Alcohol Withdrawal Guide: Causes, Symptoms and Treatment Options

Moderate or binge drinkers can likely quit alcohol on their own. However, medical complications can occur during the acute phase of withdrawal. For those with alcohol use disorder, withdrawal is just the first (but very important) step on a long journey to recovery. These first few weeks are critical because they are when the risk of relapse is highest. However, try not to have too many firm expectations, as symptoms can continue for multiple weeks in some people.

Cure for Alcohol Withdrawal Symptoms

Medications are often used to manage the symptoms of alcohol withdrawal safely. Benzodiazepines, such as diazepam (Valium) or lorazepam (Ativan), are commonly prescribed to reduce withdrawal symptoms and prevent complications like seizures. Other medications might include anticonvulsants, anti-nausea drugs and sleep aids, depending on individual symptoms and medical history. It’s crucial to consult a healthcare professional for a tailored treatment plan. Outpatient treatment may be available for mild-to-moderate symptoms of alcohol withdrawal; however, should symptoms become severe, inpatient care may be required.

What are the Symptoms of Alcohol Withdrawal?

Severe and complicated alcohol withdrawal requires treatment in a hospital — sometimes in the ICU. While receiving treatment, healthcare providers will want to monitor you continuously to make sure you don’t develop life-threatening complications. Alcohol withdrawal (alcohol withdrawal syndrome) is a range of symptoms that can happen if you stop or significantly reduce alcohol intake after long-term use. In general, the course of alcohol withdrawal is highly variable and somewhat unpredictable.

Techniques such as mindfulness, meditation or gentle exercise might help alleviate stress. However, it’s important to seek medical advice, as withdrawal can quickly escalate to severe symptoms. In general, going through withdrawal at home should be avoided unless your doctor recommends it. A healthcare provider will also run tests to rule out other medical conditions that have similar symptoms of alcohol withdrawal or occur alongside withdrawal. These conditions include gastrointestinal bleeding, infection, intracranial hemorrhage (acute bleeding in the brain), and liver failure. For most people, alcohol withdrawal symptoms will begin to subside after 72 hours.

Alcohol Withdrawal Symptoms, Timeline, Detox, and Treatment

Behavioral treatment programs are helpful for people who want to quit drinking. These programs involve working with a team of mental health professionals in a group and individual setting. Individuals experiencing mild symptoms could receive home treatment with the help of close friends and family members. However, if symptoms worsen, it is advisable to seek immediate medical attention so that individuals receive appropriate treatment. They can be managed with prescribed medications such as benzodiazepines.

These medications are not standalone cures for alcohol withdrawal or recovery from alcohol addiction, and should only be used as part of an integrated treatment approach. Seizures can occur within 48 hours of your last drink, though they occasionally happen a few days later. If you’ve gone through alcohol withdrawal before, your chance of having a seizure increases, as does the severity of seizures. After withdrawal is complete, it is essential that you not begin drinking again. Alcohol treatment programs are important because they improve your chances of successfully staying off of alcohol.

In the Next Few Weeks

It’s also important to note that delirium tremens can be life-threatening. The prognosis (outlook) for someone with alcohol withdrawal depends greatly on its severity. Many involve a combination of group psychotherapy (talk therapy) and medications. If you’re simply looking to speak to someone on the phone or chat online for more advice on your own or someone else’s drinking, get in touch with Drinkchat or Drinkline. Alcohol affects the area of the brain responsible for the ‘fight or flight’ function which helps our brains respond to danger, by preparing us to either react or run away.

In many cases, the side of effects of alcohol withdrawal can resolve within two to five days after your last drink. However, every patient is different, and some may experience symptoms for several weeks. These mental and physical symptoms can be dangerous to your health and lead many people to drink more alcohol for relief. Those who are able to resist relapse during withdrawals risk their lives if they try detoxing alone.

The exact timeline for alcohol withdrawal varies from person to person. It’s based on several factors, including how long, how much, and how regularly you have been drinking alcohol. The severity of alcohol withdrawal is categorized into three stages. Not all people progress through all of the stages of alcohol withdrawal. This is sometimes referred to as protracted or post-acute alcohol withdrawal (PAW), though it’s not recognized in DSM-5.

Symptoms of acute alcohol withdrawal range from headaches and sleeping problems to high blood pressure, body temperature, seizures, and even death. Fortunately, our substance abuse rehab facilities at Ark Behavioral Health offer medically supervised alcohol detox. This type of detox program provides professional support as you go through alcohol withdrawal. About five percent of people withdrawing from alcohol experience delirium tremens (DTs). If you’re addicted to alcohol and have been drinking heavily for years, you’re at risk for this complication.

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