What is Withdrawal?

Symptoms of drug or alcohol withdrawal vary and depend on the substance that’s been used, the frequency of use and the individual. For example, withdrawal from opiates may include flu-like symptoms such as muscle aches, runny nose and nausea.

In fact, some hospital patients who have been prescribed opiate pain killers and then stop using their medication when their condition improves can go through withdrawal without realizing it. Thinking they have a mild case of the flu, these individuals may not even feel bad enough to seek medical care.

However, individuals who have been using opiates for an extended time may experience much more severe symptoms. In some cases, withdrawal can be life threatening.

Dangers of Withdrawal

It may surprise many people to learn that alcohol is one of the most dangerous substances to withdraw from. Because it’s legal, readily available and enjoyed safely by so many people the dangers of alcohol are often overlooked. According to Health Guide approximately 1 out of 20 people withdrawing from alcohol are at risk for:

  • Stroke
  • Heart attack
  • Sudden high blood pressure
  • Accelerated heart rate
  • Death

Long-term use of alcohol causes a depressant effect on an individual’s brain, forcing the organ to constantly adjust its chemistry. In an effort to balance itself, the brain produces more stimulating chemicals like serotonin and norepinephrine.

If alcohol intake suddenly stops the brain is left in “high gear” like a speeding race car with no brakes. The most dangerous withdrawal symptoms can occur while an individual is in this vulnerable state.

Alcohol Withdrawal Symptoms

Not everyone who quits drinking experiences the same symptoms or the same severity of symptoms. However, symptoms do occur in a relatively predictable pattern and typically begin a few hours after the last alcoholic drink.

  1. Tremors typically begin about 5 to 10 hours into the withdrawal process and may last up to 48 hours. Tremors or “the shakes” may be accompanied by irritability, anxiety, vivid dreams, flu-like symptoms or insomnia.
  2. Hallucinating, also called alcohol hallucinosis is common 12 to 24 hours after the last drink of alcohol and may last around 48 hours. People experiencing hallucinations may see unidentifiable moving objects or extremely detailed visions.
  3. Seizures may start 6 to 48 hours into the withdrawal process and last for several hours.
  4. The “DTs” or Delirium Tremens is the most dangerous withdrawal symptom. It can lead to fatal levels of dehydration, reduced blood flow to the brain, rapid heart rate, disorientation or loss of consciousness.

Managing Withdrawal

depressed-momWithdrawing from alcohol without medical supervision is a risky choice. There are helpful ways to cope withdrawal and symptoms. The experienced healthcare professionals in a treatment center know how to monitor vital signs and when to administer medications that lessen the severity of the symptoms.

Long-term alcohol use robs the body of important nutrients, so even the correct dosage of nutritional supplements can ease the withdrawal process. Individuals experiencing delirium tremens should be admitted to an intensive care unit to receive life-saving care immediately if it’s needed.

Like alcoholism, alcohol withdrawal should be taken seriously. If you or someone you know is making a decision about recovery contact a treatment center for more information about managing withdrawal symptoms.

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