After continued, heavy alcohol consumption for weeks, months, or even years, you are bound to experience physical and mental problems when you quit or reduce the amount you drink. This is known as alcohol withdrawal. Naturally, the human body gets used to getting alcohol depending on the drinking pattern and frequency. Therefore, when used to drinking alcohol then you stop abruptly, your body needs time to figure out which chemicals are missing. That’s why you experience alcohol withdrawal once you stop or cut down on alcohol consumption.
Symptoms of alcohol withdrawal can be mild or serious. A person that drinks occasionally is unlikely to experience withdrawal once they quit. However, an individual that has experienced alcohol withdrawal even once is likely to experience it again when they quit.
Common alcohol withdrawal symptoms include:
- Shaky hands
- Racing heart
- High blood pressure
Causes of Alcohol Withdrawal Symptoms
In some cases, these symptoms are life-threatening. That’s why it’s recommended that you undergo treatment for alcoholism in a rehab center. However, some people prefer being close to loved ones for support when fighting alcohol addiction. It’s therefore not surprising to be torn between inpatient vs. outpatient rehabilitation (check that). Nevertheless, it’s advisable to have medical professionals monitor you while undergoing treatment.
Alcohol has a depressive effect on the human body. Essentially, it slows down how the brain functions while altering how nerves convey messages. After some time of continued alcohol consumption, the central nervous system gradually adjusts and gets used to having alcohol in the system. Alcohol forces the body to work extra hard in order to keep the brain awake and ensure that the nerves keep communicating.
Consequently, when you quit or reduce the amount of alcohol you drink, the brain remains in a keyed up state. This is what causes alcohol withdrawal.
The severity of Alcohol Withdrawal Symptoms
Mild symptoms can be experienced eight hours after consuming alcohol for the last time. However, the severity of the symptoms may keep rising depending on the physical dependence’s magnitude. Severe withdrawal symptoms can be experienced two to four days of quitting. Generally, there are three categories of alcohol withdrawal symptoms.
- Mild- Mild alcohol withdrawal symptoms include insomnia, headache, anxiety, palpitations, tremor, and gastrointestinal disturbances.
- Moderate- These include increased body temperature or hyperthermia, diaphoresis or sweating, rapid heartbeat, high blood pressure, confusion, and tachypnea.
- Delirium tremens- With the progression of the severity of withdrawal symptoms, some individuals get impaired attention or they become disoriented. They can also experience seizures, auditory and/or visual hallucinations.
The duration of alcohol withdrawal varies and symptoms can persist for several weeks. However, the most severe alcohol withdrawal symptoms mostly develop 2 to 3 days after quitting. In most cases, withdrawal symptoms decrease and resolve altogether within 5 to 7 days.
How to Treat Alcohol Withdrawal Symptoms
Severe alcohol withdrawal is generally not defined clearly. What’s more, there is limited data about management. To diagnose alcohol withdrawal, doctors ask questions regarding the drinking history of the patient as well as how recently they quit drinking. They will also be interested in finding out if a patient has experienced withdrawal before.
During the appointment, the doctor will also discuss withdrawal symptoms with the patient. What’s more, they will want to know if the patient has other medical conditions. Unless for people with serious health issues or those who had serious withdrawal before, a supportive environment might be all that a patient needs to go through withdrawal.
Perhaps, the need for a supportive environment might be the reason you may be torn between inpatient vs. outpatient care. If you don’t have a supportive environment at home, it may be wise to relocate to a residential facility. An inpatient facility provides a quiet place, supportive and positive atmosphere, minimal contact with other people, soft lighting, lots of healthy food and fluids.
For people with high blood pressure, body temperature, and pulse as well as symptoms like hallucinations and seizures, doctors recommend inpatient care. That’s because such symptoms are life-threatening and therefore need close monitoring by medical professionals.
Some of the medications that are used to treat withdrawal symptoms like insomnia, seizures, and anxiety include benzodiazepines. Antipsychotics and anti-seizure meds can also be used alongside other drugs.
Overall, alcohol withdrawal treatment options can be categorized as follows:
Outpatient treatment may be ideal for you if your alcohol withdrawal is not severe. Progress of withdrawal is monitored via frequent check-ups appointments with professionals at the rehab center. The center provides a clinical setting with experienced medical professionals. That means patients get the care required to go through withdrawal safely and successfully. If the condition worsens, patients get the necessary care.
Medically Monitored Inpatient Detox
This treatment is offered at a freestanding detox facility. The facility does not provide more acute or intensive care like what patients get at a hospital setting. It is ideal for people at the risk of moderate or severe withdrawal and therefore need medically monitored detox services round the clock.
Providers of this treatment monitor the recovery progress as well as a regular assessment for withdrawal complications to ensure that patients are not in any danger. Sedative medications like benzodiazepines can be administered. This treatment is ideal for patients that want to be away from potentially triggering environmental and social stimuli that can increase their relapse risk.
Medically Managed Inpatient Detox
This form of treatment for alcohol withdrawal provides more intensive care. It includes an intensive care unit within a hospital and an acute psychiatric inpatient care environment. An inpatient rehab center that offers medically managed detox is ideal for people that are experiencing or likely to experience severe withdrawal symptoms.
With this treatment, the emphasis is put on vigilant monitoring of the patient as well as initiation and tapering off their medications. This enhances the management of withdrawal symptoms while decreasing the chances of having complications.
The Bottom Line
Abrupt quitting or reduction in the amount of consumed alcohol can lead to acute alcohol withdrawal syndrome. This is characterized by numerous symptoms some of which can be life-threatening. To fight alcohol withdrawal symptoms safely, it’s important to seek help from an inpatient or outpatient rehab facility.