Battling addiction is difficult for the addict and their loved ones who are providing support. Understanding what happens during alcohol withdrawal helps everyone involved keep sufferers from returning to unhealthy habits. Withdrawal from any addictive substance can be dangerous, especially when people attempt it without medical help.
The first thing is to understand the stages of alcohol withdrawal. This understanding helps everyone involved know what happens to the body and mind during the process. The three stages occur quickly, and the severity is based on how long alcoholics have been drinking.
Within six hours, drinkers can develop symptoms like anxiety, nausea, headaches, sweating, and insomnia. In the next 12 to 48 hours, withdrawal symptoms can include hallucinations and seizures as the brain tries to compensate for missing alcohol.
After two to four days of not drinking, alcoholics can have delusions and vivid hallucinations. They can also have high blood pressure with or without an elevated heart rate, fevers, sweating, and confusion.
What is alcohol abuse?
Men and women have different diagnoses for alcohol misuse. Women who misuse alcohol have at least one drink per day, adding up to seven or more drinks per week. Men who misuse alcohol consume two or more drinks daily or 14 beverages within a week.
Alcohol abuse also includes binge drinking, where men and women have four or more drinks in a short period.
Eventually, people who drink regularly can become dependent on alcohol. They start to crave it and build a tolerance for the effects. Drinking alcohol daily or binge drinking routinely can increase the chances of becoming addicted. Addicts feel withdrawal symptoms due to a physical need to drink, so they drink to stop the pain and discomfort of those symptoms.
Why do withdrawal symptoms occur?
Addicts have a physical need for their preferred substances. When they stop consuming it, they have physical symptoms, like caffeine addicts who have headaches if they stop drinking coffee.
Alcohol addicts suffer because alcohol affects the way the brain functions. It increases a neurotransmitter called GABA, which calms the mind and creates a sense of euphoria. Alcohol also decreases glutamate, reducing excitability.
Because alcohol artificially changes the way the brain increases and decreases these neurotransmitters, withdrawal symptoms occur when the brain has to get back to a balanced state. Withdrawal symptoms related to excitability occur until the brain produces enough GABA to create a calm body and mind.
Can alcohol withdrawal be fatal?
Alcohol withdrawal can be fatal, especially when withdrawal symptoms become extreme. A small percentage of people have delirium tremens with symptoms that include hallucinations, confusion, and grand mal seizures. Heart failure is another severe symptom of alcohol withdrawal, and it can be fatal.
The best way to handle alcohol withdrawal and the accompanying symptoms is to work with a healthcare provider who can prescribe helpful medications. Providers can also provide direction about whether the alcoholic needs care in a treatment facility or if they can manage the symptoms at home.
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