What happens when you stop drinking? Alcohol withdrawal can cause some serious symptoms or even death. Discover the signs and symptoms of alcohol withdrawal.
Did you know that over 15 million Americans struggle with alcohol abuse?
There are plenty of reasons why quitting alcohol will benefit your health, but the journey is challenging. Learning about the recovery process can help prepare you for some of the alcohol withdrawal symptoms you may experience.
Do you want to learn what happens when you stop drinking? Keep reading to understand what your body will do.
Alcohol Withdrawal Causes a Wide Range of Negative Emotions
When your body loses its supply of something you’ve become dependent on, it’s normal to feel angry. One of the first symptoms of alcohol withdrawal you’ll notice is a wave of negative emotions. Detoxing from alcohol causes people to lash out, have mood swings, and feel anxious or depressed.
Although the emotional turbulence is strong for the first week, journaling can help you stay in charge of your feelings.
Mental Signs of Alcohol Withdrawal: Fogginess, Hallucinations, and Nightmares
Addiction changes the wiring in your brain so that you have a hard time functioning without the substance. During withdrawal, your brain will have to learn how to restore peace. As the alcohol leaves your system, the most common side effect you may experience is brain fog and fatigue.
Since detoxing is a traumatic experience, your brain may also respond by producing nightmares or, less commonly, hallucinations.
Tremors, Sweating, and Fever Are Common
Our livers are effective filters, which means you may start to feel the physical side effects of detoxing within a couple of hours after your last drink. Tremors, sweating, and fevers are signs that your body is purging the toxins. When it comes to quitting alcohol, you have to feel worse before you start to feel better.
An Alcohol Detox Induces Headaches, Loss of Appetite, and Nausea
Some other unpleasant symptoms of alcohol withdrawal include headache, loss of appetite, and nausea. One of the best ways to counteract these symptoms is to drink plenty of water. Alcohol is a diuretic, which means you have to make a strong effort to stay hydrated so your detox process is more tolerable.
What Happens When You Stop Drinking in Excess? Seizures May Occur
If you’re a heavy drinker, quitting alcohol will be a lot harder for you than for someone who drinks less. The best way to ensure that your journey to sobriety is safe and successful is to attend a detox clinic. Heavy drinkers are more prone to severe withdrawal symptoms like seizures, which can be life-threatening.
Home And Medical Treatments For Alcohol Withdrawal Symptoms
During the whole withdrawal process, professional care is vital for your wellbeing. Not only will the staff keep you safe, but they also have the tools and experience to make your detox as comfortable as possible.
Your health provider will ask you some questions to see when did you stop drinking and whether you have been through the same process earlier before.
The best way is to consult a doctor, and they will do an exam, during which they will see if you suffer from some other health conditions.
The Clinical Institute for Withdrawal Assessment for Alcohol—revised (CIWA-Ar) scale is used as an assessment tool for evaluating the severity of the Alcohol Withdrawal Syndrome. (1) This assessment tool will help the doctor decide whether you need a medication or not. If your score is >20, it means that your withdrawal is severe and can have a serious impact on your life.
The maximum score you can get is 67 and is rated as follows:
- 8 ( absent or very mild symptoms)
- 9- 14 ( symptoms of a mild withdrawal)
- 15 – 20 ( symptoms of a moderate withdrawal)
- >20 (symptoms of a severe withdrawal)
You will be treated according to your symptoms and the severity of your withdrawal.
So, if you have mild symptoms like insomnia or mild anxiety, you might only need supportive care, but in case you have moderate or severe symptoms, you will probably need pharmacological treatment. (2)
Home treatment for patients with milder symptoms
Unless you have some severe health condition or you had a complex and difficult alcohol withdrawal in the past, and you have mild symptoms of the current alcohol withdrawal, you will only need :
- A healthy diet supported by a lot of fluids
- A quiet, isolated place to stay, with soft lighting
- Positive atmosphere and support from your family and friends
- Limited contact with other people
- Electrolyte balance
Type Of Food To Eat When You Try Alcohol Withdrawal
As already stated, one of the most important things when you try an alcohol detox is staying hydrated. But, besides drinking a lot of water, eating a healthy diet is also very helpful for lowering the chances of getting some side effects.
The first rule to follow during the detoxication process is drinking water because staying hydrated can reduce the chances of vomiting, sweating, and diarrhea.
When it comes to food, the following food is recommended to be taken during the detoxication process:
- Whole grains like oats and whole wheat bread are high in fiber and B vitamins that give energy and are good for the gut. When you have a healthy gut, you can support your liver and kidney which are important and vital organs in your body
- Foods that are rich in protein such as eggs, poultry, lentils, seafood, and bone broth.
- Cayenne pepper is believed to reduce the desire for alcohol and improve the gut, vomiting, and headaches that usually appear during this process.
- Healthy fats rich in Omega 3, such as walnuts, chia, and flax seed can reduce inflammation and improve your mood
- Fruits and vegetables, since they are packed with vitamins, can help you stay hydrated and regulate the sugar level in your blood and sweet cravings.
- Foods rich in vitamin B
Medical Treatment For Patients With Severe Side Effects And Seizures
Nevertheless, if you have some serious side effects such as high temperature, high pulse or high blood pressure, hallucinations, or seizures, you should immediately seek medical care ( dial 911).
Seizures usually occur in patients that had a history of withdrawals and sometimes may end up in Alcohol withdrawal delirium, which has a mortality rate of 1 to 5 %. Risk factors that might occur are:
- Older age
- Liver health issues
- Additional acute medical condition
- Heavy drinking on a daily basis
Intravenous fluids can be administered to patients with severe withdrawal from time to time.
Additional treatment with supplements
Additional supplements can be given to patients with alcohol withdrawal syndrome, such as :
- Magnesium sulfate for cardiac arrhythmias (3)
- Multivitamins and thiamine (B1 vitamin) (100 mg on a daily basis)
Treatment with medications
Medication can be given with a fixed schedule, usually a benzodiazepine, according to the symptoms and the severity, usually if the CIWA-Ar score is higher than 8 points. Benzodiazepine is prescribed for preventing seizures and delirium, sometimes with other adjunctive agents.
Some medications ( diazepam, chlordiazepoxide, and lorazepam) can be given according to the need of the patient and their symptoms without a fixed schedule, but this is closely monitored by a trained team. (4)
In most cases, outpatient detoxification can be safe and effective, but some patients need inpatient treatment with close monitoring.
In ambulatory treatment, treatment with a fixed schedule administration should be used.
Patient Follow Up
Unfortunately, the treatment doesn’t address the addiction itself, and there is little hope for abstinence in the long term.
Some patients join anonymous groups such as Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) and Narcotics Anonymous (NA) that enhance recovery and receive help from others. They hold 12 step program with on-site meetings. (5)
Other patients stay in treatment facilities that offer different therapies, such as family therapy and behavioral therapy, with additional programs according to the needs of the patients and include the elements the patient can afford.
Keeping in mind that sometimes the problem is not addressed, you can always speak to your health provider for additional information and advice.
What Are The Stages Of Alcohol Withdrawal?
Alcohol withdrawal can be a really unpleasant process, so if you want to try it and get sober, you should know the stages of this process to help you overcome it easily.
This withdrawal is caused by the neurotransmitters in your brain that are suppressed when you drink alcohol and make you feel euphoric.
When you stop drinking, they become overstimulated and cause many of the symptoms that occur during the detoxication process.
They occur very quickly after the last drink you had, usually after two hours.
Let’s see what symptoms you will have in every stage when you start the detoxication process:
6-12 Hours After Last Drink
- Mild Anxiety
- Small tremors
- Stomach upset
12-24 Hours After Last Drink
- Hallucinations and disorientations
- Shaking hands
48+ Hours After Last Drink
- Fever and high temperature
- High blood pressure
- Delirium tremens
- Visual or auditory hallucinations
- Impaired attention
All of these symptoms may differ depending on the individual and whether they have some other complex health issues, how long they have been drinking, if they abused heavily other substances, and other factors.
What Is Delirium Tremens?
Delirium tremens is the most serious symptom and can sometimes be fatal. Fortunately, only 5% of the cases are deadly. The most common symptoms of delirium tremens are:
- High fever
If you or someone in your family shows these symptoms, seek immediate medical help.
Post-Acute Withdrawal Syndrome (PAWS)
If you are a heavy drinker and you have been drinking heavily for several years, some symptoms may last for a year.
They are usually milder but can still make the life of the people who go through the rehabilitation process difficult:
They are as follows:
- Low energy
- Feeling dizzy
- Irritability and anxiety
- Problems with memory
- Susceptibility to accidents
- Low reflexes
You need to be patient and know these symptoms will subside with time.
How To Try Quitting Alcohol Safely At Home
If you are an alcohol addict, it is dangerous to stop drinking overnight, and you should try reducing the amount you take step by step, with a little bit of preparation and careful planning.
When you try to detox yourself at home, it means that you will do it without any medical or professional help.
This can be an option for you only if you do not experience any severe withdrawal symptoms but is still not recommended.
Nevertheless, it is crucial to consult your health provider before trying to stop drinking at home.
If you decide to make it home without any medical help, you can take the following steps:
1. Keep a drinking diary
Before you stop drinking, you should keep a diary to see how much you consume every day and try to keep it at least for a week with the following information:
- The time of the day you have it
- Each drink you take it
- How many units of alcohol it contained ( in case you drink from a bottle, you can measure each drink to see how much drink you had)
2. Reduce the intake by 10 % each day
You can start reducing your alcohol intake by 10 % each day. Then continue with the process and try reducing by 10 % every four days. If some symptoms start to appear, it means that you are going through the whole process too quickly, and you should lower to cut down by 5% on a weekly basis instead of 10%.
This process is called tapering or weaning off alcohol and it is quite rational and is already accepted in medical practice with antidepressants, for example, whose doses are gradually reduced when the patient is taken off this medication.
It can be effective in some individuals and it is a self-treatment strategy that is most cost-effective, especially if you do not have health insurance or you cannot afford medical care.
3. You are ready to stop
You can put an end to drinking if you drink less than 10 units of drink on a daily basis. But, seek immediate medical help in case you:
- Have hallucinations
- Feeling dizzy and unsteady
- Have a seizure
- You are confused and disorientated
- Have double visions
Important note: Do not stop drinking alcohol entirely in case you had experienced seizures or hallucinations before when you stopped.
8 Additional Tips To Consider When You Try To Stop Drinking Alcohol At Home
1. Be physically active and go for regular walks or take some yoga classes
2. Take out all alcohol you have at home and ensure that you do not have access to it
3. Get support from your family and friends and in case it sometimes doesn’t go as it should, they should consult a medical expert
4. Start some new activities, like a new hobby, to stay focused on something that doesn’t involve drinking
5. Avoid keeping the company of people with whom you drank together
Drink a lot of fluids and take electrolytes
6. Eat a lot of fruits and vegetables because you will likely have sugar cravings and fruit will help you to overcome them more easily
7. Keep yourself distracted with other types of drinks, especially water and drinks with electrolytes
8. Stay away from people who make you feel stressed and feel angry
There are benefits from home detox despite the fact that it can be risky such as:
- You are surrounded by your close family.
- You keep your privacy all the time
- It is less expensive
- You are not stigmatized by society that you have been to a rehabilitation center.
However, the risk remains and some severe withdrawal symptoms may appear that should be treated only by a medical health professional and are considered dangerous, so probably the best way to detox from alcohol is with the help of a health professional.
Want to Learn More Alcohol Detox Facts and Tips?
Now that you know about what happens when you stop drinking, you can be prepared to succeed on your journey of improving your health.
If you’re interested in learning more about healthy living, Curious mind has it all. Keep browsing our blog for all of the helpful information you need to adopt a positive lifestyle.
A professional writer with over a decade of incessant writing skills. Her topics of interest and expertise range from health, nutrition and psychology.