Alcohol Withdrawal Syndrome Symptoms – What You Need To Know

Alcohol Withdrawal Syndrome Symptoms

Alcohol withdrawal syndrome symptoms arise when someone who has developed a physical addiction to alcohol suddenly stops drinking or drastically reduces their alcohol consumption. In this post, the doctors and clinicians at New Life Medical Addiction Services will explain this highly dangerous condition.

Alcohol Withdrawal Syndrome Symptoms

The following are some of the signs and symptoms of alcohol withdrawal syndrome:

  • Anxiety and/or Depression
  • Stomach/Gastrointestinal Problems
  • Increased Blood Pressure or Heart Rate
  • Racing Heart/Palpitations
  • Sleeplessness/Insomnia
  • Headaches
  • Shakes or Tremors
  • Exhaustion/Fatigue
  • Mood Swings
  • Hyperthermia
  • Rapid/Abnormal Breathing
  • Hallucinations
  • Seizures

Alcohol Abuse & Misuse

The terms “alcohol abuse” and “alcohol misuse” refer to excessive alcohol use that reaches the level where it begins to have an impact on a person’s physical well-being, mental health, job performance and relationships.

Alcohol misuse sets in for men who have more than 2 drinks a day or women who have more than 1 drink daily.  Binge drinking refers to a man who has 5 or more drinks, or a woman has 4 or more drinks within a short period of time.

Alcohol misuse and binge drinking at a level that can increase someone’s risk of developing alcoholism or an alcohol addiction is also known as alcohol use disorder (AUD). AUD is marked by someone desiring alcohol, having a strong tolerance to using large amounts of alcohol, and experiencing withdrawal symptoms when they stop drinking.

When a person has a physical dependence or addiction to alcohol, the withdrawal symptoms that they can experience, even if they significantly reduce or stop drinking, can be extremely uncomfortable and even life-threatening for some patients.

Alcohol Withdrawal

Researchers believe that alcohol withdrawal comes about due to changes in brain activity caused by heavy alcohol use over a long period of time. While the neuroscientific impact of alcohol withdrawal syndrome is complicated, alcohol withdrawal symptoms are the result of the brain trying to compensate for disruptions to the excitatory and inhibitory neurotransmitter activity, which are, in turn, a result of extensive and prolonged alcohol misuse.

The effects alcohol has on the body are complex, but two particular neurochemicals contribute to both short-term effects of drinking as well as the development of withdrawal symptoms when a person stops drinking. The first is Gamma Aminobutyric Acid (GABA), which is the brain’s main inhibitory chemical, and second is Glutamate, the brain’s main excitatory chemical. When a person drinks alcohol it changes the functioning of GABA receptors as well as a subset of glutamate receptors, which results in a slowdown of brain function that a person typically experiences as relaxation and decreased anxiety. The brain reacts by decreasing the amount of GABA being released and increasing glutamate signaling to compensate for how alcohol alters these levels. This continues as long as the person continues to drink alcohol and is commonly referred to as alcohol tolerance.

When someone significantly reduces their alcohol consumption or suddenly stops, it disrupts their brain activity, leading to a range of withdrawal symptoms that can manifest within hours after their last drink. The severity of withdrawal symptoms that a person experiences will vary greatly from one patient to the next. In fact, research indicates that more than 80% of those with an alcohol use disorder may experience alcohol withdrawal syndrome symptoms upon cessation of drinking.

Alcohol Withdrawal Levels & Severity

There are 3 potential levels that a person in withdrawal may experience. These are:

Mild – In a mild case, the symptoms may include sleeplessness, headache, depression, anxiety, hand tremors, stomach issues, and heart palpitations.

Moderate – In a moderate case, the symptoms may include the mild symptoms along with increased heart rate or blood pressure, mental confusion, mild hyperthermia, and rapid and abnormal breathing.

Severe –  In a severe case of alcohol withdrawal, the symptoms include the mild and moderate symptoms as well as potential hallucinations, seizures, and disorientation.

The Alcohol Withdrawal Timeline

Without treatment by a healthcare professional, some people can progress from mild to severe withdrawal symptoms quite quickly.

Although the specific timeline for alcohol withdrawal will vary among patients, it is based on several factors including the quantity and duration of heavy drinking by the patient, the co-occurrence of other physical and mental health issues and more.

A typical alcohol withdrawal timeline is as follows:

  • 6-12 hours after the last drink, mild symptoms of withdrawal may begin to be felt. This can include headaches, mild anxiety, insomnia, tremors, and gastrointestinal distress.
  • By 24 hours, some people may have begun to experience visual or auditory hallucinations.
  • Within 24-72 hours, some of the symptoms may have begun to peak or level off or even resolve themselves, although some more protracted symptoms could linger for weeks or even longer. Risk from seizure are often the greatest starting at 24-48 hours after the last drink. Delirium tremens (DTs) may appear from 48-72 hours after drinking has stopped.
  • Some people will occasionally experience persistent withdrawal symptoms such as problems sleeping, tiredness and mood changes . In some patients, this stage can last for months. However, most people recover fully after receiving the medical detox and withdrawal management services that New Life Medical Addiction Services offers.

Treatment for Alcohol Withdrawal & Detox

Alcohol detox is often the first stage of treatment and it helps the patient navigate the difficult process of alcohol withdrawal. Although we can treat the detox and withdrawal process, this still doesn’t deal with the thoughts and patterns of behavior that contributed to the alcohol misuse in the first place. At New Life, we offer a range of treatment options that provide the ongoing support necessary to maintain long-term sobriety after a patient completes detox.

Although New Life is an outpatient treatment center, if a patient needs it, we will coordinate with one of our inpatient residential treatment partners for placement. This involves living at a facility for the duration of treatment while the patient receives intensive therapy in group and individual sessions and 24/7 medical support.

New Life’s outpatient treatment approach lets patients to come to our offices for treatment and counseling during the day, allowing them to return home at night to recover in familiar surroundings.

Alcohol Withdrawal Medications

To prevent or lessen alcohol withdrawal syndrome symptoms or medical complications that can occur with severe alcohol withdrawal, doctors may prescribe benzodiazepines. Other medications, like antipsychotics, anticonvulsants, beta blockers and alpha-adrenergic agonists may also be used to stabilize patients or for supportive care.

Other Medications Used in The Treatment of Alcohol Use Disorder :

Naltrexone- Helps to block the rewarding or reinforcing effects of alcohol.

Acamprosate: Aids alcohol avoidance after recovery.

Disulfiram – Results in unpleasant symptoms if alcohol is consumed.

Some of these medications may be prescribed after abstinence or detox.

If you or someone you care about is suffering from alcohol misuse or alcohol withdrawal syndrome symptoms, contact the doctors and clinicians at New Life Medical Addiction Services today.

Call us at: 856-942-3700 or send us a Text Message.

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