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Alcohol Withdrawal Signs, Symptoms, and Treatment

Though the issues of both illegal and prescription drug misuse often dominate headlines, excessive alcohol consumption remains an enormous public health problem. Many people are unaware of just how serious the health effects of problematic drinking can be, including the potential to develop physiological dependence and the subsequent risks of quitting without medical help.1

Alcohol withdrawal symptoms can range from uncomfortable to life-threatening and may require medical intervention to manage safely.1 In this article, we will discuss the signs and symptoms of alcohol withdrawal, explore its risks to your health, and explain how to find alcohol withdrawal treatment.

What Is Alcohol Withdrawal?

Alcohol withdrawal involves a characteristic set of symptoms that arise when a person stops drinking abruptly or significantly cuts back on the amount they drink after developing significant alcohol dependence.1

Though the physiological details are quite complicated, at its most basic, the central nervous system adapts to the consistent presence of alcohol in heavy drinkers, such as those who struggle with alcohol use disorder—the clinical term for alcohol addiction.1

Chronic, excessive drinking disrupts several neurochemical processes, and the brain works to restore balance via a phenomenon known as neuroadaptation.2

When alcohol use stops, the brain is thought to again become temporarily unbalanced, and the resulting over-excitatory brain signaling underlies many of the characteristic alcohol withdrawal symptoms.1

These symptoms range from the inconvenient to the severe, depending on the nature of the drinking and the drinker’s individual physiological responses to sudden abstinence.1

Alcohol Withdrawal Symptoms and Signs

There are several possible signs and symptoms of alcohol withdrawal. These may vary based on factors related to your health and can range in severity depending on how much alcohol you have consistently consumed, how long you have been drinking, and how often.3

Alcohol withdrawal symptoms often peak within 72 hours and then begin to improve. However, certain symptoms may sometimes persist for longer periods of time (e.g., weeks).3

Some of the symptoms of alcohol withdrawal may include:3

  • Autonomic hyperactivity, including sweating or elevated pulse above 100 bpm.
  • Increased hand tremors.
  • Anxiety.
  • Insomnia.
  • Nausea and/or vomiting.
  • Visual, tactile, or auditory hallucinations.
  • Psychomotor agitation.
  • Generalized tonic-clonic (i.e., grand mal) seizures.

Dangers of Alcohol Withdrawal

For some people, the acute alcohol withdrawal syndrome can be severe, with potentially dangerous symptoms and complications such as:4

  • Seizures.
  • Hallucinations.
  • Delirium tremens.

Acute alcohol withdrawal can be progressively severe and fatal in some cases, and as such, it is important to manage it appropriately.1,4

Certain risk factors can predispose you to be at a higher risk of complicated or dangerous withdrawal. These factors include:4

  • Severe withdrawal symptoms at initial evaluation.
  • Previous alcohol withdrawal seizure episode(s).
  • Prior history of delirium tremens.
  • Relatively older age.
  • Certain co-morbid medical health issues.
  • Abnormal liver enzymes on laboratory testing.
  • Dehydration and/or electrolyte disturbances.

In general, the signs and symptoms of alcohol withdrawal can vary based on individual factors, and people without these risk factors may still be at risk of severe withdrawal symptoms.5

What Is Delirium Tremens?

Delirium tremens, also referred to as DT or the DTs, is a severe progression of acute alcohol withdrawal experienced by a small subset of people.6 Though the precise figure may vary from study to study, some prevalence estimates indicate that fewer than 1% of the general population experience delirium tremens, while nearly 2% of those with alcohol dependence will.6

Though relatively rare, those with delirium tremens may experience a 1-5% mortality rate, in some cases, even with treatment.1

The key feature of DTs is an alcohol withdrawal delirium—which may be characterized as the onset of a highly changeable level of consciousness, cognition, wakefulness, and psychomotor activity, often fluctuating throughout the day. Other symptoms to accompany delirium tremens may include:1,6

  • Significant autonomic dysfunction, resulting in elevated pulse and blood pressure.
  • Sweating.
  • Psychomotor agitation.
  • Visual, auditory, or tactile hallucinations.
  • Seizures.

Alcohol Withdrawal Treatment

For many who struggle with alcohol use disorders, navigating the period of alcohol withdrawal is a necessary early part of recovery, but it is not without its risks. Fortunately, there are supervised medical detox programs available to help individuals through this often unpleasant and potentially stressful period.

Medically managed detoxification aims to keep a person comfortable and minimize the risks of certain complications, such as seizures.5 During medical detox, a team of licensed medical professionals closely monitor each person by frequently checking vital signs, including respiratory rate and blood pressure, as well as other key symptoms.5

Depending on specific factors, your care team may need to administer medications to manage withdrawal symptoms safely and appropriately.5 These factors may include your age, previous experiences with withdrawal, health history, and the length of time you have been drinking overall.5

During detox, the clinical team provides continual interpersonal and mental health support to ensure you are well taken care of and receiving adequate rest while you withdraw from alcohol.5

Alcohol Use Disorder Rehab in Texas

If you or a loved one are looking for alcohol withdrawal treatment, Greenhouse Treatment Center can help you start on the road to sobriety today. As an alcohol recovery center with both outpatient programs and inpatient addiction treatment near Dallas, Texas, we offer multiple levels of addiction treatment. We customize care plans to meet your individual needs and employ effective evidence-based therapies.

Many people start on this journey with the same common questions. How do I start the admissions process? What about paying for addiction treatment? Are there insurance plans that cover treatment for alcohol withdrawal?

At Greenhouse, caring admissions navigators are available 24/7 to answer all your questions and help you get started on your recovery. Call now or quickly and securely .

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