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Understanding What is Alcohol Withdrawal

Alcohol withdrawal syndrome, AWS, refers to the changes that affect the body when one reduces alcohol consumption or stops drinking liquor. AWS mainly affects heavy drinkers trying to be sober or reduce their alcohol intake. If you have experienced it once on the road to sobriety, you will likely experience it again. These changes occur in the body in different forms, such as alcohol withdrawal seizures, tremors, and nausea.

Major Causes of Alcohol Withdrawal

Alcohol has a tranquilizing effect on the human brain. Studies show that long-term drinkers continuously expose their brains to the sedating effect of alcohol. After some time, the brain reacts to this condition by releasing chemicals to cover for the tranquilizing effect of liquor. The human brain releases high amounts of naturally stimulating chemical substances like norepinephrine, a relative form of adrenaline. By doing this, the human brain adjusts to the consumer’s drinking patterns and recurrence.

Once the drinker halts or reduces alcohol consumption, the brain does not receive the depressing effect of alcohol; hence, it becomes overstimulated, resulting in AWS. These painful side effects result from the mind trying to adjust itself to not receiving the sedating effect it is used to receiving. AWS may cause terminal health complications, especially if left to advance to its late stages without seeking treatment.

Alcohol is usually broken down in the liver using alcohol dehydrogenase (ADH) and excreted via urine. However, for chronic drinkers, the alcohol that is not digested goes to the brain and suppresses Gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA) and glutamate neurotransmitters. These neurotransmitters together ensure neurochemical balance in the brain. Alcohol’s presence inhibits the N-methyl-d-aspartate (NMDA) receptor; hence, the depressing effect.

During withdrawal, glutamate is activated, resulting in increased functioning of the NMDA receptors, while GABA levels decrease to an abnormal capacity resulting in hyperactivity in the nervous system. This hyperexcitability results in alcohol withdrawal symptoms.

Kindling is the process that results in the increase in severity and decrease in the time of onset of symptoms among patients with repeated withdrawal episodes. It results from the change in the regular operation of neurotransmitters described above. For these reasons, rapid detox from alcohol can be dangerous and even deadly. The safest route is a medically supervised detox process in a reputable facility.

Who are Vulnerable to AWS?

The people who drink heavily often and those who suffer from alcohol addiction are the most vulnerable to AWS. AWS mainly affects adults though teens and kids that drink heavily are also susceptible to AWS. Additionally, people who once showed symptoms while in detox can also catch AWS.

According to the CDC, heavy drinking is consuming more than 15 drinks a week. Binge drinking refers to having five or more drinks in a sitting, making up for the most common heavy drinking.

Symptoms of Alcohol Withdrawal Syndrome

Studies show that 50% of alcohol withdrawal syndrome patients show withdrawal symptoms. Patients possess these symptoms when they detoxify themselves; their severity varies from mild to life-threatening. The severity and longevity of your AWS depend on your symptoms. For example, chronic alcoholics will likely develop life-threatening symptoms like delirium tremens (DT). Not all patients develop all these symptoms, and once you develop any, it is advisable to seek professional help from a detox center.

These symptoms can be grouped into two categories, the minor and significant symptoms of alcohol detox. These symptoms are affected by factors such as length of time drinking, amount of alcohol consumed, frequency of drinking, co-occurring conditions, and your medical history. Here are the two groups of symptoms.

The Minor Signs of AWS Include:

Anxiety
Alcohol has a sedating effect that kicks in about 10 minutes after consumption. As one becomes a chronic alcoholic, the body becomes dependent on alcohol for a depressing effect. However, when you stop drinking, the body does not start to develop a healthy chemical balance in the brain immediately; hence, you suffer anxiety as the body returns to its natural balance.

Sweating
As you become a chronic drinker, your body adjusts accordingly. Alcohol affects your nervous system and your body’s regulating and sensing mechanism for blood pressure, body temperature, and heart activity. After drinking for long periods, your body adjusts according to our heavy drinking. When you halt or reduce your consumption, your body takes time to return to its natural state; hence, temporary sweating.

Nausea
Nausea symptom is common for many alcoholics adjusting to a life of sobriety after being heavy drinkers. Nausea is brought about by your stomach trying to change back to the usual foods you ingest and be deprived of alcohol or having it in reduced amounts.

Insomnia
Alcohol has a depressing effect on the body. Heavy drinkers rely heavily on it to calm their nerves. As a result, their bodies adjust accordingly to suit their heavy drinking. Once you quit or reduce the consumption, the excess chemicals in your body are not immediately are not balanced out naturally, leading to hyperactivity, which results in insomnia. Insomnia lasts for days or even weeks as the body returns to normalcy.

Headaches
When you are a frequent drinker, your body produces a lot of chemicals. These chemicals range from enzymes to neurochemicals as your body adjusts to heavy drinking. However, once you deviate from your typical drinking pattern, you develop a temporary headache as your body tries to change.

The More Severe AWS Symptoms Include:

Tremors
Tremors usually begin about five hours after your last bottle. At this time, they are minor tremors, but they progress as the hours go by and are worse for a day or two after the last drink. Besides tremors, you may increase blood pressure, nausea, sweating, anxiety, vomiting, insomnia, rapid breathing, and pulse.

Alcohol withdrawal seizures
Alcohol withdrawal seizures often occur between 6 hours to two days after your last drink. It is common for you to have several seizures over several hours. At 24 hours, you are likely to have the worst seizures.

Hallucinations
You are likely to have these within 12 to 24 hours from your last drink, which can last for up to two days. Whenever you have hallucinations, you feel or see unreal things. Additionally, your vision is blurred, and you start seeing many similar, small, moving objects. The hallucinations can be detailed and imaginative visions. These hallucinations can lead to self-inflicted harm, accidents, and injuries.

Disorientation
As your body tries to adjust to your alcohol-free life, it may make you present signs of disorientation. You may have unexplained confusion, incoherent speech, and absenteeism. They disappear after some days as your body returns to normalcy.

Delirium tremens
Delirium tremens is a rare alcohol detox withdrawal symptom. It often begins two or three days after your last drink. However, it may also delay and commence a week later. Delirium tremens is more prominent around five days after your last drink and are dangerous. It alters your breathing, your body temperature control, and your circulation.

Delirium tremens can cause an abnormal increase in your blood pressure, dangerous heart racing, and excess dehydration. It also hampers the blood flow to your brain. Patients at this stage may also portray confusion, stupor, nervousness, hallucinations, sleep disturbances, excessive sweating, and disorientation.

Here is a Timeline for the Common AWS Symptoms:

Six to 12 hours after ingestion (Stage 1)
• Shaking
• Headaches
• Anxiety
• Nausea and vomiting
• Agitation

12 to 24 hours after ingestion (Stage 2)
• Seizures
• Hand tremors
• Disorientation

48 hours after ingestion (Stage 3)
• High blood pressure
• Insomnia
• Seizures
• Excessive sweating and high fever
• Tactile, visual, and auditory hallucinations
• Delirium tremens

After recovery, some patients may still experience post-acute withdrawal syndrome (PAWS). Prolonged symptoms of withdrawal customarily characterize this stage. The symptoms include delayed reflexes, trouble sleeping, low energy, and anxiety. These symptoms may last for months or even a year.

How Alcohol Withdrawal is Diagnosed

There are two ways that alcohol withdrawal can be diagnosed. Your previous history can influence the outcome of these tests. For example, if you have an earlier case of AWS, you will likely develop AWS again as you try to be sober after heavy drinking. The ways one can be tested for AWS are:

1. Clinical Institute Withdrawal Assessment of Alcohol (CIWA-Ar).
Clinical Institute Withdrawal Assessment of Alcohol is a series of questions whose answers are used to gauge AWS. The answers may also indicate the severity of the symptoms.

This scale measures these symptoms:
• Headache
• Vomiting and nausea
• Agitation
• Tremor
• Auditory disturbances
• Tactile disturbances
• Anxiety
• Visual disturbances
• Uncontrollable sweating
• Inability to think clearly or clouding of sensorium

2. Toxicology Screen
The doctor may do blood work on your samples to ascertain your blood alcohol level. The test may also be done to check the functioning of your body organs, such as your liver and heart. If your alcohol consumption has been beyond control and for an extended period, you will likely have some alcohol-related damage to these organs.

Treatment

Once diagnosed with alcohol withdrawal syndrome, you should follow two courses. You either seek treatment in a hospital or go for help at a detox center. The latter should be your pick, as a detox center offers several benefits to people trying to recover from AWS. The severity of symptoms makes it necessary to get clean in a controlled environment.

This necessity is particularly vital for those with previous cases of medical conditions such as heart or lung diseases, as the symptoms can worsen anytime and threaten your life. You should be honest with your doctor about your medical history and drinking.

 

 

How Ascendant New York May Help

A Serene Environment For Recovery
Ascendant New York Detox Center is located in a serene environment. This surrounding is vital for anyone trying to be sober as it provides peace and tranquility. You will not hear noises, unwanted sounds, and people running around as the place is designed with your welfare as a patient in mind.

Safe and Private Detox
There is limited movement into and within drug detox centers. This restriction is essential to providing patients with limited interactions. Contact with people can agitate patients or cause injuries as the patients hallucinate.

A Supportive Atmosphere
At Ascendant New York Detox Center, nobody will look at you with any judgemental eyes. Instead, our supportive professional team will work to understand your predicament, and they are willing to give you a hand as you walk down the road to recovery.

Healthy Food and Drinks
Our professional caregivers include an in-house chef. At Ascendant New York Detox Center, we understand the struggles recovering alcoholics go through, their nutritional deficiencies, and how to mix their food to ensure proper recovery. They offer the right meals and enough fluids to ensure you have the nutrients you need to recuperate fast.

Customized Care
At Ascendant New York Detox Center, we understand that each withdrawal syndrome is different. Therefore, we offer tailored treatment plans that are carefully crafted, putting the patient’s recovery and well-being first.

Conclusion

You may be forgiven for thinking that ingesting alcohol can kill you, and once you stop consuming, you will be safe. However, not taking alcohol may kill you too. Alcohol withdrawal syndrome is a common ailment that people trying to be clean after heavy drinking for prolonged periods are vulnerable to getting. If not managed properly, its signs may escalate and lead to death.

Alcohol has a sedating effect that your body gets used to after you drink it for a long time. When you stop taking alcohol, your body has to adjust, which may take time. During this time, your body will likely develop withdrawal symptoms such as headaches, nausea, vomiting, sweating, hallucinations, and, worst cases, delirium tremens. These symptoms can be categorized into stages depending on the severity of the symptoms and the period they occur.

Alcohol withdrawal syndrome is particularly common in adults but may also be found in children. AWS affects people who drink above the limits prescribed by the CDC. Heavy drinking for prolonged periods usually makes these people susceptible to AWS. The CDC describes prolonged drinking as men having more than 15 drinks a week while ladies having more than eight drinks a week.

For people portraying the symptoms associated with alcohol withdrawal syndrome after stopping or reducing the intake of alcohol, it is advisable to seek help as soon as possible. Help can be sought by going to the hospital or by seeking help in a detox center. The two ways health professionals test for AWS are a toxicology screen and a clinical Institute withdrawal assessment of alcohol.

Patients having AWS should seek help from a detox center. Detoxification centers are set aside for dealing with drug-related health issues; hence, they are the best options. We have a serene environment ideal for recuperating, and our qualified personnel offer tailored treatment plans devised from your medical history and their years of service. At Ascendant New York Detox Center, we have handled many patients before; hence, you can rely on them to find a treatment regime that works for you and makes your road to sobriety easier.

Alcohol withdrawal syndrome is growing to be a massive challenge for Americans. It hinders the road to recovery as, without help, it makes not consuming alcohol a daunting task. These side effects vary and are better handled professionally to avoid consequences. Professionals have vast experience under their belts and know how to best come up with a treatment plan for you that is easier and more effective. By managing withdrawal symptoms, you can concentrate on getting sober.

If you or a loved one are struggling with alcohol addiction and seeking a New York or Connecticut detox center, Ascendant is here to help. Our New York alcohol detox helps individuals break their patterns of addiction and begin a sustainable sobriety journey.

Contact our alcohol and drug rehab in New York now for more information on how we can help you or a loved one cope with alcohol withdrawal.

Sources:

  1. CDC. What is excessive alcohol use? | Infographics | Online Media | Alcohol | CDC. Published December 30, 2019. Accessed September 1, 2022. https://www.cdc.gov/alcohol/onlinemedia/infographics/excessive-alcohol-use.html

Medical Content Writer

Amanda Stevens, B.S.

Amanda is a prolific medical content writer specializing in eating disorders and addiction treatment. She graduated Magnum Cum Laude from Purdue University with a B.S. in Social Work. As a person in recovery from disordered eating, she is passionate about seeing people heal and transform. She writes for popular treatment centers such as Ocean Recovery, Epiphany Wellness, The Heights Treatment, Infinite Recovery, New Waters Recovery and adolescent mental health treatment center BasePoint Academy. In her spare time she loves learning about health, nutrition, meditation, spiritual practices, and enjoys being the a mother of a beautiful daughter.

Last medically reviewed September 1, 2022