What Happens When You Withdraw From Alcohol

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alcoholic woman passed out

When you’re ready to put down the bottle and get sober, it is a monumental decision that will impact your life in a big way. Getting sober is a grueling process after years of alcohol abuse. It takes a toll on your mind, body, and spirit, and undertaking the withdrawal from alcohol is not for the faint of heart. However, understanding the physiological portion of the withdrawal from alcohol can help you get through the symptoms with confidence that you’re going to be okay.

What Are Alcohol Withdrawals

Withdrawal from alcohol is a slew of symptoms that ensue after the cessation of excessive alcohol intake. Alcoholism is a progressive condition that worsens over time. As you descend into the insanity of alcoholism, you require more and more alcohol to achieve the same physiological effects from the substance. An abrupt disruption in your intake incites a shock to your system, which has become dependent on the alcohol to function normally.

Withdrawal from alcohol is the body’s physical response from lack of alcohol intake. These symptoms vary in severity from person to person, and can even be fatal. Withdrawal from alcohol can even begin as early a few hours after the last alcoholic beverage ingested. There a number of different symptoms that you can experience as a result of the withdrawal process. Some of these symptoms include anxiety, shakiness, seizures, or delirium tremens also known as DTs. It always recommended that you seek out an inpatient medical detox whenever facing withdrawal from alcohol due to the volatile nature of the process.

Why Does It Happen?

Thanks to the devastating effects of alcohol, the body actually undergoes a physiological change as a result of alcoholism. Over time, drinking actually changes the brain chemistry of the alcoholic. Alcoholic drinking disrupts the brain’s naturally occurring neurotransmitters or chemicals that transmit messages from the brain to the body.

Neurotransmitters such as GABA (the chemical responsible for feelings of relaxation) and glutamate (the neurotransmitter in charge of producing feelings of excitability) are suppressed. Due to the consistent suppression, more and more alcohol is required to produce the same effects, which is what is known as developing a tolerance.

After the cessation of alcohol consumption, these brain chemicals are no longer suppressed. However, the brain will then subsequently “rebound” in order to compensate. The brain then causes the opposite effects associated with consuming alcohol. This is where the withdrawal from alcohol symptoms come from. These symptoms are all the antithesis of those experienced while intoxicated.

What are the Symptoms of Withdrawal from Alcohol?

As mentioned before, there are a variety of symptoms that may ensue as a result of withdrawal from alcohol. Anxiety, shakiness, seizures, low-grade fever, high blood pressure, irregular heartbeat, tremors, disorientation, hallucinations (audible and visual), and DTs are some of the symptoms you can expect. The most severe alcoholic will potentially face death as a result of the detox process, and that is primarily due to DTs.

DTs, or delirium tremens, as mentioned earlier, are extremely deadly. DTs are identified by feelings of severe disorientation and confusion, rapid heartbeat, and fever. The death rate associated with DTs is estimated to be approximately 1-5%, which is why seeking professional medical attention, no matter what the severity of the alcoholism, is always recommended. Symptoms may start out seemingly mild, but can abruptly take a turn for the worse, putting your life in immediate danger without the intervention of a medical professional.

Possessing various pre-existing conditions can also increase the likelihood of experiencing the symptoms of withdrawal from alcohol. Withdrawal seizures will usually occur within the first 24 to 48 hours of the detox process. The older you are, the more likely you are to experience these symptoms as well.

drunk man on a couch

What Does Detox Do?

If you are truly ready to cease your alcoholic lifestyle, it’s crucial that you locate a good medical detox facility. This can be private or state-run depending on your financial abilities, but no matter what, medical intervention is necessary. Upon entering the facility, you will be attended by the medical staff and given an overall medical exam and provide an extensive medical history. The physician will then determine your course of treatment.

Various prescription medications will be prescribed and administered by the medical staff that will include benzodiazepines, Librium, Ativan, and Serax. Other medications often prescribed include antipsychotics beta-blockers and clonidine. These medications will control the severity of symptoms you will experience such as shakiness, anxiety, as well as reduce the risk of experiencing seizures and DTs.

There will still be resulting discomfort from the withdrawal from alcohol. Nausea, vomiting, insomnia, headaches, sweating, and overall achiness can still be expected, but in a far less severe manner. The point is that the withdrawal from alcohol will be no walk in the park, regardless of medical intervention or not, it can just be the difference between life and death.  

As you progress through your detox from treatment, after getting through the first five to ten days you should begin to notice an improvement in your withdrawal symptoms. The medical team will continue to evaluate your physical health by consistently taking vitals and monitoring your progress in correlation to the prescription medications. The doses will begin to slowly wean down at a safe pace and eventually you will come off the medications entirely.

What’s Next?

After you’ve safely navigated the withdrawal from alcohol, further treatment is often recommended. Alcoholism is a progressive disease, and merely removing the substance from the body is only the beginning. Many times, medical professionals recommend either a continuation of treatment on an inpatient or outpatient basis, where further counseling and therapy can commence. 12-step programs can also be extremely successful in providing long-term sobriety.

No matter what you and your doctor decide is best, the journey to recovery is never-ending. Surmounting the withdrawal from alcohol is the first step on the road to sobriety. Maintaining sobriety requires constant vigilance, commitment, and effort on part of the alcoholic in order to avoid relapse and, worst case scenario, death. It is by no means an easy road, but it is always worth it!

In Need of Detox?

It can be intimidating to know that addiction and alcoholism are always right around the corner. Sometimes getting that little push and having medical guidance can be what it takes. Relapse and active addiction/alcoholism are only as preventable as much as we value the sobriety we hold in our hands. If you or a loved one has been struggling with getting a firm grasp on sobriety and need detoxification, please call 800-982-5530 or visit restoredetoxcenters.com. Our teams of specialists are waiting by to help figure out what options are best for sending your life is a comfortable direction that you can proudly stand behind.

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