Alcohol Withdrawal: Here’s What You Need to Know
“It doesn’t matter how far you might rise. At some point, you are bound to stumble. If you’re constantly pushing yourself higher, the law of averages, not to mention the Myth of Icarus, predicts that you will at some point fall. And when you do, I want you to know this, remember this: There is no such thing as failure. Failure is just life trying to move us in another direction.” — Oprah Winfrey
Nothing worth doing is ever really easy, is it? But we’re all stronger, smarter, and worth more than we know.
When we stumble and fall, the only thing left to do is get up. This rings true for those battling alcohol use disorder, the medical term for alcoholism. Understanding and admitting you need help isn’t easy. That journey in and of itself can be difficult, but one thing is for sure: It’s worth it. You’re worth it.
There’s a beautiful world out there with endless possibilities. There’s a purpose for you and for all of us. Instead of chasing our dreams, we have to be willing to go catch them.
How the Road to Recovery Begins
If you’re battling alcohol use disorder (AUD) and you have your mind set on recovery, one of the first things you’ll have to manage is the withdrawal symptoms as a result of leaving drinking in the rearview.
The thing about alcohol withdrawal symptoms is they can be uncomfortable and sometimes dangerous. However, by seeking a professionally supervised detox, you can safely and more comfortably reach one of the first milestones on the road to recovery.
Typically, withdrawal symptoms present themselves when someone who, for example, has AUD hasn’t had a drink for a certain period of time.
According to the National Institutes of Health (NIH), “Alcohol use disorder is a medical condition characterized by an impaired ability to stop or control alcohol use despite adverse social, occupational, or health consequences.”
Right now, researchers say 18 million Americans are battling an alcohol use disorder. Symptoms can include:
- A strong urge or need to drink
- Not being able to stop drinking
- Alcohol is causing problems in your personal and/or professional life
- Irritability when not drinking
- Abandoning activities you once enjoyed for alcohol
- Alcohol is causing health problems
- Finding yourself in dangerous situations as a result of alcohol
Since withdrawal can be another sign of AUD, let’s take a look at exactly what that entails and what you can do to treat it.
The Truth About Alcohol Withdrawal
The U.S. National Library of Medicine (NLM) says, “Alcohol withdrawal refers to symptoms that may occur when a person who has been drinking too much alcohol on a regular basis suddenly stops drinking alcohol. Alcohol withdrawal occurs most often in adults. But, it may also occur in teenagers or children. The more you drink regularly, the more likely you are to develop alcohol withdrawal symptoms when you stop drinking.”
Withdrawal symptoms typically show up within eight hours of the last drink. However, they can begin days later. Symptoms usually peak within one to three days, but they can last for weeks.
The most common symptoms include:
- Mood swings
- Trouble thinking
- Dilated pupils (black parts of the eyes enlarged)
- Rapid heart rate
- Insomnia (problems sleeping)
More serious symptoms include:
- Hallucinations (seeing or hearing things that aren’t real)
If you have any of the symptoms listed above, you may be experiencing withdrawal. Medical professionals typically recommend seeking professional treatment, such as a detox, to manage the symptoms.
There’s also a condition called delirium tremens (DTs), which consists of changes to the mental or nervous system. Delirium tremens is a medical emergency. If someone is showing signs of DTs, call 911 immediately. The NLM says symptoms can get worse quickly and may include:
- Severe confusion
- Deep sleep that can last at least a day
- Sudden mood changes
- Sensitivity to sound, touch, and light
What Is Detox?
Alcohol use disorder, or alcohol dependence, can cause the body to experience powerful cravings and mental and physical health consequences.
Severe addiction increases the likelihood of more dangerous withdrawal symptoms. A professional detox can help you as you move through this portion of the recovery process.
During detox, you will stay in a safe and comfortable home-like environment. Facilities like Pathways Recovery near Sacramento, CA are typically supervised by medical professionals to ensure everything runs according to plan.
A professional detox will allow you to have your vitals and overall health monitored by a medical team. If needed, you can also be prescribed medication to help control withdrawal symptoms.
You may also be offered educational resources to help you on your road to recovery. This can include things like educational groups, stress management, 12-step programming, nutrition education, and yoga classes.
Each person is different, which is why it’s so important to find a facility that tailors treatment to your unique needs. Once you’ve completed the detox process, you’ll be able to move on to a residential-based or intensive outpatient treatment program. Residential rehab is usually recommended for AUD.
What Causes Alcohol Use Disorder?
This is a question that has been asked time and time again: “What exactly causes alcohol use disorder?” The answer isn’t so simple.
There are various factors that can contribute to AUD, according to experts. The first potential contributor is drinking at an early age. A national survey among people ages 26 and older showed that those who began drinking before the age of 15 were more than five times as likely to report having AUD in the last year.
Another contributor could be genetics (inborn traits). The NIH reports, ”Genetics play a role, with heritability approximately 60%; however, like other chronic health conditions, alcohol use disorder risk is influenced by the interplay between a person’s genes and their environment. Parents’ drinking patterns may also influence the likelihood that a child will one day develop alcohol use disorder.”
Lastly, mental health conditions, such as anxiety and depression, and a history of trauma could play a role.
Different Drinking Habits
Alcohol use disorder may be the most severe form of an alcohol-related disorder, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t other dangerous drinking habits.
The two most common forms of potentially dangerous drinking are binge drinking and heavy drinking. Binge drinking is defined as five or more drinks during a single occasion for men, and four or more drinks during a single occasion for women. As for heavy drinking, it’s defined as 15 or more drinks per week for men and eight or more drinks per week for women.
Too much alcohol can cause health problems in the short term, such as:
- Alcohol poisoning
- Risky behaviors
- Engaging in dangerous activities
- Miscarriage, stillbirth, or fetal alcohol syndrome
In the long term, you could face:
- High blood pressure
- Heart disease
- Mental health disorders
- Liver disease
- Various cancers
- Family issues
- Job issues
- Digestive problems
For health reasons, it’s important to consume alcohol in moderation. This means two or fewer drinks a day for men and one drink or less a day for women.
In some cases, you shouldn’t drink at all, especially if you are:
- Below the age of 21
- Driving or planning to drive
- Battling certain medical conditions
- Taking certain medications
- Pregnant or may become pregnant
- Recovering from alcohol use disorder
If you ever have any concerns, do not hesitate to speak with a medical professional.
What Does an Alcohol Overdose Look Like?
If you believe someone is experiencing an alcohol overdose, call 911 immediately.
If you’re drinking too much, you’re also putting yourself at risk of alcohol overdose, sometimes referred to as alcohol poisoning, which can be a medical emergency.
According to the NIH, ”An alcohol overdose occurs when there is so much alcohol in the bloodstream that areas of the brain controlling basic life-support functions — such as breathing, heart rate, and temperature control — begin to shut down.”
Symptoms of alcohol overdose include:
- Difficulty staying awake
- Breathing problems
- Slowed heart rate
- Low body temperature
The NIH adds, “One potential danger of alcohol overdose is choking on one’s own vomit. Alcohol at very high levels can hinder signals in the brain that control automatic responses such as the gag reflex. With no gag reflex, a person who drinks to the point of passing out is in danger of choking on his or her vomit and dying from a lack of oxygen.”
Anyone who drinks too much alcohol can be at risk of alcohol overdose. In order to prevent this from happening, remember the moderate drinking guidelines mentioned earlier: two or fewer drinks a day for men and one drink or less a day for women.
A Look at Co-Occurring Disorders
A person is said to have co-occurring disorders when they have the combination of a mental health disorder and a substance use disorder (SUD), such as AUD. This is common and often found during the professional treatment process.
The NIH says, “Researchers have found that about half of individuals who experience a SUD during their lives will also experience a co-occurring mental disorder and vice versa. Co-occurring disorders can include anxiety disorders, depression, attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), bipolar disorder, personality disorders, and schizophrenia, among others.”
There are currently three possibilities as to why these conditions co-occur. For example, one theory in particular is that common risk factors contribute to both mental health and substance use disorders, such as both being tied to genetics.
Another theory is that mental health disorders contribute to substance use disorders. Because people with mental health disorders may seek an escape from their troubles, they may turn to substances like alcohol.
Finally, substance use disorders may contribute to mental health disorders since they may cause changes in how the brain operates.
Take the First Step Today
Alcohol no longer has to control your life. You can break free from the grasp of alcohol.
By reaching out for help, you can learn how to manage alcohol cravings, what contributes to your alcohol use disorder, and what it takes to prevent relapse.
No one should have to walk the path to recovery alone. The good news is that you don’t have to.
Pathways Recovery Is Here to Help You Take Your Life Back
Is alcohol causing problems in your personal or professional life? Do you want to stop drinking but can’t? Is alcohol causing you health problems or health scares? If so, alcohol rehab can help you take your life back.
Battling alcohol use disorder or alcohol misuse can be difficult. You shouldn’t have to overcome those obstacles alone. In fact, professional treatment can help you remain safe during the detox process and can give you the tools you’ll need to live a life in recovery.
Do not be afraid or ashamed to ask for help. Asking for help takes courage and strength.
Pathways Recovery, in Sacramento, CA, provides three levels of addiction treatment solutions for those battling an addiction to alcohol, including a detox center, residential treatment, and intensive outpatient treatment. To learn more, call (916) 735-8377.
Frequently Asked Questions
How does your body react when you stop drinking?
If you drink regularly, you may experience withdrawal symptoms once you stop. Symptoms usually peak within one to three days and may consist of nightmares, anxiety, depression, fatigue, sweating, headache, and more. More serious symptoms include seizures, fever, and hallucinations.
How quickly do withdrawal symptoms start?
Withdrawal symptoms typically show up within eight hours of the last drink. However, they can begin days later. They may peak over the course of three days.
How much do you have to drink to get DTs?
Delirium tremens, also known as DTs, consists of changes to the mental or nervous system. The NLM says symptoms can get worse quickly, and may include restlessness, deep sleep, tremors, fear, severe confusion, mood changes, and more. Delirium tremens is a medical emergency. If someone is showing signs of DTs, call 911 immediately. Since everyone is different, it’s difficult to pinpoint an exact amount you’d have to drink to get DTs, which is why refraining from drinking too much is important.
What does an alcohol overdose look like?
According to the NIH, an alcohol overdose occurs when there is so much alcohol in the bloodstream that areas of the brain controlling basic life-support functions like breathing, heart rate, and temperature control begin to shut down. Symptoms of alcohol overdose include:
- Difficulty staying awake
- Breathing problems
- Slowed heart rate
- Low body temperature
This can be a health emergency, which is why calling 911 immediately is advised.