Symptoms of Alcohol Withdrawal

Kicking the bottle is no easy feat. If you’re drinking has begun to become a problem for you or your loved one, there are two choices to make. You can keep drinking and punishing your own life, liver, and sanity, or you can get the help you need to recover. A normal drinker wouldn’t have to think twice about this; they would get help and stop drinking. However, alcoholics are different. They continue to drink even when everything tells them they should stop.

When the day finally comes that the decision must be made, chances are the person is well accustomed to many of the initial symptoms of alcohol withdrawal; nausea, the headaches, the shakes. Usually, an alcoholic would simply drink, and these physical symptoms would go away. So what happens when the road to sobriety is continued, and the detox process is seen through?

The Importance of Medical Detox

There are really only two classes of substances that can actually be deadly to withdrawal from, alcohol and benzodiazepines. Alcohol withdrawal, since the dawn of smashing grapes, has been known to be a potentially deadly endeavor for those who drink often and heavily.

It is dangerous in that it can cause:

  • Stroke
  • Seizures
  • Liver Failure
  • Delusions (which have been reported to be the cause of many suicides and attempts)

It is absolutely imperative to go through the alcohol withdrawal process in a medical detox facility. In the old days, people would slowly wean themselves off the bottle throughout their detox process, drinking less and less until they could stop. Despite this being a somewhat successful way to go through it, the success rate for staying stopped was very low. People would usually be battling organ failure at this point, and there wasn’t readily available medical treatment to help them.

Today, everything is different. We have the ability, as alcoholics, to walk into a medical detox, be placed under constant care and attention, and be given medications to help ease the most severe and uncomfortable withdrawal symptoms. We are also given healthy food and can often speak with a psychiatrist or therapist to help determine the underlying causes and conditions of our drinking.

The Initial Symptoms of Alcohol Withdrawal

As stated before, most alcoholics are very familiar with the side effects that come from not drinking. Many of them experience them every single morning when they wake up. Movies and TV shows do manage to portray these symptoms fairly accurately, but no one can know the real torment of it unless they have experienced it themselves.

Between 4-12 hours after the last drink, withdrawal symptoms consist of:

  • Headache
  • Nausea
  • Sweating
  • Stomach Cramps
  • Vomiting
  • Shaky hands and extremities
  • Anxiety
  • Irritability

While these symptoms are extremely uncomfortable, they are usually not the most dangerous aspect of alcohol withdrawal. Those come 12-24 hours later.

alcoholic man

The Acute Stage

Alcohol wreaks havoc as a depressant. It works to slow down brain and body functioning. For people who drink very often, the brain and body become accustomed to the presence of alcohol, so they work double time in order to counteract the depressant effects. This means, that when alcohol is suddenly not in the system, the brain and other organs will continue to work at this fast and hyperactive pace. This is what creates the dangerous aspects of alcohol withdrawal.

Within this next window, all of the initial symptoms are most likely still present, however they can often become intensified. Apart from those, drinkers can also experience:

  • Insomnia
  • Extreme agitation
  • Increased tremors
  • Nightmares
  • Hallucinations
  • Seizures
  • Heightened blood pressure
  • Increased heart rate

During this 24-48 hour stage, the rare but dangerous condition known as Delirium Tremens can start. Studies show that the DT’s only happen to about 5% of all alcoholics, but every detox is on the lookout to make sure that percentage isn’t you. Symptoms of Delirium Tremens include:

  • Confusion
  • Racing Heart
  • Fever
  • Hallucinations (seeing/hearing things that aren’t there)
  • Delusions (believing things that aren’t real)
  • Paranoia
  • Aggression
  • Loss of Memory

The acute phase, that 24-72 hour mark, is the most dangerous time during the alcohol withdrawal process, however, when done in a professional setting, can be safe and monitored throughout.

The Next 6-18 Months

All recovering addicts and alcoholics will undergo the Post Acute Withdrawal phase. This is signified by lots of quirky and annoying symptoms occurring both physically and mentally, for anywhere between 3 to 18 months after the last drink. They aren’t dangerous, but they can definitely take some adjusting to.

Depending on the severity and duration of use, people will experience different levels of PAWS. They can become pretty severe for some people, and milder for others. Most often, the mental and physical side effects of the long-term effects of drug and alcohol withdrawal will be:

  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Irregular sleep patterns
  • Loss of coordination
  • Depression
  • Anxiety
  • Irregular diet (increased or decreased)
  • Mood Swings
  • Fatigue

While some of the symptoms are more just getting used to our sober brains and bodies, the anxiety and depression can be something to look into. Many people in early recovery benefit from taking prescribed medication to alleviate these symptoms and get off once they feel comfortable that they won’t return to the bottle.

Long story short, the alcohol withdrawal process is no joke, but it can be done. Even if it seems impossible and you know you have failed to quit in the past, it doesn’t mean you are doomed to live an alcoholic life and die an alcoholic death. Help is available when you are ready.