Alcohol is like any other drug in that you can become dependent upon it. When you spend a prolonged time drinking large amounts of alcohol, you’re likely developing a dependence. While the alcohol may be making you feel calm now, when you decide to get sober you should know what you’ll experience in terms of alcohol withdrawals.
Alcohol Withdrawal Syndrome
Detox occurs when you actively break your body’s cycle of dependency on a substance. Once you make your way through this process your brain and your body will be ready to recover from your addiction. However, it’s important to understand that as you do go through this process you may experience what’s known as alcohol withdrawal syndrome.
As a heavy drinker, when you suddenly stop drinking alcohol you may experience alcohol withdrawal syndrome. You may also experience this if you just reduce your intake amount significantly.
You’ll know that you’re suffering from alcohol withdrawal syndrome because you’ll be experiencing a combination of physical and emotional symptoms. These may range in intensity from severe (e.g., hallucinations, seizures) to minor (e.g., anxiety, fatigue, nausea) symptoms. The symptoms can be both physical and emotional in nature. Nevertheless, this is something that you need to be monitored for while detoxing because some of these symptoms are life-threatening.
What is Alcohol Withdrawal?
Alcohol withdrawal symptoms (or AWS) occur when you suddenly or seriously cut back on the amount of alcohol you drink. These symptoms can range anywhere from mild to serious. Mild symptoms include irritability, agitation, anxiety, and tremors. However, when these symptoms become serious you may experience delirium, hallucination, and seizures.
Withdrawal causes an imbalance in your brain chemistry. This results from alcohol-induced imbalances that result in excessive neuronal activity when you stop drinking alcohol. Management of these symptoms begins with assessing how severe your symptoms are and whether you have any complicating conditions. Once these things are determined you may be prescribed medication to help you through your withdrawal.
There are a variety of undesirable mental and physical symptoms you may experience when undergoing alcohol withdrawal. These symptoms are somewhat predictable, but nobody knows for sure which ones they’ll have to deal with or how intense they’ll be.
Typically, when you’re undergoing alcohol withdrawal you’ll experience:
- A higher heart rate (over 100 bpm)
- A sharp increase in anxiety and excitation
- Insomnia – when you do sleep you’ll experience intense dreams and nightmares
- Poor appetite
- Poor memory
- Poor decision-making capabilities
- Higher sensitivity to light, sound, and touch
- Possibly aggressive or violent behavior
Of these possible symptoms, the ones that were most frequently experienced include irritability, fatigue, sweating, anxiety, hand tremors, a rapid heart rate, mood swings, and nausea or vomiting. Since these can affect your physical and psychological health they’re troubling. However, severe withdrawal symptoms can put you in substantial danger. Some of these symptoms include:
- Delusional thinking (believing that something is real despite lack of evidence)
- Hallucinations (seeing, hearing, feeling, tasting, or smelling something that isn’t there)
- Seizures caused by abnormal electrical activity in your brain
The most common of these symptoms include hallucinations and seizures. These can cause a real risk to you and the people around you.
Stages of Alcohol Withdrawal
There are four different stages in which withdrawal-related symptoms occur. These are minor, major, seizures, and delirium tremens. It’s important to understand that you won’t necessarily experience all of these different types of withdrawals. However, you should know about these stages and what they include, nonetheless.
Symptoms of Alcohol Withdrawal
To understand the symptoms of alcohol withdrawal it’s important to look at them based on the different stages of alcohol withdrawal. Doing so will give you a better idea of what you should expect and when it may occur.
Minor Withdrawal Symptoms
These are the symptoms that you’ll experience within the first 24 hours after you last consumed alcohol. Although you’ll be uncomfortable, these symptoms aren’t dangerous. They include:
- Shaky hands
Major Withdrawal Symptoms
When you’re faced with major withdrawal symptoms, they’ll be more significant and distressing. They are both mental and physical symptoms that typically begin 10 – 72 hours after you last consumed alcohol. Unfortunately, you won’t be able to function normally when you experience them because they include:
- Tremors that affect your entire body
- Visual hallucinations (seeing things that aren’t there)
- Auditory hallucinations (hearing things that aren’t there)
- High blood pressure
- Intense sweating
These seizures occur in about 9% of people who’ve never had a seizure in the past. Sometimes they’re referred to as “rum fits” and are the only symptom of alcohol withdrawal that you may have. They’ll emerge 6 – 48 hours after your last drink and will be brief and generalized in nature. Typically, they only last for around 6 hours but should be closely monitored so that you don’t have accidental injuries related to the effects of a seizure.
When you’re experiencing severe withdrawal, you may start to have delirium tremors (DTs) between 48 – 96 hours after you’ve stopped drinking alcohol. When you’ve been consuming alcohol for a long time, you’re at more risk of having them. If this describes your situation, you really should seek a medical detox facility to ensure your safety throughout detox.
Alcohol Withdrawal Timeline
The type of symptoms you’ll experience throughout alcohol withdrawal will depend on the amount of alcohol you drank and for how long. You’ll begin experiencing these symptoms 6 hours after your last drink. They may last up to 72 hours. Here’s a look at what you can expect to experience and when you may experience it.
6 Hours After Your Last Drink
You may start experiencing mild symptoms as soon as 6 hours after your last drink. These symptoms typically include:
- Shaky hands
12 – 48 Hours After Your Last Drink
This is a critical time during which you may experience many symptoms that will require medical attention. For instance, hallucinations (seeing, hearing, or feeling things that aren’t there) may begin within 12 hours of your last drink. You may also start to experience seizures during this time.
48 – 72 Hours After Your Last Drink
Delirium tremens (DTs) usually start during this timeframe. This is a severe condition in which you’ll experience vivid hallucinations and delusions. Thankfully, only about 5% of people with alcohol withdrawal experience them. Those who do experience them typically also experience:
- High blood pressure
- Racing heart
- Heavy sweating
Acute Alcohol Withdrawal
Acute alcohol withdrawal is a term that’s used in reference to the common withdrawal symptoms that heavy drinkers experience during the first few days and weeks in detox. Even if you try to slowly reduce how much alcohol you drink after a prolonged period of heavy use you’re still at risk of this. Some of the symptoms you may experience during this time include temporary loss of consciousness, delirium tremens, and seizures. Since these are life-threatening health complications you shouldn’t attempt to detox on your own. Instead, you should do so in a medically supervised treatment facility. This allows medical professionals to frequently assess your mental and physical health throughout the day to ensure that your symptoms don’t escalate.
Post Acute Withdrawals (PAWs)
Although your brain has a tremendous capacity to heal, it doesn’t happen quickly. Once the symptoms of acute alcohol syndrome subside, you may still experience prolonged side effects anywhere from 4 – 8 weeks afterward. This is one of the leading causes of relapse for people who’ve undergone alcohol addiction treatment. Known as post acute withdrawals, this is something that occurs in cyclical waves. You may feel fine one day then the next day you’re plagued by low energy and an intense craving for alcohol.
The spontaneity of PAWs makes it challenging to resist temptation. While you may have post acute withdrawals for up to a year, each PAWs episode typically only lasts for a few days. If you’re able to make it through these times the symptoms will resolve themselves just as fast as they appeared.
Some of the most common symptoms of post acute withdrawals include:
- Intense cravings
- Emotional outbursts
- Trouble sleeping
- Low energy
- Delayed reflexes
- Memory problems
- Prone to more accidents
- Chronic nausea
Forms of Treatment for Alcohol Misuse
There are a few different ways in which you can detox from alcohol abuse. One way is to do so at home. This is only recommended for people who don’t have a serious health condition and who haven’t had severe withdrawals before. If you choose to detox in this fashion, you’ll still need a supportive environment to help you through your withdrawal.
To create the right environment for your alcohol detox you’ll want to start by finding a quiet place with soft lighting. There should also be plenty of healthy food options and fluids available to you. While it’s a good idea to have positive, supportive people around you, it’s equally important to make sure that you won’t have many people there bothering you.
If you’re well into your detox and you start experiencing serious symptoms (e.g., seizures, hallucinations), you’ll want to seek medical attention immediately. These are life-threatening conditions that may require inpatient care or medication.
The Risks of at Home Alcohol Detox
Since every person experiences alcohol withdrawal in different ways, you shouldn’t feel ashamed to seek an inpatient treatment center. If you’ve been addicted to alcohol for a long time or have been drinking excessive amounts of alcohol throughout your usage, you should seek inpatient detox. Unfortunately, there’s no way to determine what type of detox will work best for you until you start detoxing.
There are many dangers of detoxing from alcohol at home. That’s one of the reasons that professionals recommend you don’t do this. Instead, they recommend an inpatient treatment center where you’ll have access to medication and professionals. You’re advised to have these things available to you since alcohol detox is unpredictable. It can become fatal quite fast.
If you’re also dealing with a mental illness (e.g., anxiety, depression, PTSD, mood disorders) alongside your alcohol addiction, you don’t want to detox from alcohol at home. It’s quite likely that you’ve been self0medicating for these issues without even knowing it. However, once you begin to detox and the flood of symptoms returns, it’s important to have medical professionals available to help you.
Medically Supervised Detox
One of the biggest advantages of undergoing a medically supervised detox is that you’ll have medications available to you that will help make the process easier. Many professionals believe that this makes detox safer and more effective since they can administer medication to help you through this time.
There are numerous prescription medications a detox program can use to decrease the severity of your withdrawal from alcohol. These medications also lessen the damage your body may experience due to alcohol withdrawal. This is because the medications can treat some of the severe withdrawal symptoms you may experience, including hallucinations, seizures, and heart failure.
The type of medication that’s used will depend on your consulting physician’s treatment modality. There are a few common medications that most treatment professionals typically use for alcohol withdrawal. These include:
- Antiadrenergic agents (a.k.a., benzodiazepines) are used to treat symptoms including insomnia, anxiety, and seizures. They work by inhibiting the signals of epinephrine and norepinephrine.
- Anti-seizure or anti-convulsant medications (e.g., Depakote, Tegretol, Klonopin, Keppra, phenobarbital) help manage the seizures you may experience while undergoing alcohol withdrawal. Each medication will work differently depending on how it’s designed to prevent seizures.
- Antipsychotics (e.g., Olanzapine, Risperdal, Seroquel, Abilify, Clozaril) are prescribed to patients who have certain co-occurring or psychiatric issues such as schizophrenia, dementia bipolar, disorders. The medication won’t cure psychosis but it’ll help reduce and control many of its symptoms including delusions, paranoia, and hallucinations. They may also help with certain withdrawal situations such as anxiety and major agitation.
- Acamprosate (a.k.a., Campral) was approved by the FDA for treating alcoholism. It reacts with your brain’s neurotransmitter system thus reducing your brain’s dependence on alcohol.
- Vivitrol is an injectable that provides naltrexone in an extended-release form. Naltrexone will bind to your body’s endorphin receptors blocking the feelings and effects of alcohol. When given you’ll have fewer cravings and thoughts of alcohol.
- Certain nutritional supplements are frequently given since they’re able to restore the vitamins and minerals your body has been depleted of from your addiction to alcohol.
- Disulfiram (a.k.a., Antabuse) is a medication that interferes with how your body breaks down alcohol. It’s designed to give you an acute sensitivity to the ethanol in alcohol. So, if you take alcohol while drinking this medication you’ll experience unpleasant effects.
- Antidepressants (e.g., Lexapro, Celexa, Paxil, Prozac, Zoloft) help relieve symptoms of anxiety and depression. They’re given during detox to help correct any chemical imbalances in your brain. These imbalances occur in your neurotransmitters and result in changes in your mood and behavior.
- Anti-nausea medications (e.g., Promethazine, Zofran, Metoclopramide) are given when you experience nausea.
Inpatient Treatment for Alcohol Misuse
With a medically supervised detox, you’ll be in a treatment center where clinical staff can closely monitor you throughout the entire detox process. They’ll give you medication and therapy to help you with the experience. Due to these advantages, most people will detox from alcohol via an inpatient treatment program. This is because it’s more comfortable since you know that help is there for you whenever you need it. You may also find the combination of therapy and activities a great way to fill your time and keep you from thinking about alcohol.
Some of the things you should take into consideration when looking for an inpatient treatment facility include:
- Your age: If you’re over 60-years-old, you may struggle more throughout detox. This is because there are various health complications you may encounter, some of which may be life-threatening without prompt medical attention.
- The state of your mental health: If you have a co-occurring mental health condition you’ll need a personalized treatment plan. This is something that an inpatient rehab is equipped to provide you with. In doing so, you can rest confidently in the fact that both your addiction to alcohol and your mental health issue will be addressed properly.
- The substances you’re abusing: If you’re abusing drugs along with alcohol, they can interact in an extremely dangerous manner. The health complications that may occur should receive prompt medical attention. Since prevention is worth an ounce of medicine, you should enter a treatment facility where professionals can closely monitor you throughout your detox.
- Your medical history: If you have issues with your heart, breathing, or liver you’ll want to seek inpatient treatment. Doing so allows treatment professionals to closely monitor you and quickly make any necessary modifications before they become serious.
Long-Term Alcohol Sobriety is Possible
There are so many options for detoxing from alcohol and equally as many considerations you’ll need to keep in mind as you determine which option is best for you. Now that you have the information you need to make an educated decision.
At Divine Detox, we understand that this is a big decision – one worthy of a lot of thought and investigation. We want you to know that we are here to help you through this difficult time. With the right combination of therapy and medication in a nurturing environment, you can conquer sobriety.
Countless clients have passed through our doors on their journey to recovery, and we invited you to contact our Admissions team today to begin on your healing path as well.