The Stages and Symptoms of Alcohol Withdrawal

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Trying to stop drinking can be difficult for people who are addicted to alcohol. Depending on their level of dependency, stopping should be medically supervised as withdrawal symptoms can be severe. Here are some of the withdrawal symptoms some people may go through as they try to quit drinking and their consequences.

Withdrawal Symptoms for Alcoholics

When people are trying to stop drinking, withdrawal symptoms can manifest themselves in psychological and physical ways. Usually, the higher the level of dependency on alcohol, the more severe withdrawal symptoms will be. The side effects of withdrawal depend on many factors, including:

  • Drinking history
  • Amount of alcohol usually drunk
  • Stress
  • Family history of alcohol addiction
  • Diagnosed mental health issues
  • Medical history
  • Trauma experienced as a child

Stages of Withdrawal

There are three different stages of alcohol withdrawal symptoms, which usually start six hours to a full day after an alcoholic has his or her last drink. The symptoms will start out mild and may include:

  • Anxiety
  • Inability to sleep
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Loss of appetite
  • Stomach pain
  • Fatigue
  • Tremors
  • Depression
  • Mood swings
  • Inability to think clearly
  • Heart palpitations

This second stage includes more moderate symptoms, such as:

  • Elevated blood pressure
  • Higher body temperature
  • Faster respirations
  • Irregular heartbeats
  • Confused thinking
  • Irritability
  • Worsening mood swings

The third stage consists of more severe symptoms and can often be dangerous, which is why medical supervision is often necessary. These symptoms can include:

  • Seizures
  • Hallucinations
  • Fever
  • Agitation
  • Severely confused thinking

If seizures are going to happen, they usually occur within 12 to 48 hours of consuming the last alcoholic beverage. One of the most severe symptoms, which is experienced by three to five percent of alcoholics, is delirium tremens, which is known as the DTs. Without treatment, DTs can be fatal, so someone who has been an alcoholic should never quit drinking on his or her own.

The DTs can occur with no prior warning and they often don’t start until a couple of days after alcohol has left the bloodstream of an alcoholic. They can get worse very quickly, which is why medical supervision is important when detoxing from alcohol.

DT symptoms can include:

  • Sweating heavily
  • An increase in startle reflex
  • Heart palpitations
  • Rapid muscular movements
  • Problems with eye movement
  • Fast heartbeats

Often, when someone has DTs, he or she will need to be treated medically to prevent serious consequences up to and including death. The medical facility the withdrawing patient is in will perform tests to check mineral levels and check heart activity and brain activity. He or she will be monitored while he or she is in the hospital and may be treated for seizures, tremors, or mental disorders, or he or she may be sedated to keep him or her calm.

Most outpatient treatment programs can help patients detox from alcohol in a safe manner and treat their symptoms to keep them from getting worse. Afterwards, they will follow up with counselling, encourage attendance in group sessions, and help them abstain from alcohol. Many programs will also encourage family participation so that the patients can start to repair their personal relationships as they put drinking behind them.