Alcohol Withdrawal: Symptoms, Treatment and Prevention

Alcohol withdrawal is the emotional and physical changes that your body goes through when you are suddenly cut off alcohol after a prolonged and heavy use.

The main symptoms of alcohol withdrawal include anxiety, insomnia, high blood pressure, increased heart rate, fevers, delusions or even seizures. Severe alcohol withdrawals should be treated and require the use of medications such as sedatives.

With proper treatment and alcoholism counseling, most patients can recover fully and be sober for a long time.

Causes

It is all within your brain! As we know, the alcohol could have a stimulating effect on your brain. It makes people feel happy and more courageous. Alcohol achieves this by tipping the balance of neurotransmitters in the brain. The neurotransmitters are like signals that control each part of your brain to feel and act. The alcohol consumption would lead to a decreased responsiveness of GABA receptors in your brain, which in turn would make people feel at ease after drinking.

However, with prolonged use of alcohol, your brain has become smarter and knows this trick. So to produce the same effect of happiness after drinking, you would increase the volume of consumed alcohol. This is clinically called dependence, meaning you rely on the substance to produce happiness. However, when you are suddenly cut off the alcohol, your body can not adapt to the sudden change and thus would respond with both emotional and physical changes.

Symptoms

The severity and intensity of alcohol withdrawal vary from person to person. Additionally, the clinical symptoms of alcohol withdrawal also vary with the time span after withdrawal.

In the first 8 hours after the last drink, you may feel anxious and experience insomnia. You may also have gastrointestinal symptoms, such as nausea.

1 to 3 days after the last drink, you would probably have symptoms of high blood pressure, rapid heart beats, headache and sweating.

2 to 4 days after the last drink, if you still do not have access to alcohol, you may have more serious problems, such as fever, agitation, blurry visions, confusions or even tremors and seizures.

In general, 5 days after the last drink, your symptoms would begin to decrease gradually.

Diagnosis

It is not difficult to diagnose alcohol withdrawal. In people who drink heavily with classic symptoms, the diagnosis is often straightforward.

Treatment

For patients with mild symptoms, they can be treated at home. In general, a family member needs to take care of the patient. The symptoms in milder cases tend to decrease a few days after the onset of symptoms. The care-giver has to make sure that the patient remains sober.

For serious cases, hospitalization is needed. Your doctor may use sedatives, such as lorazepam or diazepam to make you fall asleep, if you have symptoms of agitation, delusions or seizures. Doctors may also recommend various nutrients and vitamins, in which patients with heavy and prolonged alcohol consumption are generally deficient.

Prevention

It has been shown that it is not easy to stay off alcohol. Here are some preventive and detox methods that may help:

Join a support group to gain mutual support or get counseling from a specialist.

Take certain medications, such as acamprosate and disulfiram, under your doctor’s guidance.

* The Content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.