may still be fighting against the powerful hold that addiction has on them, which can frequently cause many of them to become noncompliant. While many would be quick to disparage these noncompliant clients as throwing away a wonderful opportunity to recover, it cannot be stated enough how powerful addiction can truly be. Many times, the noncompliant client wishes that they could follow through with treatment but finds themselves overwhelmed by the lure of their substance of choice.

When dealing with flu symptoms while undergoing medically supervised withdrawal, the best course of action is to speak up when you feel the addiction taking its ugly hold. Your healthcare team will want to know if you’re feeling the urge to drink or to leave. By informing them when you are feeling these urges, they can ensure that you are given the best mental healthcare possible to help you to work through these urges spurned by your addiction. In every phase of your recovery journey, you’ll find that communication and honesty are crucial for success.

The Road Ahead

Eventually the withdrawal phase of your addiction will end. The sudden physical relief you feel will be extraordinary. Many clients are in sheer awe of how incredible they feel, often for the first time in years, when they finally emerge from the darkest part of their medically supervised withdrawal.

However, while these wonderful feelings are all well and good, it’s important that the client doesn’t believe themselves to be cured just because they feel so suddenly good physically. In fact, this can often be a somewhat dangerous part of recovery. When the client experiences physical relief from their addiction for the first time in years, they might often think, “I’m cured!” While this initial post-withdrawal period can be a great motivator to continue treatment, there is still a great deal of work to be done in order to ensure that the client continues down the path of sobriety.

This path includes a lot of therapy, both one-on-one with a healthcare professional and in group settings with other clients. While alleviating yourself of the physical discomfort caused by drinking is a crucial first step, this relief in and of itself is typically not enough to sufficiently motivate a client to stop using alcohol permanently. Instead, it’s important to get to the root cause of why you drank in the first place, in addition to knowing your triggers and creating a plan on how to combat them without alcohol should they rear their ugly heads in the future.

Furthermore, developing tools like mindfulness is a key part of recovery. While they might seem superficial to some, developing self-soothing techniques can be a make-or-break factor in an addict’s journey to recovery. Many addicts develop unhealthy coping mechanisms, so it’s essential that they find ways to replace those unhealthy responses with healthy ones. This is why it’s important to never dismiss techniques like deep breathing exercise or yoga in the recovery process. Indeed, these healthy coping responses and mindfulness techniques can really be the “make-or-break” factor in a client’s decision not to drink again.

Your Future Is in Your Hands

A great recovery facility will be able to guide you on your path toward recovery, but ultimately your journey is in your hands. Think of it like building something. A store can provide you with a hammer and nails while helpful websites or professionals can tell you what to do along each of the steps involved. Ultimately, however, you have to pick up the hammer and actually start building.

No one in a professional facility will expect you to do all of the work on your own, but they will expect you to actually use the tools and knowledge that they provide to you. This can be extremely challenging, especially when you are experiencing flu-like symptoms that feel almost impossible to endure. However, if you’re motivated and ready to give it your all, recovery from alcohol use disorder can absolutely be your reality. Call the Alcohol Awareness hotline today at (855) 955-0771 to find a support group near you as you begin your journey to sobriety.