Deciding to quit drinking alchohol is a tough decision to make. Implementing it is even harder. If we’ve been drinking a lot for a while now, our brains become chemically dependent on alchohol just to function normally. So, when we quit cold turkey… bam! Alcohol withdrawal symptoms jump out to get us. At Intervention.com we can help support you through this stage on your way to sobriety.
Alcohol withdrawal symptoms are an uncomfortable, but also unavoidable, hurdle to cross on the way to sobriety. You can get through it! millions have before you. Knowing the symptoms ahead of time will help you prepare and get through this tough transition stage. Let’s go through the 8 worst alcohol withdrawal symptoms!
What causes alcohol withdrawal symptoms?
The active ingredient in alcoholic drinks is ethanol, which is what gets us drunk. This drug, ethanol, is a nervous system depressant. It makes the brain work slower than normal. When someone is a chronic drinker, their brain makes adjustments so it can get used to the depressant effect. After a while, the brain starts to produce additional excitatory neurotransmitters and receptors to balance out the effect of the alcohol. The brain physically and chemically changes to speed things up, if alcohol has been chronically slowing it down.
When we quit alcohol suddenly, our brain doesn’t adjust at the same rhythm. It’s so used to hitting the gas all the time because alcohol is slowing it down. Our brains stay in overdrive for a while, producing these 8 alcohol withdrawal symptoms. These symptoms are all indicators of a brain suffering from overstimulation. Treatment for alcohol withdrawal symptoms involves careful and temporary use of nervous system depressants that aren’t alcohol.
The 8 Worst Alcohol Withdrawal Symptoms
These 8 are only a few of the many possible alcohol withdrawal symptoms. They represent the most common and most severe symptoms that people experience during alcohol detox.
When someone sees, hears, or feels things that aren’t there, they are experiencing something doctors call alcohol hallucinosis. This symptom can be the most frightening and challenging to overcome. Hallucinations start around 6-24 hours after taking your last drink and can persist for a few days. Under normal alcohol detox conditions, the patient should still be aware of reality and clear-headed even with hallucinations.
Seizures are terrifying and can be dangerous. Not everyone experiences seizures, but if you do they will occur within the first 48 hours of alcohol detox. The risk for seizures due to alcohol withdrawal peaks at 24 hours after the last drink and then tapers down. Some people experience single, more intense seizure once in a while. Others experience multiple, “smaller” seizures in groups. Although uncomfortable and scary, the seizures will let up by your third day.
Within only 5 hours of the last alcoholic drink, most people going through alcohol withdrawal will get the shakes. Tremors are most obvious in the hands, but the whole body is in fact shaking. The shakes are usually occompanied by anxiety, a racing heart, and restlessness.
During alcohol withdrawal, the brain is struggling to regain balance of its neurotransmitters. These chemicals are what allow our brain cells to communicate and function. When they are severely disturbed, in the case of alcohol withdrawal, we can get confused. Our brains are overwhelmed, stressed, and not working as quickly and efficiently as normal.
Nausea and vomiting are typical symptoms of alcohol withdrawal. Unfortunately, this symptom can last for a whole week after quitting alcohol.
Prepare for stomach problems by drinking fluids and electrolytes. Some sports beverages might help you get through withdrawal without getting too dehydrated.
6. Heart palpitations
If you’re not expecting it, this symptom can be terrifying!! Heart palpitations can feel like a heart attack or worse, and trigger a panic attack.The cardiac system, stressed by chronic alcohol use, has a hard time adjusting to sobriety. During withdrawal, expect your heart to race and beat irregularly from time to time.
7. Delirium Tremens
In only 5%-20% of alcohol detox cases, delirium tremens can take place. This is the most severe form of alcohol withdrawal and it is an emergency situation that requires medical attention. Delirium tremens refers to a hyper-adrenergic state where the brain is overcome with those excitatory neurotransmitters we mentioned earlier. For those who develop delirium tremens, most will require treatment in the ICU, Intensive Care Unit.
Delirium Tremens is characterized by much more severe versions of the typical withdrawal symptoms. The most recognizable are confusion and hallucinations. Although confusion and hallucinations are to be expected, in delirium tremens, the person is not as clear. They lose sight of reality and can fall into a sleepy or confused state that last for days. This condition begins around 24-48 hours after the last drink and can persist for up to two weeks.
For most people, alcohol withdrawal symptoms will pass within 5 days without any major complications. However, in a small minority of cases, some people don’t make it though detox. The mortality rate for people who experience delirium tremens is between 15% and 20%. For this reason, we recommend that anyone considering alcohol detoxification seek out medical assistance ahead of time.
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Here, we can connect you to an alcohol detox program so you can get through this stage safely. Please reach out to us if you’re struggling with alcohol, and ready to get clean.