Addiction | 9 min read
Medically Reviewed By
On September 2, 2022
On August 4, 2019
Alcohol withdrawal syndrome (AWS) is the name given to the symptoms you experience as a heavy drinker upon significantly cutting down on your alcohol consumption or stopping suddenly. The syndrome features both emotional and physical symptoms.
Some of these symptoms are mild, such as anxiety. However, you risk facing more severe symptoms depending on your alcoholism case. Examples of severe symptoms are seizures and hallucinations. You should know that alcohol withdrawal syndrome could threaten your life. Thus, you need to take the condition of alcohol withdrawal syndrome seriously despite facing mild symptoms.
Extended heavy alcohol consumption tends to alter your brain chemistry. The gamma-aminobutyric acid and the dopamine neurotransmitters are the most commonly affected parts of your brain. They are responsible for your sense of reward and excitement, respectively.
The alcohol chemicals target them during consumption and affect their functionality when you suddenly quit drinking. The withdrawal symptoms then arise when your brain tries to readjust to functioning without the influence of the chemicals in alcohol.
• The quantity and frequency of consumption
• The age you started drinking and how long you’ve kept it up
• Your age, gender, genetics, family history with alcohol, and education level.
• Your general health
• If you have had prenatal alcohol exposure.
You will find similarities between symptoms of an alcohol hangover and alcohol withdrawal syndrome. Unfortunately, this has led to some misconceptions because they are utterly different.
You experience a hangover when you consume a lot of alcohol for a time, like one evening. On the other hand, you experience alcohol withdrawal syndrome when you suddenly stop drinking after adopting a consistent habit of drinking heavily.
The excess alcohol you consume before a hangover irritates your stomach lining. You end up dehydrated, and your body reacts with an inflammatory response. You will start experiencing the hangover symptoms as the alcohol wears off. Some common hangover symptoms are nausea, fatigue, and headache.
Meanwhile, AWS raises the alcohol in your system from consistent heavy drinking. Alcohol affects the production of neurotransmitters and the central nervous system. The symptoms of AWS start to manifest when you suddenly decrease or stop drinking.
The symptoms of alcohol withdrawal syndrome are categorized into two. There are common symptoms and severe symptoms, also known as delirium tremens (DTs). The symptoms you face and their severity are influenced by factors such as age, gender, alcoholism, and medical conditions.
• Fast heart rate
• Severe body tremors
• High blood pressure
• Extreme disorientation
• Visual hallucinations
• Raised body temperature.
If not enough, DTs have more extreme symptoms, and you may fight for your life. At this point, alcohol has damaged your brain, and you may develop breathing and air circulation problems. What’s more, when your heart rate and blood pressure experience a drastic increase, you have a high risk of a heart attack or stroke.
The first step you take in AWS diagnosis is an acceptance that your drinking is out of control, acknowledging the negative effects on your life, and that you need help. You should note that you risk mental and physical health complications when suffering from alcohol use disorder.
On the bright side, there are highly effective treatment methods for alcohol use disorder. A qualified physician should supervise treatment for a dependent user of alcohol for it to be effective.
When it comes to the diagnosis, you must present your medical history to your doctor. You may need to prove that you have decreased consumption after constant heavy drinking. Then, the doctor will give you a physical exam.
One of the tests your doctor will administer is a blood test known as a toxicology screen. It measures the alcohol level in your body. Using imaging tests alongside the blood test helps the doctor determine which organs the alcohol has affected.
• Identify him or her
• Identify the current date
• Tell them if your stomach feels sick
• Clarify if you feel a crawling sensation under your skin.
• Clarify if you feel as though a band wraps your head.
The American Society of Addiction Medicine defines the goals of treating alcohol addiction as:
• To create a safe withdrawal process and to help you live alcohol-free
• To treat an alcoholic humanely and protect their dignity during the process
• To prepare you for ongoing treatment for alcohol use disorder.
The symptoms you experience dictate the treatment method your doctor will prescribe. Mild withdrawal symptoms can be treated at home. If you face more severe symptoms such as seizures, the doctors will need hospital facilities to monitor your condition.
Your doctor may advise a home care treatment if you face mild symptoms. However, you will need a relative or friend to monitor your treatment. The relative or friend is an integral part of this treatment method as they are on standby to call the hospital or emergency vehicle should the symptoms worsen.
Moreover, they will take on the responsibility of dropping you at counseling and doctor’s appointments. They ensure you don’t miss medication or any tests. However, for some people, the home environment is not safe to carry out your detox. Your doctor, relatives, and friends will help you enroll in detox centers or shelter programs that are known for providing a safe detox environment.
Detox centers are the best places to seek treatment for alcohol addiction. They are geared to help patients detox. They offer both therapeutic and medicinal treatment. You may have privacy concerns when enrolling in the detox center, but that is a common misconception. Detox centers like Ascendant New York Detox Center respect their patients’ privacy and disclose information only when you request it.
Some treatments for alcohol addiction involve therapy. Therapy targets your behavior and will influence you to change your drinking habits. You will come across cognitive behavioral therapy, motivational enhancement therapy, marital & family counseling, and brief interventions.
In detox centers, we can teach you about the effects of alcohol and other drugs, how to abstain, and how to cope with strong urges after addiction.
Our counselors are not only trained in therapy but can monitor your condition better than the friend or relative in-home care. In addition, they have medical experience in related issues. They will also help you transition back into your life once detox is achieved.
A daily routine will keep your mind occupied away from alcohol. This routine teaches your mind how to cope without drugs. Moreover, our routine also involves exercise and a healthy diet, which helps in recovery.
We will link you with peers facing similar challenges. They will motivate, advice, and provide companionship during recovery.
This policy helps maintain a safe environment in our centers. As a result, our patients are free from temptations and can fully focus on recovery.
You may face a severe condition that requires one-on-one treatment and care. We have also put private programs to respect the privacy of our patients.
One of the toughest challenges you will face in your recovery journey is preventing relapse and transitioning back into your life. Our counselors monitor your progress even after leaving our center to advise you on how to cope.
Some medications are engineered to counter the symptoms of alcohol withdrawal symptoms. This category of medicine is called benzodiazepines which are sedatives. Your doctor is more likely to prescribe the following:
• Clonazepam (Klonopin)
• Diazepam (Valium)
• Lorazepam (Ativan)
• Alprazolam (Xanax)
Heavy consumption of alcohol depletes essential vitamins in the body. As a result, you will need supplements and more medication to counter nutritional deficiencies and complications. The supplements are prescribed after you are through with withdrawal from chronic alcohol consumption.
You should seek hospitalization when your symptoms have proved to be quite severe. You will need to be monitored closely by doctors. Hospitalization helps inject the medication into your veins to combat the symptoms such as dehydration. When the symptoms ease up, you may be referred to a detox center to complete your recovery.
Nutrition may be considered as a unit of treatment. Alcohol abuse affects your body’s nutrients and hydration. You may need to replace some of them using supplements, for example, folic acid and thiamine. Your doctor will prescribe balanced diets rich in vitamins and high water consumption.
You will experience alcohol withdrawal symptoms within 6 hours or a few days since your last drink. These symptoms get worse over the next 2 to 3 days. The intensity of most symptoms takes about five days to decrease. However, some mild symptoms tend to stretch for weeks.
The symptoms can develop into delirium tremens (DTs), severe symptoms that could prove life-threatening. Some of these symptoms are hallucinations and seizures. If you experience DTs, the doctor will admit you to the hospital to monitor your heart rate, breathing, and blood pressure. Moreover, the correct medication will be prescribed.
You should seek help with mild symptoms rather than embark on a self-prescribed detox.
Can You Prevent Alcohol Withdrawal Syndrome?
Yes. Regular heavy drinking causes an alcohol withdrawal syndrome. If you can avoid heavy drinking, you are safe. If you are heavily dependent on alcohol, the best way to avoid alcohol withdrawal syndrome is to seek medical care and counseling. You will then be able to decrease your alcohol dependence safely and gradually. A sudden decrease causes an alcohol withdrawal syndrome.
Alcohol withdrawal syndrome (AWS) is a condition that features withdrawal symptoms of chronic alcoholism. They arise when you suddenly stop consuming alcohol after a long consumption spell. These symptoms arise because of the alcohol concentration in your body and the alterations it makes to your central nervous system. It affects the production of neurotransmitters in the brain. The symptoms arise as your brain and body try to readjust to a period without alcohol.
AWS symptoms will range from mild to severe. The mild symptoms include nausea, agitation, a fast heart rate, insomnia, headache, anxiety, sweating, and nightmares. The severe symptoms, also called delirium tremens (DTs), including seizures, severe body tremors, high blood pressure, extreme disorientation, visual hallucinations, and raised body temperature. DTs are life-threatening because they make you prone to a stroke or a heart attack.
You should seek medical guidance once you spot any symptoms, no matter how mild they seem. Your doctor will diagnose your condition after doing some physical tests, such as a toxicology screen. The toxicology screen is a blood test that shows the level of alcohol in your body. Your doctor will also need your drinking and medical history to give a diagnosis.
The symptoms you face and the diagnosis your doctor will give depend on several factors. These factors are the quantity and frequency of consumption, the age you started drinking and how long you’ve kept it up, your age, gender, genetic background, family history with alcohol and education level, your general health, and if you have had prenatal alcohol exposure.
Once you have been diagnosed, you should start your treatment immediately. There are various forms of treatment for AWS. You can opt for home care when your doctor agrees the symptoms are mild. However, you will require someone like a relative or friend to monitor your condition and guide your treatment.
If you suffer from a case of severe symptoms, you will need hospital care or a detox center. Hospitals offer quick medication and round-the-clock monitoring. Once you recover and the symptoms start to wear off, the doctor could refer you to a detox center to complete your recovery.
Ascendant New York Detox Center offers a safe environment free of alcohol, treatment, peer support, professional counselors, learning, a daily routine, privacy, and aftercare to prevent relapse.
Medication is also involved in treatment. For example, sedatives, known as benzodiazepines, are used to combat the symptoms of AWS. Some examples of benzodiazepines doctors prescribe include Clonazepam (Klonopin), Diazepam (Valium), Lorazepam (Ativan), and Alprazolam (Xanax).
AWS symptoms typically manifest from 6 hours to a few days after you stop drinking. Depending on their severity and your treatment, the symptoms take 5days to several weeks to wear off.
AWS is avoidable if you avoid heavy, consistent consumption of alcohol. However, if you are already a heavy drinker or know one, you can help avoid AWS if you seek help. We can guide your recovery at our detox center and help you get off the alcoholism wheel.
If you or a loved one are struggling with alcohol addiction and seeking an inpatient treatment facility, Ascendant is here to help.
Contact us today to learn more about our medically supervised treatment options to help you or a loved one recover fully from drug abuse.
Here at Ascendant New York, we understand the importance of having access to accurate medical information you can trust, especially when you or a loved one is suffering from addiction. Find out more on our policy.