Alcohol Withdrawal: Symptoms, Medications & Treatment
Alcohol withdrawal can occur when people stop drinking after a prolonged period (i.e., weeks, months, years) of heavy alcohol use. Withdrawal can involve a cluster of unpleasant, uncomfortable, and potentially dangerous symptoms that cause significant distress and impair a person’s ability to function.1
This page will discuss alcohol withdrawal syndrome, its potential symptoms, and how treatment can help.
What Is Alcohol Withdrawal Syndrome?
Alcohol withdrawal syndrome involves a set of symptoms that may develop after a person becomes physiological dependent on alcohol and then suddenly stops or cuts down their intake.2 In other words, the patient’s body has gotten so used to the presence of alcohol that they feel like they need it to function normally.
Someone with alcohol use disorder (AUD) may continue to compulsively drink alcohol to avoid withdrawal symptoms which, depending on the severity of their alcohol dependence,1 can be life-threatening without medical management.2,3
Alcohol Withdrawal Symptoms
Alcohol withdrawal symptoms can range from mild to severe.3 Symptoms of alcohol withdrawal can include:1
- Autonomic hyperactivity (meaning excessive sweating or a pulse rate that is higher than 100 beats per minute).
- Nausea or vomiting.
- Transient visual, tactile, or auditory hallucinations or illusions.
- Increased hand tremor.
- Psychomotor agitation.
- Generalized seizures.
Other potential alcohol withdrawal symptoms include loss of appetite, irritability, and hypersensitivity to noise or light.3
Diagnostic alcohol withdrawal signs typically develop within several hours to a few days after alcohol cessation or reduction.1
Dangers of Alcohol Withdrawal
One progressively severe form of alcohol withdrawal—known as delirium tremens (DTs)—can be very dangerous, especially if people do not receive proper medical support during the withdrawal process.4
Some of the possible and dangerous symptoms and complications of DTs can include:4
- Tachycardia (rapid heart rate).
- Hypertension (high blood pressure).
- Hyperthermia (dangerously high body temperature).
- Profound confusion and disorientation.
- Alcohol hallucinosis, which typically involves visual hallucinations, but these can also be auditory or tactile.
People who may be at an increased risk for DTs include those who have a prior history of DTs, have other co-occurring illnesses, are older, suffer from hypokalemia (low potassium in your blood), or have experienced prior withdrawal seizures during detoxification.4
Severe withdrawal symptoms like seizures and DTs may be mitigated with medical detox and pharmacological withdrawal management.5 Without treatment, more than a third of people with DTs may experience life-threatening complications;4 however, less than 5% of people who receive prompt and appropriate treatment for DTs die from alcohol withdrawal.4
How Long Does Alcohol Withdrawal Last?
The length and severity of the alcohol withdrawal process can depend on a variety of factors, such as:1
- The person’s age.
- How much and how often they drink.
- The presence of co-occurring illnesses.
- A family history of alcohol withdrawal.
- The concurrent use of sedative/anxiolytic drugs such as benzodiazepines.
In many cases, alcohol withdrawal begins within 24-48 hours after drinking stops and blood alcohol concentration (BAC) drops. Symptoms often peak in severity around the second day of abstinence, but may last 5-7 days before they largely resolve.3
Medical Detox for Alcohol Withdrawal
Medical detox can benefit people going through alcohol withdrawal by helping them stay as safe and comfortable as possible, often with the use of alcohol withdrawal meds.3
Detox provides monitoring and supervision by medical professionals, who can address any symptoms or complications that may arise during the process.3 Effective detox also fosters a person’s entry into continuing alcohol addiction treatment, which significantly improves the patient’s chances of long-term recovery.3
Medication Used for Alcohol Withdrawal
Different alcohol withdrawal medications are often administered to help people undergoing alcohol detox by mitigating various withdrawal symptoms and preventing seizures. These may include:3
Alcohol Addiction Treatment in Mississippi
Recovery from alcohol addiction is possible through effective treatment. Oxford Treatment Center uses a “whole-person” approach that tailors treatment to each person’s unique needs. We offer various levels of addiction treatment, including:
- Medical detox.
- Residential treatment.
- Partial hospitalization program (PHP).
- Intensive outpatient program (IOP).
- Standard outpatient.
- Sober living.
Treatment may involve a combination of medication and support during the detox process, followed by entry into one of the other programs listed above, such as a stay at our inpatient drug and alcohol rehab in Mississippi or attending our outpatient program (or a combination of both).
It’s never too late to seek help, no matter how things might seem right now. Please call to speak to a compassionate admissions navigator about your alcohol withdrawal treatment options. They can explain more about treatment admissions, rehab insurance coverage, and paying for addiction treatment.
You can also check your insurance coverage by using the confidential .
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