Someone who has an alcohol use disorder (AUD) will eventually experience alcohol withdrawal symptoms if they go long enough without having a drink. Even someone who only drinks casually can experience some mild symptoms the next morning; however, alcohol withdrawal symptoms get worse the more someone drinks and the longer someone has been drinking.
If someone has substance use disorder to the point where they have become fully dependent on that substance, the withdrawal symptoms can be severe. In the case of alcohol, the symptoms could become life-threatening if the situation is not overseen by a trained healthcare professional.
That is where medical detox and therapeutic support can be beneficial. The first step in recovery from alcohol addiction is to fully detox and remove all traces of alcohol from the body. This means going through alcohol withdrawal syndrome. It is critical for everyone to understand what alcohol withdrawal looks like, what alcohol withdrawal symptoms are, and what the treatment process is.
If someone who has become dependent on alcohol goes for a while without having an alcoholic beverage, they will eventually experience alcohol withdrawal. Alcohol withdrawal is an important part of the journey someone has to complete to remove all traces of alcohol from the body.
When someone drinks continuously for a long amount of time, the brain becomes used to having alcohol around. When alcohol is no longer around, the brain and the body can get confused, and the symptoms of alcohol withdrawal start to appear.
Some might be interested in the biochemistry behind alcohol withdrawal. When someone drinks for a long time, the chemistry of the brain changes. The brain uses neurotransmitters (such as GABA) to send signals throughout the central nervous system. The balance of the neurotransmitters will change when someone drinks for a long amount of time because the brain becomes imbalanced. The brain changes levels of neurotransmitters in an effort to counteract the impacts of alcohol on the body.
As someone continues to drink, the body builds up a tolerance to alcohol. This means that more alcohol is present in the body, and the brain has to change its levels of neurotransmitters even more. As the levels of neurotransmitters continue to deviate from what is considered “normal,” it takes even longer for the brain to go back to normal.
Now, when someone stops consuming alcohol, the imbalance of neurotransmitters in the brain becomes inappropriate. It takes a long time for the neurotransmitters to go back to normal, and this could contribute to alcohol withdrawal symptoms.
When someone goes through alcohol withdrawal, it is important for them to be under the supervision of a trained medical professional. Someone who has been drinking for a long time will be almost guaranteed to go through alcohol withdrawal. The effects of alcohol withdrawal can be extremely uncomfortable, and a doctor can help keep someone comfortable as the process unfolds.
Remember that some of the symptoms of withdrawal could be life-threatening. For this reason, medical supervision of alcohol withdrawal and its side effects is necessary.
Alcohol withdrawal covers many symptoms that develop in many people. Some symptoms are emotional, while others are physical.
Not everyone is going to experience all of the symptoms below, and the severity of the symptoms will directly correlate to how much someone has been drinking and how long they have been drinking.
Individuals with heavy alcohol dependence are most likely to experience severe withdrawal symptoms.
There are some mild symptoms of alcohol withdrawal that could make someone uncomfortable. A few examples of minor withdrawal symptoms include:
It is possible for someone suffering from alcohol withdrawal to develop many of the symptoms above. Some of these symptoms can get worse if someone has been drinking for a long time.
It is also possible for someone who has been drinking for a long time to develop severe symptoms of alcohol withdrawal. After going without drinking for a long period of time, some of the more dangerous symptoms include:
Seizures are one of the most dangerous symptoms of alcohol withdrawal because they can be fatal. If the seizure is not stopped, it can overload the central nervous system, leading to extremely dangerous consequences. This is arguably the biggest reason why anyone going through alcohol withdrawal should go through the process in a medical facility.
Some individuals are prone to getting the “DTs,” which is an acronym for delirium tremens. This is a very severe alcohol withdrawal syndrome that develops in a minority of people who are dependent on alcohol.
Many of the severe symptoms of alcohol withdrawal listed above take place in individuals who go through delirium tremens. Some of the main symptoms of this syndrome include:
Many of these symptoms can lead to additional complications if they are not treated appropriately. Medical professionals have tools at their disposal that they can use to manage many of the symptoms related to delirium tremens. These treatment methods can only be administered if someone goes through this process in a medical facility.
Delirium tremens are more likely in individuals who have an abnormal liver function, a long history of drinking heavily, a previous history of mental health issues, and a previous history of seizures.
There is no set alcohol withdrawal timeline regarding when the symptoms above will show up because everyone is different. There are a lot of factors that will play a role in when the symptoms of alcohol withdrawal appear and which symptoms show up.
Someone’s length and severity of alcohol use will have an impact on the timeline of these symptoms. Furthermore, someone’s overall mental and physical health will play a role in how they respond to these symptoms. Finally, remember that some people with alcohol use disorder also have concomitant substance use disorders, meaning that they may use other drugs. This can also play a role in how their specific withdrawal syndrome unfolds.
Even though there is no set timeline related to alcohol withdrawal symptoms, there is a pattern that the symptoms tend to follow. They include:
Remember that alcohol withdrawal syndrome can look different for different people depending on a number of factors.
As a good rule of thumb, the less severe symptoms are the ones that show up first and the ones that tend to stick around the longest. Moderate or severe symptoms tend to show up in the middle.
Even though the alcohol detox process can be uncomfortable, it is also important because the recovery process cannot continue until the alcohol has been removed from the body. Remember that medical professionals have tools at their disposal to make the process more comfortable. Medical attention is important because seizures and other health conditions could constitute a medical emergency.
There are multiple tools doctors can use to help with alcohol withdrawal treatment. Generally, the process starts by providing them with supportive care. Some of the most important treatments include:
Because people with alcohol withdrawal may have nausea and vomiting, medical professionals might decide to place an IV instead. That way, individuals going through alcohol withdrawal do not develop dehydration. Over-the-counter medications can also help with alcohol treatment and detoxification by helping to deal with alcohol cravings.
Medical professionals can also provide anxiolytic medication that can help people calm down during this process. Doctors will also monitor vital signs closely, including heart rate, blood pressure, and body temperature.
The most important reason why people going through alcohol withdrawal need to do so in the presence of medical professionals is the possibility of withdrawal seizures and hallucinations. Medical professionals might need to administer emergency medications, such as benzodiazepines, to stop a seizure and protect the brain. Doctors have a variety of options they can utilize to help someone stay stable during this time, and they can provide supportive care until alcohol withdrawal syndrome subsides.
First, individuals should know that people who have alcohol dependence are more likely to develop severe alcohol withdrawal symptoms. What does alcohol dependence look like?
Someone who is addicted to alcohol may display some of the following signs:
It is not necessary for someone to have all of the symptoms above to be dependent on alcohol. Instead, it is not unusual for someone who has become dependent on alcohol to display one or more of the symptoms above.
If you or someone you know is starting the process of recovering from alcohol use disorder, it is important to choose the right treatment center. Some of the most important factors include:
If you are looking for a medical facility in Tampa, Florida that can help you recover from alcohol withdrawal syndrome, look no further than Riverside Recovery.
At Riverside Recovery of Tampa, we are proud to be one of the most trusted substance abuse and addiction treatment programs in Tampa, Florida. We understand that alcohol withdrawal can be dangerous, and that is why we follow all the best practices and provide you with the best medical care in the region. Our team can help you or a loved one during every step of your journey toward sobriety, and that includes the first one.
If you would like to learn more about how we can help you and your family, contact us today to speak to a member of our team.
National Library of Medicine–Neurotransmitters in alcoholism: A review of neurobiological and genetic studies