Alcohol belongs to a family of substances known as depressants. Depressant drugs have a slowing effect on the brain and over time, with repeated use, the brain’s chemical balance adjusts to compensate for the effect of alcohol. Alcohol withdrawal happens when a person abruptly stops drinking alcohol or decreases their alcohol consumption after a long period of time. It is the changes that the body experiences after stopping heavy alcohol use. In people who are addicted to alcohol, the central nervous system (CNS) alters itself to compensate for alcohol’s depressive effects on the brain that are caused from the continuous presence of alcohol in the body. As a result, when alcohol levels abruptly go down, the brain remains in a state of hyperactivity that results in withdrawal symptoms.
Alcohol Withdrawal Symptoms
Once the brain has altered itself to compensate for heavy drinking, it takes a lot of time for the brain to go back to its original state. After a person has their last drink they may start to experience withdrawal symptoms. People can experience various alcohol withdrawal symptoms depending on the severity of their alcohol use. With that being said, there is a lot of variability among users. The range of alcohol withdrawal symptoms varies so much from person to person that some people will have no symptoms, others might experience mild insomnia, while other people might have severe consequences like delirium tremens or even death. Alcohol withdrawal symptoms generally include anxiety, depression, fatigue, irritability, shakiness, mood swings, nightmares, not being able to think clearly, sweating, headaches, clammy skin, insomnia, enlarged pupils, loss of appetite, nausea and vomiting, rapid heartbeat, tremors in the hands or other parts of the body, seizures, confusion, and hallucinations.
Alcohol Detox Duration
There is no specific alcohol withdrawal timeline that fits every person who is detoxing from alcohol. A general guideline for the alcohol detox duration is that it comes on within 5 hours of the last drink of alcohol, the most severe symptoms last about a week, and depending on the amount and frequency of alcohol a person may experience psychological symptoms may last for several weeks without proper treatment.
The first alcohol withdrawal symptom that people usually experience is Tremors. Tremors or shaking, usually start about 5 to 10 hours after the individual has had their last drink and can peak at 24-48 hours. Other symptoms that can accompany tremors are an increased pulse rate, a rise in blood pressure, nausea and vomiting, quick breathing, sweating, irritability, anxiety or a hyper-alert state, insomnia, and nightmares.
Alcohol hallucinations are another symptom people usually experience and this starts about 12 to 24 hours after abstaining from alcohol consumption. These hallucinations can last up to 2 days once they start. People who experience alcohol hallucinations see, hear, or feel things that are not there even though they are fully aware of their surroundings. For example, people might see multiple small, similar, moving objects. Some people may even experience crawling insects or falling coins. These hallucinations feel very real to the person experiencing them.
Another withdrawal symptom is alcohol withdrawal seizures. These seizures can occur every 6 to 48 hours after a person has had their last drink. It is common for multiple seizures to happen over the course of several hours. A person’s risk of developing alcohol withdrawal seizures peaks at 24 hours. Symptoms of alcohol withdrawal seizures are generalized convulsion, involving shaking of the arms and legs and a loss of consciousness.
Delirium tremens is a very serious withdrawal symptom associated with alcohol dependence. Delirium tremens typically start 2 or 3 days after a person has their last alcoholic drink, but could be delayed over a week. The peak in severity is generally 4 to 5 days after a person takes their last drink. This condition results in a threatening change in a person’s breathing, circulation, and body temperature. Other symptoms of delirium tremens are rapid heartbeat, increase in blood pressure, reduction in the brain’s blood flow, hallucination, confusion, disorientation, loss of consciousness, nervousness, severe agitation, irrational beliefs, drenching sweats, and sleep disturbances. About 5 percent of people who experience delirium tremens die from metabolic or cardiovascular complications, trauma, or infections.
Managing Withdrawal at an Alcohol Detox Facility
Alcohol withdrawal should not be attempted without the help and support of a professional detox center. Managing withdrawal at an alcohol detox facility is a highly structured form of treatment that utilizes medications to help with the detox process as well as behavioral therapies to learn healthy ways to cope. Using both medications as well as behavioral therapies helps a lot of people overcome their addiction.
There are a few medications that have been approved by the Food and Drug and Administration(FDA) that can be used to help a person detox from alcohol. The first is disulfiram. This medication creates unpleasant symptoms like nausea and skin flushing when a person takes a sip of alcohol. Knowing that drinking alcohol will cause adverse effects may help people refrain from use. Another medication is naltrexone. This medication blocks the receptors in the brain that give the euphoric sensation when a person drinks. This reduces a person’s cravings for alcohol. The last medication that has been proven to help people overcome their alcohol addiction is acamprosate. This drug helps a person avoid alcohol after they quit which is great for preventing relapse.
The behavioral therapies that are best used to treat alcohol addiction at a detox facility are cognitive-behavioral therapies, motivational enhancement therapy, marital and family counseling, and brief interventions. Cognitive-behavioral therapies help a person identify the feelings and situations that cause a person to drink heavily and then provide them with coping skills to manage stress and alter the thoughts associated with alcohol use. Motivational enhancement therapy helps a person build and strengthen their motivation to change their drinking behaviors. Marital and family counseling helps repair and improve family relationships. Finally, brief interventions are short one-on-one or small-group counseling settings that work to set goals and provide ideas to help a person overcome their alcohol addiction. Talk to a Intake Coordinator
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Alcohol Dependency Treatment
The goal of treatment is to reduce withdrawal symptoms, prevent complications associated with alcohol use, and provide therapy to help a person abstain from drinking. Finding a high-quality rehabilitation center can help you or a loved one overcome their alcohol addiction.
There are a few different types of treatment that can help a person overcome their addiction to alcohol. An inpatient treatment center is generally for people who have moderate-to-severe symptoms of alcohol withdrawal. A person who gets treatment at an inpatient center will be closely watched for hallucinations and other indications of delirium tremens. It is highly structured and provides different forms of behavioral therapies and medication to help with the detox process.
Another treatment center a person who is addicted to alcohol can go to is outpatient rehab. This is generally for people who are experiencing mild to moderate alcohol withdrawal symptoms. At an outpatient center, a person overcoming their alcohol addiction will receive sedative drugs to help ease withdrawal pain, blood tests to monitor blood alcohol levels, counseling services, and testing and treatment for other medical problems associated with alcohol use.
Support groups are another form of treatment for someone overcoming their alcohol addiction. An example of a support group is Alcoholics Anonymous.
Sunshine Behavioral Health strives to help people who are facing substance abuse, addiction, mental health disorders, or a combination of these conditions. It does this by providing compassionate care and evidence-based content that addresses health, treatment, and recovery.
Licensed medical professionals review material we publish on our site. The material is not a substitute for qualified medical diagnoses, treatment, or advice. It should not be used to replace the suggestions of your personal physician or other health care professionals.