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How to Manage Alcohol Withdrawal Symptoms

Anyone can experience negative effects from drinking too much alcohol. Alcohol withdrawal occurs after weeks, months or years of continuous heavy drinking. When the body becomes used to alcohol, it develops tolerance. Chemical adjustments take place in the body and brain to compensate for alcohol, and when the alcohol intake is reduced or stopped, the body cannot compensate quickly enough. Afterwards, uncomfortable side effects known as withdrawals take place.

Symptoms of Alcohol Withdrawal

Alcohol withdrawal symptoms usually begin within 5-10 hours after consuming the last drink, but they may take up to 24 or 48 hours. People experiencing alcohol withdrawal symptoms may mistake them for a cold, the flu or a sudden bout of anxiety. Symptoms of alcohol withdrawal include the following issues:

  • Anxiety
  • Depression
  • Mood swings
  • Shakiness
  • Fatigue
  • Irritability
  • Inability to focus
  • Insomnia
  • Nausea
  • Headache

These symptoms last about a week, but protracted withdrawal symptoms may last for months or years, depending on an individual’s level of alcohol consumption.

Why Alcohol Withdrawal May Be Dangerous

Excessive amounts of alcohol or long periods of consistent use may cause severe complications. Delirium tremens is a rare but dangerous condition that stems from a strong physical dependence to alcohol. Delirium tremens is characterized by the following symptoms:

  • Shaking
  • Confusion
  • Fever
  • Nightmares
  • Hallucinations
  • Extreme disorientation
  • Panic attacks
  • Seizures

During alcohol withdrawal, the central nervous system (CNS) reaches a state of hyperexcitability. After compensating for alcohol for long periods of time, the sudden lack of the depressant over stimulates the CNS. With repeated alcohol dependence and withdrawal, a kindling effect occurs, creating sensitivity to alcohol withdrawal. This neurological condition leads to increasingly severe symptoms with each period of withdrawal.

How Professional Treatment Address Alcohol Withdrawal Symptoms

While many try to quit alcohol at home, it may be dangerous with alcoholism. Tapering reduces the severity of alcohol withdrawal, but many alcoholics find it difficult to reduce their intake on their own. Seeking professional help increases the chance of quitting alcohol and minimizes health risks.

Professional treatment for alcoholism includes medically supervised detox that monitors and treats withdrawal symptoms. Prescription medication is tailored for each patient to ensure comfort and safety during the withdrawal process, and protracted withdrawal symptoms will receive treatment. For severe withdrawal symptoms, benzodiazepines may be prescribed to ease symptoms. Magnesium, potassium and B vitamins can help prevent heart problems and Wernick-Korsakoff syndrome.

Besides treating the physical symptoms of alcoholism, counseling and behavioral therapy will uncover the causes of alcoholism and help patients resist cravings. Furthermore, patients can learn healthy lifestyle choices to replace alcoholism. Treating the causes of alcoholism and planning for long-term cravings and anxiety may help patients resist relapse.

Find Help for Alcohol Withdrawal Symptoms

Alcohol withdrawal is difficult to manage without help, and some symptoms have dangerous side effects that can cause health damage. If you are trying to quit alcohol and unsure of what to do next, we can help. Call our toll-free helpline to speak to one of our counselors about alcohol addiction treatment. Call now as our helpline is available 24 hours a day.