People who are heavy drinkers over an extended period of time will form a tolerance, needing more and more alcohol for the same effect. People who form this tolerance will also typically form a dependence on alcohol, and need to drink in order to not feel the effects of withdrawal.

It is important to note that even if you are not drinking heavily now, if you have gone through alcohol withdrawal before, you are more likely to go through it again.

What causes withdrawal?

Alcohol has a depressive effect on your system, slowing your brain function and changing the way your nerves send messages to your brain.

Your nervous system compensates for having alcohol around all of the time. Your body ends up working harder to keep your brain functioning in a more awake state, and once in this ‘keyed-up’ state, when the alcohol level drops, you go into withdrawal.

Alcohol withdrawal symptoms

Symptoms from alcohol withdrawal range from mild to very serious. Withdrawal from alcohol can be deadly. It is one of the few drugs that can kill the user if he stops abruptly. Medical detox is recommended for all alcoholics. Consult an addictions specialist for more information and guidance. Other symptoms of withdrawal include:

  • Nausea
  • Insomnia
  • Fatigue
  • Confusion
  • High Blood Pressure
  • Hallucinations
  • Agitation
  • Seizures
  • Heavy sweating
  • Irregular heartbeat
  • Increased startle reflex
  • Eye muscle movement problems
  • Tremors

Delirium Tremens

Withdrawal from alcohol is not something to be taken lightly. Delirium tremens are a severe form of alcohol withdrawal that occur when you stop drinking alcohol after a period of heavy drinking, particularly if you have not eaten enough food. With DT’s, you will experience sudden and severe mental or nervous system changes, and you need to seek medical attention immediately.

If you have been drinking for over ten years and decide to stop “cold turkey” or you have been consuming 4 to 5 pints of wine, seven to eight pints of beer or one pint of “hard” alcohol every day for a few months. People who have already experienced some form of alcohol withdrawal are also at risk.

Alcohol detox

With delirium tremens, a hospital stay is needed. The following tests may be run:

  • Blood phosphate level
  • Blood magnesium level
  • Comprehensive metabolic panels
  • Electrocardiogram (ECG)
  • Toxicology screen
  • Electroencephalogram (EEG)

At the detox hospital

The hospital team will also regularly check your vitals, your body fluid levels and your body chemistry results (i.e. electrolytes).

The goals of treatment are to save your life, keep you comfortable, and to get you on a path to recovery.

If you end up in a traditional hospital, you may or may not be released after your symptoms are managed, depending on the hospital’s capabilities. They may refer you to an inpatient or outpatient treatment program, or they may just release you. Drinking again once you reach this late stage of alcoholism may be fatal, so long-term treatment is definitely recommended.

Detox at rehab

Even if you are not experiencing the most severe symptoms of delirium tremens, you still may need a medical detox from alcohol. This can be done in a hospital or in the detox facility of an alcohol rehab center. You may find that hospitals only admit the worst of the worst cases, and you may get more of the help you need from a treatment center.

There, you will get adequate fluids, monitoring of vital signs, soft lighting, a positive supportive atmosphere, and other things that will make your detox off alcohol more comfortable at a center than it would be at home.

If you experience a drop in blood pressure, pulse, or a rise in body temperature, or even more severe withdrawal symptoms such as hallucinations or seizures, you may be recommended for a medical detox, and follow that with a stay at an inpatient treatment center.

What alcohol detox feels like

In detox, you will find that detoxing off alcohol is actually very uncomfortable. You will be given medications to manage your symptoms as you dry out. The point of detox is to return your body’s system to normal after extended alcohol abuse. You can expect the acute symptoms to last about a week, with the worst symptoms lasting 48 hours and calming down on days 3-5.

The irritability, trouble sleeping and other symptoms can persist for some time, so it is encouraged that alcohol abusers continue on with group therapy and 12-step programs to ensure abstinence.

Can withdrawal be prevented?

Getting help with detoxing from alcohol is an important step to ensure both your wellbeing and also your success in completely ridding your body of alcohol. Detoxing off alcohol to minimize withdrawal symptoms is only a part of what you will need to do to face your alcohol problem. It is a good idea to talk to your doctor or reach out to a treatment center for help to nip this problem in the bud for good.

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