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Alcohol Withdrawal

Alcohol withdrawal symptoms can range from mild to severe.

After a long stint of habitual alcohol use, when a drinker forgoes their daily intake, alcohol withdrawal takes hold of them. It is a profoundly uncomfortable and potentially dangerous syndrome. It can even be fatal in some cases. The withdrawal symptoms arise from an over-stimulated central nervous system.
 
For the chronic drinker, the nervous symptom is kept depressed on a daily basis. Over time, this becomes its preferred state. When the alcoholic feels severely ill, confused and strung out from the abstinence of drinking, they are actually at their most alert state as there is no alcohol in their body. The nervous system becomes hypersensitive to stimuli, and a series of physical and mental health effects unfold.

The signs of alcohol withdrawal can include: 
  • • Intense cravings for alcohol
  • • Anxiety, agitation or mood changes
  • • Sleep Disorders
  • • Delirium, seizures or hallucinations
  • • Nausea and vomiting
  • • The shakes

 

At its worst, alcohol withdrawal can cause delirium tremens: a sudden neurological shift marked by possible symptoms of delirium, confusion, hallucinations and physical maladies like diarrhea and vomiting. This is the worst end of the spectrum and is typically reserved for people who drink 8 or more alcoholic beverages in a day for several months and/or have a history of ten years of more of alcoholism.
 
People in this category are at risk for seizures, which are typically tonic-clonic seizures (formerly known as Grand mal seizures) that may require hospitalization. The more severe the alcoholism, the more severe the withdrawals will be. That is why early intervention is critically important.
 
Withdrawals are by no means reserved for severe alcoholics. Even the occasional social drinker or “weekend warrior” can experience alcohol withdrawal. Because they are not aware that a lack of alcohol is causing their symptoms, they may attribute it to a cold or “bug” of some sort.  Even the common experience of a “hangover” is the body’s adaptive response to dealing with the toxin after it is not being consumed. The body uses any and all resources it has to flush out the residuals and this may include vomiting and digestive problems, as well as increased sweating and urination.

Not every alcoholic will experience the same symptoms. Alcohol affects everybody differently and some alcoholics will experience worse withdrawal symptoms than others. This often has to due with their history of drinking and how much they consumed on a daily basis.
  
When someone you are concerned about is having alcohol withdrawal symptoms, it is crucial that you approach their condition with a degree of compassion. Alcoholism is a complex disease with factors that stem in early childhood development, inheritance of genetic traits, adoption of social norms and a conglomerate of many other factors working with and against each other. The most important thing you can do is try to get an alcoholic who is experiencing withdrawal symptoms to treatment. This is much easier said than done, and you may need to contact a crisis intervention service or a group like Alcoholics Anonymous. There are health care professionals who are trained to find a method designed to fit the unique situation you are dealing with.
 
As far as treatment goes, there are in-patient and out-patient forms of recovery, and there are medication-based therapies in contrast with the “cold turkey” approach.” There is no one-size-fits-all model for alcohol recovery so it is important to consider how severe the withdrawals are and how long the alcoholic has been drinking. Your local phone book and the web will give you a list of local treatment facilities. By contacting one for an alcoholic in need, you may be saving their life.

It's imperative that a medical professional be seen prior to ever quitting alcohol. Although many people may not require hospitalization, some cases warrant in-patient supervision.

To learn more about middle stage alcoholism and late stage alcoholism, please click on the links.

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