When someone attempts to stop drinking, one of their first concerns often involves alcohol withdrawal symptoms. If they are a heavy drinker or someone with a long history of alcohol abuse, their body may have a physical reaction to the absence of alcohol. This period of time is known as withdrawal.
Many people know that withdrawal comes with a wide range of potential symptoms. However, they may not know as much about the specifics or how to prepare for the process. As a result, before detoxing from alcohol, it’s important to learn about what side effects to expect, when to expect them, and how to manage them safely.
What Causes Alcohol Withdrawal Symptoms?
Breaking free from a drinking problem requires more than simply telling someone, “Don’t drink alcohol anymore.” Due to physical changes long-term alcohol abuse makes to the body and brain, to suddenly stop drinking can be dangerous. Alcohol withdrawal symptoms vary in intensity, and while some are only mild, others can be life-threatening if left untreated.
But why do people experience side effects when they quit drinking alcohol? In most cases, withdrawal symptoms can be attributed to two key terms known as tolerance and dependence.
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It’s clear that alcohol has an effect on the body. It slows the central nervous system, which causes the sluggish brain activity and lowered inhibitions often associated with alcohol. However, different people may consume different amounts of alcohol before they reach the same degrees of impairment. This is due to each individual’s unique tolerance levels.
Chronic and heavy alcohol use builds tolerance. As a result, those with alcohol use disorders or who binge drink tend to have high tolerances for alcohol. When tolerance continues to increase, the same amount of alcohol someone used to consume becomes less effective. Therefore, they must drink more and more to achieve the same level of intoxication. And this is the first step in developing alcohol withdrawal symptoms.
Alcohol Withdrawal Symptoms and Dependence
Given enough time, a high alcohol tolerance combined with frequent, consistent consumption can turn into alcohol dependence. As the name implies, this means that someone’s body has become dependent on alcohol. Alcohol is present in their body so frequently that the body accepts that state as the new default.
To cope with this, the body changes some of its chemistry to account for the presence of alcohol in the bloodstream. It creates a new standard of balance centered around the foreign substance.
The dangers of alcohol dependence make themselves known whenever someone tries to stop drinking alcohol. To have grown so accustomed to having alcohol in the bloodstream, their body had to sacrifice its ability to function properly without it. That is where alcohol withdrawal symptoms begin.
Thus, the absence of alcohol throws everything out of balance. It triggers several unpleasant effects that comprise the condition known as alcohol withdrawal.
Stages of Alcohol Withdrawal Symptoms
When someone stops drinking, they have a unique experience with withdrawal. Symptoms may come and go at different times and at different intensities. That said, rough patterns have been observed enough in the past for alcohol withdrawal symptoms to be broken down into numerous stages.
Generally, most withdrawal symptoms last five to seven days. Mild symptoms may linger for a few weeks, but the chance of having a more severe reaction should pass much sooner.
Stage I of Alcohol Withdrawal Symptoms
The first stage of alcohol withdrawal symptoms typically appear within the first 12 hours following someone’s last drink. Most symptoms at this stage are fairly mild and should not be life-threatening unless further complications are encountered.
Alcohol withdrawal symptoms during Stage I include:
- High blood pressure
- Rapid heart rate
The majority of people who undergo alcohol withdrawal will only develop mild symptoms such as these. Even so, detoxing from alcohol should not be attempted alone due to the possibility of symptoms from later stages.
Stage II of Alcohol Withdrawal Symptoms
Stage II alcohol withdrawal symptoms include those that manifest between 12 to 24 hours after someone’s last drink. This stage may also be referred to as “alcoholic hallucinosis” due to its association with visual, auditory, and tactile hallucinations.
Almost one fourth of the people who experience withdrawal symptoms will encounter hallucinations of some kind. These are most commonly auditory in nature. For example, someone may report hearing voices.
Hallucinatory symptoms can increase someone’s agitation or paranoia, but at this stage, individuals also recognize them as unreal. Therefore, they maintain clarity and remain receptive to treatment.
Stage III of Alcohol Withdrawal Symptoms
The third stage of alcohol withdrawal symptoms tends to be the most severe period of detox. Stage III symptoms show up within the first 48 hours after someone’s last drink, if they appear at all. Only one in ten people who undergo alcohol withdrawal experience side effects associated with this stage.
This stage is primarily characterized by tonic-clonic seizures, which include harsh muscle contractions and brief loss of consciousness. Typically, the period of time it takes for people to recover in the immediate aftermath of these seizures is short.
In even rarer cases, Stage III alcohol withdrawal symptoms can worsen into a condition called delirium tremens. When this complication arises, individuals experience more intense seizures and strong feelings of confusion. This can exacerbate previous symptoms, like high blood pressure or elevated heart rate. If left untreated, delirium tremens can lead to shock, cardiovascular collapse, or respiratory failure.
Medical Alcohol Detox
Alcohol withdrawal symptoms may seem like an intimidating obstacle to overcome. However, it’s important to keep in mind that you do not need to face any part of recovery alone. You can remove the potential dangers of withdrawal by attending a medical detox program instead.
A specialized detox program ensures that when someone stops drinking, they are under trained medical supervision. At Heroes’ Mile, a team of licensed physicians and addiction experts provide medical advice and oversight throughout the entire process. We possess the resources needed to make detox as easy and safe as possible, from soothing mild symptoms to managing any potential complications.
Alcohol Rehab for Veterans
Heroes’ Mile is an alcohol and drug rehabilitation center created for veterans by veterans. Veterans who attend civilian treatment centers may feel isolated from their peers due to their vastly different life experiences.
However, by choosing a rehab facility like Heroes’ Mile, you can bypass this obstacle in its entirety. Surround yourself with other veterans who understand your military background and the unique challenges you face as a veteran.
Treating alcohol withdrawal symptoms is often only the first step to addiction recovery. Heroes’ Mile also offers numerous flexible rehabilitation programs to help veterans achieve long-term sobriety after detox. We will help you develop a personalized treatment plan and set you up with the best chance of a successful, thorough recovery.
If you’re ready to quit drinking and need help managing alcohol withdrawal symptoms, call our admissions specialists at 888-838-6692. To receive information at your own pace, you may also submit one of our confidential contact forms. Heroes’ Mile wants to guide you to a life of long-term sobriety. With the proper resources, anyone can overcome alcohol addiction.