Alcohol withdrawal can be fatal, so medical supervision is required in order to quit safely.
Some people who do not drink very much or very often may be able to safely detox in their own homes, but that decision should only be made by a doctor. Withdrawal symptoms can begin as soon as two hours after a drink and persist for as many as several weeks. To ensure best chances of long term recovery, an addiction treatment center should be attended after detox. Alcohol is notoriously hard to quit, and treatment can give tools and coping mechanisms to strengthen your recovery program.
If an individual who is physically dependent on alcohol tries to stop drinking alcohol, symptoms of withdrawal will become obvious. Symptoms of alcohol withdrawal can surface as soon as a few hours after the last drink and can last for weeks. Severe symptoms often surface within 3 to 10 days after the last drink.
Symptoms of Alcohol Withdrawal
Perhaps the most obvious symptom of alcohol withdrawal is a craving for more alcohol. A craving is an intense need for alcohol consumption, or an uncontrollable feeling that without alcohol, the individual cannot function.
Other symptoms of alcohol withdrawal are the direct opposite of the perceived benefits of drinking alcohol:
- Mild anxiety, nervousness
- Mood swings
- In addition, alcohol withdrawal is often characterized by these physical symptoms as well:
- Nausea and/or vomiting
- Loss of appetite
- Shaky hands, tremors (general shaking that is uncontrollable)
- Excessive sweating
- Clammy skin (unpleasantly damp and sticky)
What to Do if You Are Experiencing These Symptoms
If you have recently tried to stop drinking alcohol (especially if you have been drinking daily, drinking large amounts, or drinking regularly for many years) and you experience any of the symptoms above, you are most likely experiencing alcohol withdrawal. Alcohol withdrawal is a medical condition that requires medical help. Contact your doctor right away to schedule an appointment. In discussing your symptoms with your doctor, be very honest in describing your history with alcohol. Providing accurate information to your doctor will help you get the best help available.
Remember, any individual going through alcohol withdrawal will feel bad, then feel worse, eventually reach a plateau or leveling out of symptoms, and then begin to feel better. Dealing with alcohol withdrawal is very painful, and can be painful to watch someone else go through it as well. This process, however, cannot be managed alone. In order to reach the stage where you will ultimately begin to feel better, you need to seek medical help. If you do not contact your doctor when you experience the symptoms above, your situation could get much worse. Also, if you are experiencing major symptoms not listed above, you may already be experiencing severe symptoms of withdrawal. It is important to know the details on managing your alcohol withdrawal symptoms. Here is what to look for.
Severe Symptoms of Alcohol Withdrawal
- Extreme physical dependence on alcohol can lead to severe withdrawal symptoms:
- Black out periods - periods of time where the individual can’t remember anything
If you have been drinking for more than 10 years, especially as a heavy drinker, you are at a greater risk for a condition called delirium tremens. Delirium tremens is usually characterized by the following possible symptoms:
- Severe confusion
- Changes in mental function
- Rapid heart beat
- Deep sleep that lasts for 24 hours or more
What to Do if You Are Experiencing Severe Symptoms
If you recently stopped drinking and you are experiencing any of the severe symptoms above, you are experiencing a medical emergency. Have another individual take you to the emergency room immediately. If you are alone, call 911 for medical help.
Another key consideration in getting help as soon as possible is understanding that alcohol consumption often leads to other major health complications. Here are just a few health conditions that can be caused by excessive alcohol intake:
- Cirrhosis of the liver (so scarred it can barely function)
- Heart disease that can lead to heart attack or stroke
- Nerve damage
- Seek Treatment for a Full Recovery
Once your immediate medical needs have been addressed, you need to choose the best treatment option that will allow you to complete a full recovery. Many treatment options are available from counseling and support groups, to inpatient and outpatient rehab centers. Working with qualified professionals will not only help you find the right program for you, but also get you on track for a full recovery.
How to Help Someone Else Going Through Alcohol Withdrawal
If you know someone who is experiencing symptoms of withdrawal, encourage them to seek medical help. While being supportive in emotional ways is important, helping them get real help is more important. Managing alcohol withdrawal can be a matter of life and death. As previously mentioned, true alcohol withdrawal always requires medical attention.
If you notice someone experiencing severe symptoms of withdrawal, take them to the emergency room immediately. If they are unwilling to go to the emergency room, or if you are unable to take them yourself, call 911 immediately.
This post and series is brought to you and contributed by Shadow Mountain Recovery. Please visit their website at http://www.shadowmountainrecovery.com/.
The severity of the symptoms will be directly related to the severity of your physical addiction, i.e. how high your alcohol tolerance is and how long you’ve been drinking on a regular basis. Severe alcohol withdrawal can cause seizures, hallucinations, heart attack, stroke, disorientation, and other life-threatening conditions.
Whether you’re in a detox center or at a home, there are some things you can do to help yourself cope with alcohol withdrawal. In a detox center, you may also be given medications to help reduce symptoms, discomfort, and cravings. At home, over-the-counter pain relievers can help. No matter what, always drink lots of fluids, get lots of rest, and try hot or cold showers.
If you think that withdrawal is going to be a terrible, nearly impossibly painful experience, it will be a self-fulfilling prophecy. It will be difficult, but it’s a good idea to make a conscious effort to think positively throughout the withdrawal period. If you find yourself thinking with a defeatist attitude, remind yourself that there are many people who have made it through the symptoms who are no different than you. You’ve so far survived the ravages of addiction, and you can survive this, too.
Distraction is one of the most important tools you can use during alcohol withdrawal. There’s no exact way how to deal with alcohol withdrawal, but distraction is essential in all instances. Make sure you’re prepared with ways to take your mind off of things, such as with movies, books, journaling, TV shows, exercise, taking walks, drawing, cleaning, etc. Be ready to begin a new activity immediately whenever you start thinking about drinking again.
Seek Out Positive People
A support system is essential, and it becomes an integral part of your recovery the moment you put down your last drink. In a detox center, you’ll have doctors, counselors, or even other patients whom you can talk to whenever you’re having trouble. Don’t be afraid to seek them out, even when you don’t know what to say. Identify people in your life that want to help you, too, such as your parents, sober friends, clergy members, etc. Don’t speak to anyone you used to drink with; before you quit, let your drinking buddies know, and ask them to respect you and give you space.
When you decide to quit drinking, it’s also important to remember why you’re doing it. Write yourself a letter or make a list of your priorities, and refer to it whenever things are getting hard. Withdrawal is difficult, but the pain is temporary, and it’s nothing compared to the pain of a lifetime of drinking.