Alcohol withdrawal occurs when someone who is addicted to alcohol stops drinking. Alcohol withdrawal syndrome is the set of symptoms that arise during detox, which can range from mild to severe, and in some cases, can be fatal.
Addiction to alcohol changes brain function, suppressing the neurotransmitters GABA, which is responsible for feelings of calmness, and glutamate, which is responsible for feelings of excitability. Due to the reduced activity of these chemicals, a tolerance to alcohol builds up and the body requires more of the substance to get the same effects.
During alcohol withdrawal, the neurotransmitters rebound, causing intense symptoms that have the opposite effects of those experienced while drinking.
Withdrawal symptoms associated with quitting drinking occur in a predictable pattern, but not all patients who stop drinking will experience all of the symptoms. Additionally, the symptoms may be very mild or extremely severe and, in some cases, they may be highly dangerous or even fatal.
Minor symptoms that occur with alcohol withdrawal include anxiety, intense cravings, nausea, and headache. These symptoms appear between 6 to 12 hours after the last drink.
Hallucinations often set in between 12 and 24 hours after the last drink and last around 48 hours. These may be visual, tactile, or auditory hallucinations.
Delirium tremens, more commonly known as DTs, is a very dangerous condition that causes shifts in heart function, seizures, very real hallucinations, severe tremors, anxiety, agitation, and disorientation. DTs occur between 48 and 72 hours after quitting drinking, and this condition is fatal for five percent of those who experience it during unsupervised and untreated withdrawal from alcohol. Symptoms of DTs typically peak within five days.
Medical detox is a detoxification method that’s medically supervised. A team of physicians and mental health professionals evaluate the patient during the detox process and administer medications as needed to prevent or alleviate unpleasant or dangerous symptoms. Medical detox is essential for safe withdrawal from alcohol, and when it’s over, the physical addiction will be broken and addiction treatment can begin to address the psychological aspects of the addiction.
In addition to ensuring safety during withdrawal, medical detox helps improve the chances of successfully breaking the physical addiction. Because withdrawal symptoms can be extremely uncomfortable, many who try to detox at home without medical supervision or intervention will relapse very quickly if only to end the discomfort.
Medications used during medical detox from alcohol include Clonidine to maintain proper heart function and lower the blood pressure, sedatives like Xanax or Valium to alleviate severe anxiety and prevent seizures, and antipsychotic drugs to reduce agitation and address hallucinations.
Alcohol addiction treatment is available through both residential and outpatient programs. Medical detox is the first step of treatment, and for those who have a particularly intense addiction to alcohol or who are ambivalent toward recovery should opt for an inpatient program.
Inpatient treatment involves an extended stay at a treatment facility and offers respite from the stress and triggers at home so that the patient can focus fully on recovering from the addiction in a supportive environment.
Outpatient treatment can be successful as long as the patient has adequate support at home and is personally committed to recovery. Outpatient programs enable patients to continue meeting various responsibilities, and they provide more privacy since there’s no need for an extended absence.
If you’re not sure which type of program might be right for you, talk to an addiction specialist who can help you weigh the options and make the best possible choice for your unique needs and challenges. Call Drug Treatment Centers West Chester today at 347-542-5767.
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