Alcohol withdrawal occurs when a person who regularly drinks heavily suddenly stops using alcohol. The more regularly someone drinks, the more likely they are to experience withdrawal symptoms when they quit.
Symptoms of alcohol withdrawal can be minor, moderate or severe. Mild withdrawal can cause headaches, while major withdrawal can lead to delirium or death. People suffering from alcohol addiction have an increased risk of experiencing life-threatening withdrawal symptoms.
Common withdrawal symptoms include:
Additional symptoms of alcohol withdrawal include headaches, insomnia, rapid heart rate, loss of appetite and enlarged pupils.
Severe withdrawal symptoms include delirium tremens, a major type of alcohol withdrawal characterized by sudden and severe psychological or nervous system changes.
The condition can lead to effects such as:
According to a 2014 report published in the New England Journal of Medicine, about 1 to 4 percent of people who experience delirium tremens die. Deaths related to delirium tremens are usually caused by hyperthermia, seizure complications or cardiac arrhythmias, or associated medical disorders.
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Physicians recognize three levels of alcohol withdrawal, with each level comprising its own set of symptoms. These effects can begin six hours after a person’s last drink. The most severe symptoms can occur as late as seven to 10 days after the last drink.
The following symptoms can occur 6 to 12 hours after the last drink:
The following symptoms can occur 12 to 48 hours after the last drink:
The following symptoms can occur 48 hours to 10 days after the last drink:
Mild or moderate withdrawal symptoms, often seen within the first two days of cessation, are rarely life-threatening. The effects can peak about 72 hours after the last drink, and they begin to lessen between days five and seven.
Seizures are common in people with past complications from alcohol withdrawal, and they generally occur 12 to 48 hours after the last drink. Delirium tremens typically begin about three days after the last drink. Symptoms can last between one and eight or more days, though they generally lessen within two to three days.
However, emotional mood swings, sleeplessness or fatigue caused by alcohol withdrawal can last for more than a year.
Failing to seek treatment for alcohol withdrawal can be dangerous. The withdrawal effects can be extremely painful. Over the years, countless individuals have tried managing their alcohol withdrawal symptoms at home, and some people have not survived.
People battling alcohol addiction should immediately seek treatment and support if they decide to stop using alcohol and get sober. Rehab facilities offer 24/7 medical care to people as they detox from alcohol, and the treatments they offer can alleviate the effects of alcohol withdrawal.
A physician can also create an alcohol detox diet plan to help clients regain vitamins and minerals lost during withdrawal. Once they are stable enough to eat, people should have well-balanced meals filled with nutrient-heavy foods such as lean red meats, fish and breads.
After completing alcohol rehab, committing to a healthy lifestyle is important. People who overcome their physical dependence to alcohol but do not fully commit to recovery are often known as dry drunks. These people may be sober, but they have not properly addressed all of the unhealthy emotions and behaviors associated with alcohol addiction. Signs of a dry drunk can overlap with symptoms of alcohol withdrawal, which include depression and loneliness.
Participating in Alcoholics Anonymous can help dry drunks succeed in alcohol recovery. The support group program allows individuals with drinking problems to share stories and support with others in similar situations. Regularly attending AA can reduce the risk for alcoholic relapse.
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