If you have been consuming alcohol heavily for an extended period, you may experience mental and physical issues when you stop or significantly reduce your intake. This phenomenon is known as alcohol withdrawal, which can manifest in symptoms ranging from mild to severe.
Occasional drinkers are unlikely to undergo withdrawal symptoms upon cessation. However, if you have previously experienced alcohol withdrawal, you are at a higher risk of encountering it again in the future.
Understanding Alcohol Withdrawal
Alcohol has a depressive impact on your body, slowing down brain function and altering nerve communication. As your central nervous system acclimates to a continuous alcohol presence, it works diligently to maintain an alert state in your brain and facilitate nerve communication.
Withdrawal occurs when the alcohol level in your body suddenly drops, leaving your brain in an overly stimulated state.
Alcohol Withdrawal Symptoms and Timeline
The severity and nature of alcohol withdrawal symptoms depend on the amount and duration of alcohol consumption. Symptoms can emerge as early as six hours after your last drink and may include anxiety, shaky hands, headache, nausea, vomiting, insomnia, and sweating.
More severe symptoms, such as hallucinations and seizures, can develop 12 to 48 hours after your last drink. During this period, you may perceive things that do not exist.
Delirium tremens (DTs) typically begin 48 to 72 hours after you stop drinking. These severe symptoms include vivid hallucinations and delusions, experienced by only about 5% of individuals undergoing alcohol withdrawal. Additional symptoms may consist of confusion, racing heart, high blood pressure, fever, and excessive sweating.
Diagnosis and Treatment
Doctors will inquire about your drinking history, the duration since your last drink, and any past withdrawal experiences to determine whether you are experiencing alcohol withdrawal. They will also examine any other medical conditions that could be responsible for your symptoms.
In most cases, a supportive environment is sufficient to help you through the withdrawal process. This includes a quiet place, soft lighting, limited contact with people, a positive and supportive atmosphere, and proper nutrition and hydration.
Your doctor can recommend the appropriate treatment based on your specific needs. In more severe cases, such as increased blood pressure, pulse, or body temperature, or the presence of seizures and hallucinations, immediate medical care is crucial. Inpatient care and medication, including benzodiazepines, anti-seizure drugs, and antipsychotics, may be prescribed to address symptoms.
Prevention and Long-term Solutions
Addressing alcohol withdrawal is a temporary solution that does not tackle the root of the problem. It is essential to discuss treatment options for alcohol abuse or dependence with your doctor, who can provide guidance on how to quit drinking. AlcoholAwareness.org offers free resources in any area for individuals seeking help.