Alcohol withdrawal symptoms can vary and depending on how advanced the Alcohol Use Disorder is. A properly managed detoxification program – most often called detox, might be required.
The care someone requires during detox, will depend on where they fall in the spectrum of alcohol use disorder. If the use is at the high end of the scale, the person would be described as alcoholic and medical detox, to manage the withdrawal, is most often recommended due to the possibility of medical complications. In severe cases, a person’s life could be at risk during detox.
Symptoms of alcohol withdrawal during detox can include:
- Delirium tremens (DT’s), a life-threatening issue
- Unstable heart rate and elevated blood pressure
- Problems sleeping
How do I know if I need Detox?
If you need alcohol to help your body feel normal, you likely need detox. Getting through detox isn’t just a matter of willpower. You may need help to manage symptoms and prevent or manage dangerous health risks. Most detox programs will be five to 9 days. The worst period is the first 48 hours but you are more likely to be successful if you have lots of help and support from trained staff.
What Causes Alcohol Withdrawal Symptoms?
Alcohol is a depressant. AUD (Alcohol Use Disorder) which includes heavy drinking, binge drinking or alcoholism changes a person’s body, and brain chemistry due to the continued exposure to chemicals in alcohol. Chronic alcohol use can cause complex changes to the brain chemistry, including neurotransmitters and receptors. In particular, the neuro transmitters, dopamine, serotonin, (brain derived) and GABA (gamma-aminobutyric acid) which affect pleasure, mood and excitement.
The production of these neurotransmitters is impacted when a person stops drinking and this is linked to withdrawal symptoms. When a person drinks heavily, the body gets use to having a certain amount of alcohol in the system and when that suddenly stops, withdrawal symptoms occur.
Withdrawal symptoms will begin approximately 6 hours after stopping drinking. They are likely to worsen for 24 – 48 hours and in extreme cases for up to 72 hours.
Most of the symptoms will lessen after 5 days but some can continue for weeks and Post-Acute Withdrawal Syndrome (PAWS) can last for up to 2 years. Symptoms of PAWS are much less intense that withdrawal symptoms and include irritability, anxiety, mood swings and interrupted sleep patterns.
It is important to remember that detox isn’t treatment. It is the first step to getting better. It is just a period to allow you body to rid itself of the alcohol and begin to restore healthy body chemistry. If you have progressed to the stage of needing detox, a program to help you build and maintain sustainable sobriety is the next step.