Alcohol withdrawal comes in stages and knowledge of how it works will benefit those trying to overcome alcoholism.
Alcohol is the third leading cause of preventable death according to the National Institutes of Health.
People try to stop using alcohol, only to be confronted with compulsive cravings and dangerous withdrawal symptoms. Understanding alcohol withdrawal is a critical part of recovery and moving towards freedom from alcoholism.
How Dependency is Formed
People who drink small amounts or once in a while will not experience withdrawal symptoms. Withdrawal should also not be confused with a hangover, which is caused by a night of excessive alcohol consumption and dehydration. Dependence is when someone’s body is reliant on it to function normally.
Dependence is usually both physical and mental. When someone drinks regularly, the body becomes dependent on it. This results in a dependence on alcohol which results in withdrawal when stopping use.
When someone uses alcohol for an extended period of time, their body becomes dependent. The body comes to expect the decimal reaction alcohol causes and does not react properly without it. Physical dependence is usually formed by drinking multiple drinks daily for more than a couple days.
When someone drinks regularly for more than a week, they are physically dependent. They will experience severe withdrawal symptoms when they stop drinking. This will also be paired with psychological symptoms.
After prolonged alcohol use, people become psychologically dependent as well. When they try to stop, they are met with anxiety, depression, irritability, and compulsive desires for more alcohol. These symptoms increase the difficulty of quitting alcohol. They also increase the chance of relapse.
What Happens When You Try to Stop?
When people have a dependence to alcohol and try to stop using, they are met with compulsive cravings for more alcohol. These can be so strong that it is difficult to think about anything else. This is the brain’s response to chemical dependence.
Withdrawal symptoms will occur shortly after stopping as well. These will often be so uncomfortable that they lead people to continue to drink. The physical and mental factors combined make it nearly impossible to quit on one’s own.
Stages of Alcohol Withdrawal and Detox
Withdrawal often begins as soon as 8 hours after stopping drinking for those with a dependence. Withdrawal means that the body is detoxing or removing the substance from the body. Withdrawal is the body’s reaction to not having any alcohol.
Detoxing at home is both dangerous, and uncomfortable. The worst withdrawal symptoms usually show up about 48 hours after stopping drinking. They are both physically and mentally unbearable for most people.
While some people are able to overcome the first two days of withdrawal on their own, they often relapse or put their lives in danger. It is always recommended to detox in a medical facility.
Medical detox programs allow medical supervision and care. Most medical detoxes use medications to alleviate withdrawal symptoms, sometimes making them unnoticeable. Medical detox followed by treatment leads to the best odds of long-term recovery.
The Beginning of Alcohol Withdrawal
Alcohol withdrawal begins shortly after stopping drinking. People usually feel a general discomfort, anxiety, and sweat profusely at times. Some people develop shakes or tremors and experience headaches. These initial reactions are the beginning of withdrawal and the body’s natural reaction to breaking a dependence.
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Stages of Alcohol Withdrawal
Alcohol withdrawal progresses over time. It gets worse and worse until it begins to fade away. It can also cause psychological symptoms that only compound the discomfort.
Common Alcohol Withdrawal Symptoms and Timeline
While symptoms vary from person to person depending on length and amounts of use, there are many common side effects felt by almost everyone. This timeline will highlight what can be expected.
First 8-12 Hours of Withdrawal
The first 8 to 12 hours are usually somewhat bearable. There will be mild cravings to continue drinking. There may be some anxiety or irritability coupled with headaches. Depending on the severity of the dependence, tremors and shakes can occur even during these early phases.
12-48 Hours into Withdrawal
During this time, most symptoms worsen, while others begin to show up as well. Many people are unable to think clearly. They will often experience insomnia and fatigue. Body aches are also common during this time.
48 Hours and Beyond
After the first 48 hours, the worst symptoms begin to appear. This is usually when symptoms can become life threatening and medical attention can be crucial; sometimes life-saving. People experience nausea, inability to eat, fatigue, insomnia, and sometimes seizures.
The combination of these symptoms make withdrawal unbearable. It is extremely uncomfortable and mentally drowning. Compulsive desires for more alcohol also occur. This period is the most dangerous and would be better handled in a medical setting.
Delirium Tremens or DT’s is a condition that involves hallucinations and seizures. DT’s are life threatening and experienced by 1 in 20 people coming off alcohol. This is why alcohol detox needs medical supervision and care.
Treatment for Alcohol Withdrawal Symptoms
Alcohol withdrawal is awful, uncomfortable, and dangerous. Many of these symptoms can be handled at home, but others cannot and can be life threatening. Medical detox programs are able to treat many of these symptoms with medications. Nausea, insomnia, and overall discomfort can all be treated by experienced medical professionals.
A true medical detox program can monitor withdrawal symptoms and treat them as they occur. They can also provide 24 hour supervision to ensure the safety of everyone at risk. Detox programs make withdrawal manageable, while opening the door to recovery for many. They are often the first step in a treatment program and vital to success.
We offer multiple levels of care to meet the needs of every individual. Our experienced staff has over 2 decades of experience in treating alcohol rehab addiction and alcoholism.
If you or a family member is struggling with alcoholism, we are here to help. We are available 24/7 to discuss treatment options. Our goal is to provide the highest quality of care to everyone struggling with alcohol addiction and lead them to a path of recovery. Call Us Today at (800) 817-1247.