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Alcohol Withdrawal: What to Expect When Weaning Off Alcohol

Written By Legacy Healing Center - Apr 20 2020

Alcohol Withdrawal: What to Expect When Weaning Off Alcohol

Table of Contents

Alcohol Withdrawal Stages and Side Effects

For someone who has been drinking large quantities of alcohoon a regular basisquitting alcohol on their own can be dangerous, even life-threatening. Weaning off alcohol slowly or entering a medical detox program is the safest way to stop drinking.

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Alcohol Withdrawal

The term withdrawal refers to the physical and chemical changes the body goes through when a person suddenly stops drinking after prolonged and heavy alcohol use.  Symptoms of withdrawal include trembling (shakes), insomnia, anxiety, and other serious physical and mental symptoms. 

Long-term exposure to heavy alcohol consumption causes the brain to be continually flooded with the depressant effects of alcohol. Over time, the brain adjusts its own chemistry to compensate for the effects of alcohol. It does this by producing naturally stimulating chemicals such as serotonin or norepinephrine, close relatives of adrenaline, in larger quantities than normal. 

If the alcohol is withdrawn suddenly, the brain is like an accelerated vehicle that has lost its brakes.  

Weaning off Alcohol, What to Expect

Alcohol detox can involve withdrawal symptoms ranging in intensity from mild to life-threatening. Oftentimes, the longevity and severity of one’s alcohol use will play a role in the severity of withdrawal symptoms experienced.  

Common Withdrawal Symptoms: Mild, Severe and Life-Threatening

Mild symptoms of Alcohol Withdrawal include: 

  • Anxiety 
  • Sweating 
  • Nausea 
  • Insomnia 
  • Headaches 

More serious alcohol withdrawal also includes:

Tremors

These usually begin within 5-10 hours after the last alcoholic drink and typically peak at 24-48 hours. Along with tremors, pulse rate and blood pressure can increase. One may also experience rapid breathing, sweating, nausea, vomiting, anxiety, a hyper-alert state, irritability, nightmares or vivid dreams, and insomnia.

Seizures

Seizures may occur 6 to 48 hours after the last drink, and it is common for several seizures to occur over several hours. This risk peaks at 24 hours.

Extreme Hallucinations and Disorientation

This symptom usually begins within 12 to 24 hours after one’s last drink, and may last as long as 2 days once it begins. It is common for people who are withdrawing from alcohol to see multiple small, similar, moving objects such as crawling insects or falling coins. It is possible for an alcohol withdrawal hallucination to be very detailed and imaginative. 

Life Threatening alcohol withdrawal includes all the symptoms above plus: 

Delirium Tremens

The most dangerous symptom of alcohol withdrawal occurs in about 1 in 20 people who experience withdrawal symptoms. This condition is called delirium tremens (DTs). In delirium tremens, the brain is not able to smoothly readjust its chemistry after alcohol is stopped. This creates a state of temporary confusion and leads to dangerous changes in the way the brain regulates circulation and breathing. The body’s vital signs, including heart rate and blood pressure, can change dramatically and unpredictably creating the risk of heart attack, stroke or death. 

Due to the severity of many of the symptoms of withdrawal, alcohol detox should be monitored by a medical professional. This is especially true for those who have a history of lung or heart diseases or other medical conditions, as withdrawal symptoms can quickly worsen these 

Expected Duration

Withdrawal symptoms can begin to surface as early as two hours after one’s last drink. While the most painful symptoms typically subside within the first week, some mild symptoms can last for several weeks to a year.  

Here’s a breakdown of the alcohol detox process timeline: 

First 6-12 Hours

The initial symptoms: Mild at first, but can worsen quickly. Some of the early withdrawal symptoms include headaches, anxiety, shaking, nausea and irritability.

Day One

First 24 hours: Symptoms may become increasingly severe. Alongside the effects felt from the first 12 hours, additional symptoms may involve disorientation, hand tremors and seizures.

Day Two

The most painful symptoms will continue into the second day. Hallucinations and panic attacks are common during this time as the body rids alcohol from its system.

Days Three to Seven

First week in detox: Different withdrawal symptoms may come and go. This is also the timeframe when a person is most at risk for life-threatening symptoms such as delirium tremens.

After one week

After completion of the first week of detox, many of the withdrawal symptoms will begin to taper off. While some symptoms may persist for a few weeks, most of them are minor and can be treated with medication. 

Some people may experience post-acute withdrawal syndrome (PAWS) – the prolonged symptoms of detox. Generally, these symptoms include anxiety, low energy, trouble sleeping and delayed reflexes, and can last from several months to a year. 

Alcohol Withdrawal Help – Medically Assisted Detox

Especially for those suffering from a sever alcohol addiction, withdrawal symptoms can be life threatening. To safely complete the detox process, it is advisable to do so with the help of a medically assisted detox program. During detox, you will be monitored by a team of doctors and healthcare professionals; medicines may be used to help lessen the severity of symptoms and the risks of complications.

After detoxing under medical supervision, treatment is the next step. At Legacy Healing Center, every alcohol treatment path is based on your life circumstances, physical and mental health, and a number of other factors.

Legacy Healing Center is one of the top-rated alcohol treatment centers in South Florida. Our staff is made up of highly trained and experienced therapists who take special care in guiding our patients through their recovery in a relaxing, private atmosphere. Our patients can recover from alcohol addiction in an environment they will actually enjoy, while knowing that a full team of therapists and clinicians are supporting their recovery through every step of the way. For more information, please reach out to us today at 888-534-2295.

Sources

https://www.alcoholrehabguide.org/

https://www.health.harvard.edu/

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