Alcohol Withdrawal: The Beast That Can Be Beaten
I woke up with a pounding headache and nausea that could make anyone cry. Although I was hungry, I needed to deal with the migraine. I sat up in bed and reached for my nightstand. A fifth of cinnamon whiskey sat. I slowly cracked the lid and took a few large swigs. It felt so warm going down, almost like drinking a hot coffee. Who needs breakfast, right?
This has become my routine most mornings. It started off as a few weekends of partying after brutally hard workweeks. Then I started drinking in the evenings after work. From there, my habit grew to the point I described above.
I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t scared. I live and breathe only to be able to drink. I’ve lost my friends, my job, and my family. I feel so alone, so I drink until I can’t feel the pain of my life. At times, I worry about what’s happening to me. I feel like I can’t escape the bottle.
I’ve tried so many times to stop drinking, but I always get so sick. I can’t handle the withdrawal process alone. I always crack and drink to ease the pain. Then the cycle starts all over. I think I need help.
How Do You Know When You’re Drinking Too Much?
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) considers binge drinking and heavy drinking as drinking to excess. For your drinking habits to be considered binge drinking, a woman must consume four or more drinks on a single occasion, and a man would have to consume five or more drinks. Heavy drinking is defined as consuming eight or more drinks per week for women and 15 or more drinks for men.
To better understand the limits, we’ll discuss what is considered a standard drink. According to the CDC, a standard drink in the United States contains 0.6 ounces of pure alcohol. To put it simply, this equals about 12 ounces of beer at a 5% alcohol content, 8 ounces of malt liquor at a 7% alcohol content, 5 ounces of wine at a 12% alcohol content, and 1.5 ounces of distilled spirits or liquor at a 40% alcohol content.
Excessive drinking is defined as heavy drinking, binge drinking, and any drinking done by pregnant women or people under the age of 21. This term is very broad, but it’s necessary as many people have different experiences with drinking. Excessive drinking for one person could be moderate drinking for another. Following the drinking guidelines set by the CDC is a great start toward lowering your alcohol consumption and bettering your understanding of your own personal limits.
It’s important to remember that excessive drinking and alcohol use disorder (AUD) are two different issues. An excessive drinker has a higher chance of becoming a person with an AUD, but that doesn’t mean they will become one. It’s also important to keep in mind that you don’t have to have an AUD to go through withdrawal from alcohol. Alcohol withdrawal can happen to people who drink in excess as well.
What Excessive Drinking Can Do To Your Health
It’s safe to say heavy drinking and binge drinking can have negative effects on your health. If you want to drink, drink responsibly and in moderation to prevent short- and long-term health effects. If you don’t drink responsibly, you could run the risk of developing any of the following health problems long-term:
- High blood pressure
- Heart disease
- Liver disease
- Digestive problems
- Breast, mouth, throat, esophagus, voice box, liver, colon, and rectum cancers have a higher chance of occurring
- Weakened immune system, meaning you’re more likely to get sick
- Learning and memory problems
- Mental health problems
- Alcohol use disorders or alcohol dependence
When a person can’t see they have a problem, it’s sometimes easier for those on the outside to identify the issue. If you suspect a loved one has a problem with alcohol but aren’t sure what to look for, here are some of the telltale signs. They may include:
- Miss work often
- Struggle financially
- Be unable to stop drinking once they’ve started
- Drink more than they used to
- No longer participate in activities they once enjoyed
- Miss deadlines
- Have arrests related to alcohol
There are many reasons why someone may drink to excess. Although that’s true, many times trauma is the main reason someone may be drinking that way. Trauma can be very difficult to manage on your own, and therefore, many people resort to self-medicating. This could be done with a variety of substances, but alcohol is the most common as it’s the most accessible and socially accepted option.
Alcohol Withdrawal: What Is It?
Alcohol withdrawal is when a person who drinks large amounts of alcohol on a regular basis experiences physical or mental symptoms due to abruptly stopping their consumption of alcohol. How severe those symptoms will be depends upon how often or how much the person had been drinking. In very severe cases, alcohol withdrawal can be life-threatening.
Why Does It Happen?
Alcohol is a depressant, so it has a calming effect on certain parts of your brain. The areas that are typically affected are the neurotransmitters, or signal carriers. Some of these neurotransmitters are responsible for decreasing activity in your nervous system, while others stimulate parts of your brain.
If you drink alcohol on a daily basis or in high amounts regularly, the neurotransmitters that relax you don’t function as well as they did before because the alcohol is doing their job for them. The neurotransmitters that stimulate you will increase because they’re trying to offset the depressant nature of the alcohol to keep your body functioning.
The longer and more you drink, the more out of balance these will get. If you suddenly stop drinking, the balance is massively off because some neurotransmitters aren’t working while others are working in excess. This results in physical or mental symptoms called alcohol withdrawal.
How Long Does It Take Before Withdrawal Begins?
Alcohol withdrawal can start anywhere from 6 to 24 hours after your last drink, but some symptoms could take up to 72 hours before they start. There is a misconception that people will only go into withdrawal if their blood alcohol content is at zero. This idea is incorrect, and people can go into withdrawal with alcohol still in their system.
If you drink heavily and regularly enough, even a slight change can trigger alcohol withdrawal. This is why alcohol withdrawal is so dangerous due to its unexpected onset and potentially deadly symptoms.
What Are The Symptoms Of Alcohol Withdrawal?
As mentioned before, when people begin withdrawal from alcohol, they experience mental or physical symptoms. Mild to moderate symptoms of alcohol withdrawal could include:
- Shakiness or tremors
- Feeling agitated or on edge
- Sleep disturbances
- Changes in vital signs
- Heart racing, high blood pressure, and skipped heartbeats
- Nausea or vomiting
- Emotional distress
Unfortunately, there are some much more dangerous symptoms that could happen. These symptoms are typical for more severe or even some moderate cases of withdrawal. Some of the possible symptoms for severe cases of alcohol withdrawal include:
When a person experiences alcoholic hallucinosis, they’re in a state of mind where they’re clear-headed but are starting to experience hallucinations, or seeing or hearing things that aren’t actually there.
With alcoholic hallucinosis, the person is awake and able to function, but they’re hallucinating. Many people report seeing dark figures, feeling like things are crawling on or touching them, or hearing voices. These hallucinations can start from 12-24 hours after your last drink. These typically last a few days but could also last up to a few weeks, depending on the person.
Alcohol Withdrawal Seizures
Alcohol withdrawal seizures sound exactly like what the name implies. People who suffer from this typically have seizures due to the massive imbalance in their brains due to lack of alcohol. These seizures typically happen about 6-48 hours after your last drink but can occur up to 72 hours later.
When you have an alcohol withdrawal seizure, you will pass out, fall, and start convulsing. Some people may only experience one seizure, while others may have a series of seizures. It’s important to seek out medical care immediately if someone experiences seizures, especially those related to alcohol withdrawal.
Alcohol Withdrawal Delirium Tremens or DTs
If you experience alcohol withdrawal delirium tremens (DTs), you will be going back and forth between a state of confusion and a clear-headed state. In these situations, you could experience other symptoms while also suffering from DTs. Some of these symptoms include tremors, hallucinations, drenching sweats, fevers, vital sign changes, and severe agitation.
DTs are a serious medical condition and could result in a much longer hospital stay. Medical doctors like to try to prevent DTs from even happening because it can be a pretty bad experience for the person having them.
DTs can happen anywhere from 3-4 days after your last drink. DTs can be deadly. DTs are fatal in about 15% of people who don’t get proper medical treatment. This number drops down to a 1% fatality rate with proper medical treatment.
Many times, these symptoms are so severe they can trigger you or your loved one to crave alcohol or to drink again. Sometimes people may resort to self-medication to stop these symptoms. This would then restart the process because the alcohol would “balance” the overactive neurotransmitters that are causing the symptoms.
How Long Do Withdrawal Symptoms Last?
How long withdrawal from alcohol takes depends on how much and how often someone has been drinking. In mild cases, withdrawal symptoms may go away in 1-2 days. In moderate cases, it could be 3-5 days, and in severe cases, it could be even longer.
What Do You Do If You’re Going Through Alcohol Withdrawal?
If you suspect you or a loved one is experiencing alcohol withdrawal, the safest course of action would be to seek immediate medical attention. You could go to the emergency room to get checked out, or you could go to a detox center.
Detox centers are more equipped to handle withdrawals as that is their specialty. It’s best to never try to “tough it out.” Sometimes people can experience very severe symptoms that could result in death if not handled properly. If you experience these serious symptoms and you seek medical attention, your chances of survival are much higher.
Once you have successfully detoxed from alcohol, it’s a good idea to seek out counseling or attend a rehab treatment program.
We know that detoxing from alcohol can be very difficult and is often the cause for relapse. Research has also shown that those who complete detox and rehab together have higher chances of staying sober longer and are less likely to relapse.
Alcohol detox and treatment are a couple of huge steps toward being able to live a life you can be proud of. Taking those steps can be scary, but the end result is worth it. You or your loved one can make that change. Recovery is possible for everyone. To make that possibility a reality, call Northpoint Colorado at 970-410-8228 today.
Can your body go into shock when you stop drinking?
According to the Mayo Clinic, shock occurs when there is a sudden drop in blood flow through the body. When experiencing withdrawal from alcohol, some symptoms do include heart rate and blood pressure changes. These changes could make your body go into shock. In severe cases of withdrawal, seizures, hallucinations, and death could also occur.
Is it dangerous to stop drinking straight away?
Quitting alcohol abruptly is very dangerous for some people and could be potentially life-threatening. If you want to stop drinking, you should seek out a medical facility to be able to detox successfully under the supervision of a trained medical professional. Some rehab treatment facilities offer detox services and are more prepared to deal with detox than an emergency room is.
How long do withdrawal symptoms last?
Withdrawal symptoms can last anywhere from one day to weeks depending upon how severe your withdrawal from alcohol is. If you have a mild withdrawal, then you could expect one to two days of symptoms. Moderate withdrawals can last for three to five days. Severe withdrawals can last up to weeks depending on which symptoms are being experienced.