What Are Alcohol Withdrawal Symptoms?

Overcoming an addiction to alcohol is one of the most challenging things that someone can do, and alcohol withdrawal is a major reason for that. Alcohol withdrawal symptoms can range from being merely unpleasant to life-threatening, and relatively few people can overcome them without help from professional treatment and support from friends and family.

Why People Experience Alcohol Withdrawal

Alcohol is a depressant, which means it slows down your central nervous system. If you drink heavily over an extended period of time, your nervous system gets used to being under the effects of alcohol, and your body has to work harder to keep you awake and alert. When you suddenly stop drinking, your body remains in that heightened state, which causes alcohol withdrawal symptoms. Keep in mind that alcohol withdrawal is different from a hangover.

A hangover occurs after heavy alcohol consumption and is thought to be caused by dehydration, your immune system responding to the alcohol, or a drop in blood sugar. Hangovers may make you feel horrible, but the symptoms go away within 24 hours. Meanwhile, alcohol withdrawal occurs after weeks, months, or even years of heavy drinking. The physical symptoms can last for days and are fatal in some cases.

A Timeline of Alcohol Withdrawal Symptoms

Mild alcohol withdrawal symptoms typically begin within six hours after your last drink. These milder symptoms might feel a bit like a hangover and include:

  • Anxiety
  • Headaches
  • Nausea
  • Shaking Hands
  • Vomiting
  • Sweating
  • Insomnia

After you’ve gone 12 to 24 hours without drinking alcohol, you might experience hallucinations. After 48 hours, you might experience seizures. Once you’ve gone two to three days without drinking any alcohol, you’ll experience the most severe withdrawal symptoms. Perhaps the worst of these symptoms is delirium tremens, or DTs. This is a rapid onset of confusion, hallucinations, and delusions. It is also often accompanied by shaking, sweating, and an irregular heartbeat.

Treating Alcohol Withdrawal

Alcohol withdrawal symptoms can be very dangerous, especially for someone who has been drinking for months or years. Delirium tremens can be fatal for some people, as can status epilepticus. This is a severe seizure that affects about three percent of those experiencing alcohol withdrawal and constitutes a medical emergency. Many people make the mistake of thinking they can just overcome their withdrawal symptoms on their own as if it’s not much worse than a bad hangover.

That can work for some people, but those who have experienced withdrawal in the past or who have serious medical conditions should seek professional help. Severe alcohol withdrawal should never be taken lightly. If you’re reasonably healthy and you think you can overcome your physical withdrawal without professional treatment, you’ll still need a quiet and supportive environment that includes soft or dim lighting, limited contact with others aside from your closest friends and family, and plenty of healthy foods and fluids. If you experience a sudden rise in blood pressure or body temperature, or if you have severe seizures, seek medical attention immediately. If you’ve experienced alcohol withdrawal before or you aren’t healthy enough to handle the worst symptoms, speak to your doctor to find out what kind of care you’ll need.

This will likely involve medically-assisted detox where you are supervised by medical staff and administered medications to manage the worst of your symptoms. No matter how bad your withdrawal symptoms can be, it’s important to know that they are only physical symptoms of an underlying problem. You will likely need ongoing counseling to address the reasons why you began drinking in the first place, and that’s where a treatment program can help you.

The right program can help you make the necessary lifestyle changes and identify the underlying issues that may have led to you becoming dependent on alcohol. It is a long and arduous process, but it is one that is necessary for those who want to overcome alcoholism once and for all. For more information about treatment programs that may be available to you, contact us today at 833-820-2922. We will be more than happy to answer any questions that you might have.