Alcohol Withdrawal and Detox

Alcohol is one of the top 5 most abused substances in the United States.

Hundreds of thousands of people are struggling to give up alcohol. This dangerous substance can destroy lives and it’s important that addicts are given the treatment and support they need to recover.

The first step is to stop drinking. When they do, their bodies can react in several different ways. In this post, we’ll tell you what they are.

Read on to find out what happens to the body when it’s going through alcohol withdrawal. 

What Causes Alcohol Withdrawal?

Alcohol withdrawal can happen to anyone who’s developed a habit of drinking regularly.

This is because alcohol is a depressant. It affects the way neurotransmitters like GABA and dopamine function in the brain, adjusting the reward system, increasing excitement, and changing the way messages are relayed between nerves. 

These changes remain in place when alcohol is first removed from the system, leading to a range of side effects.  

Alcohol Withdrawal Symptoms

Physical symptoms of alcohol withdrawal include sweating, headaches, and digestive problems. Nausea can also cause a loss of appetite, and some people may struggle to keep food down due to vomiting. For this reason, it’s important to pay extra attention to food and water intake during this time. 

The pupils can become more dilated than normal and the skin can become pale, giving a gaunt or sickly appearance. In some cases, the heartbeat quickens, too. Hands and other body parts may become shaky as the body can produce involuntary tremors. 

Some also experience a change in sleeping patterns. This can range from mild sleeping difficulties to persistent insomnia and generally leads to an overall feeling of fatigue. When they do sleep, they commonly experience nightmares.

The most dramatic and dangerous symptom of alcohol withdrawal is seizures. These can occur as a result of alcohol’s effects on the nervous system.  

The effects of alcohol are more than just physical. They also have a huge impact on the brain and mental state, too. 

There are strong links between alcohol dependency and depression, and detoxing from alcohol can aggravate symptoms of the condition.

Some people find that they lose all enthusiasm for activities they previously enjoyed doing or neglect their responsibilities completely. This is a result of the depressive effects of alcohol withdrawal as well as a lack of energy.

Anxiety is another symptom that often comes as a result of the absence of alcohol. Addicts can become nervous and irritable, appearing to be easily startled by things that never used to bother them. 

They can also experience mood swings, seemingly going from one extreme to another in a matter of minutes. 

It can be difficult to focus and think clearly, as alcohol and withdrawal can reduce the brain’s cognitive ability. Some people find that this causes frequent feelings of confusion.

Some even experience hallucinations. 

Duration of Alcohol Withdrawal

For someone who has consistently or heavily abused alcohol for some time, the physical symptoms of withdrawal can appear within just eight hours.

These symptoms can continue for several weeks but usually reach their most severe during the first 24-72 hours of withdrawal. 

Alcohol Withdrawal Timeline

The timeline for alcohol withdrawal and recovery varies from person to person, but these are the general stages you can expect:

  • 8 – 12 hours: Headaches, nausea, vomiting, sweating, and alcohol cravings
  • 12  -24 hours: Loss of appetite, anxiety, trouble sleeping, and possible hallucinations
  • 24 – 48 hours: Mood swings, shaking, lack of concentration, and possible seizures
  • 48 hours – 7 days: Confusion, depression, and fatigue

Detoxing from Alcohol on Your Own

If you’re going through your detox alone, it’s important to maintain a positive environment. Surround yourself with supportive people who can help you stay on the straight and narrow. 

It’s best to abstain from alcohol completely. This is because many alcohol addicts find that even one drink can trigger them. 

Remember to take care of your body. If you stay hydrated, avoid caffeine and make sure you fuel your body regularly with healthy meals, you can alleviate some of these symptoms by yourself. 

Medical Detox for Alcohol

Detoxing from alcohol is a good thing for any addict, but it can come with risks.

When a person has become completely dependent on alcohol, their body can react in dangerous ways when they suddenly find themselves without it. 

Problems with the liver, heart, kidneys and nervous system can develop and become long-term conditions. If these organs are particularly damaged, they can even shut down completely.

In severe cases, this can be life-threatening. That’s why it’s so important to go through withdrawal under the care of qualified health professionals.

How Medical Detox Works and What to Expect

Successful alcohol withdrawal isn’t just about getting toxic substances out of your system. The symptoms of withdrawal need to be carefully monitored and managed to make sure they don’t develop into something more serious.

If you do this through inpatient treatment, medical staff will check your heart rate, blood pressure, and fluid levels to make sure you’re safe and healthy as you go through your withdrawal. They may also give you an intravenous drip to keep you hydrated and administer medication.

If you don’t want to do it this way, you can use outpatient treatment. This allows you to pay visits to a facility, so you can maintain your regular routine. 

During this period, you should also take steps to prevent relapse. This is difficult to do on your own. Counseling, one-on-one therapy or group workshops can help you to stay on the right track. 

Medications Available for Alcohol Detox

A doctor can prescribe some medication to make things easier for you during your detox. Here are some of the medications that doctors prescribe:

  • Antabuse – Makes patients ill when taken with alcohol to discourage drinking
  • Campral – Reduces alcohol cravings by inhibiting certain neurotransmitters
  • Neurontin – Treats alcohol withdrawal seizures
  • ReVia – Reduces alcohol cravings to prevent relapse

Get Started on the Road to Recovery

Alcohol withdrawal can be a painful and challenging time. However, some people find it difficult to even reach this stage.

In order to go through withdrawal, you need to abstain from drinking alcohol. For many people, it’s just not that easy.

If someone you know is suffering from alcohol addiction, you may have struggled to get them to stop drinking for some time already. The best way to address the issue and make a positive change is to stage an intervention. This is a crucial first step.

To find out more, read our post on how alcohol interventions work