Harmful drinking habits can lead to withdrawal symptoms when you stop drinking alcohol or cannot access alcohol within a few hours of your last drink.
Binge drinking is an example of a harmful drinking habit. The Center for Disease Control defines binge drinking as consuming four or more standard drinks for women and five or more standard drinks for men in a two-hour period.
Heavy drinking is another example. It is defined as women drinking eight or more and men drinking 15 or more drinks in a week.
Both binge drinking and heavy drinking can lead to an alcohol use disorder.
What is an Alcohol Use Disorder?
Alcohol use disorder (AUD) occurs when you continue to drink alcohol despite experiencing negative consequences personally, professionally, and socially. Adverse effects may include a divorce, losing a job, DUI, constant arguing with family and friends, failing in school, and financial difficulties.
Some may lose homes, cars, and relationships, but they cannot stop drinking because they have an alcohol use disorder. Even if they did try to stop, they would experience alcohol withdrawal.
What is Alcohol Withdrawal?
To understand alcohol withdrawal, it’s crucial to know consuming alcohol can lead to withdrawal. Alcohol enters the brain and creates an excitatory response in the brain. This means the brain’s reward center is flooded with neurotransmitters like GABA and dopamine that make you feel good. The more you expose the brain to alcohol, the less it reacts. Therefore, you must consume more significant amounts to get a response like you did when you first started drinking. This is called tolerance.
The more you drink, the more likely you will experience withdrawal symptoms when you try to stop drinking because the brain and body go through drastic changes as it tries to adapt to no longer having alcohol. Symptoms can range from mild, moderate, and severe.
Alcohol Withdrawal Symptoms
Within a few hours of your last alcoholic drink, you can begin to experience withdrawal symptoms, which occur on a timeline. Between two and twelve hours, alcohol withdrawal symptoms may include nausea, vomiting, digestive problems, cravings, headaches, anxiety, and agitation. You may get into arguments with family and friends, throw tantrums, and feel like you have the flu in these first hours.
For some, the initial symptoms are so severe they continue to drink alcohol to avoid withdrawal. They may not realize there are treatment programs that offer medication to ease initial withdrawal symptoms.
Over the next twelve hours up to a day, withdrawal symptoms can worsen, including deliriums, hand tremors, seizures, and intense urges to drink. You may notice your hands shaking, but your bones may feel like they are shaking inside your body.
For the next two days and longer, withdrawal symptoms may include seizures, insomnia, hallucinations, high blood pressure, high fever, and excessive sweating. For heavy drinkers, alcohol withdrawal can become dangerous. Seeking treatment for withdrawal is critical to avoid seizures and delirium tremens, and other life-threatening consequences.
Delirium tremens (DTs) can be fatal if not treated. If you have symptoms that are extreme versions of fever, agitation, confusion, hallucinations, or high blood pressure, or seizures, seek medical help immediately.
The good news is that for most, physical withdrawal symptoms start to ease after about a week. There are continued symptoms that may or may not appear.
Continued Withdrawal Symptoms
Cravings to drink may take much longer to subside than other symptoms. You may feel emotionally unstable and show it with anger outbursts, crying spells, and irritability. Other post-acute withdrawal symptoms include anxiety, sleep disturbances, fatigue, depression, clumsiness, nausea, and urges.
Because this period is extremely risky for relapse, staying in treatment is a great choice. You can continue medication for withdrawal symptoms with around-the-clock medical supervision. You can also learn early recovery and relapse prevention skills through individual and group classes and counseling.
Who is at Risk for Severe Withdrawal?
Every person will experience different withdrawal levels and depending on underlying psychological and physical conditions, and symptoms may vary. There are certain risk factors for severe withdrawal, however, including:
- Having an alcohol use disorder for a long time, from a year to multiple years.
- Consuming high levels of alcohol and having consistently high blood alcohol concentrations.
- Liver dysfunction.
- Use of drugs in combination with alcohol.
- Past detox experience, symptoms that appeared.
Those with severe withdrawal symptoms will likely need to be hospitalized until safely detoxed. Then, they can step down through a treatment program that begins with inpatient rehab and ends with outpatient counseling.
Continuum of Care of Alcohol Treatment
Completing detox means you have a clear mind to start inpatient rehab. Here you will participate in individual, group, and family therapies. You will learn essential skills you can put into action when you complete treatment, like communication, time management, and conflict resolution. You will understand yourself, your triggers and create a coping and support plan.
Sober living and residential treatment are available for those who need more treatment when transitioning from the strict hospital setting to more independent living before going home. Here you get to practice what you have learned so far.
Partial hospitalization and intensive outpatient programs are available after you return home and need ten or more hours of support each week. You continue learning and practicing relapse prevention and early recovery skills.
You are encouraged to get involved with local support groups and participate in recovery activities. After six to ten weeks, you can transition to outpatient counseling, where you will meet with a counselor once a week to discuss your progress.
At all levels of treatment, you can participate in 12 Step facilitation groups, like those run by members of Alcoholics Anonymous. Combined with traditional and alternative therapies, you can heal the mind, body, and spirit simultaneously.
As you progress through treatment, alcohol withdrawal improves, and you begin to see a new life, a sober life. You deserve it. Call us today so we can start planning your recovery journey.