Alcohol Withdrawal

Alcohol Withdrawal

Alcohol withdrawal does not mean just quitting alcohol and everything is all said and done. This is a far more complicated and difficult process, something that people who have gone through withdrawal are aware of.

The after-effects of quitting alcohol, withdrawal, can be very painful and troublesome. The pain associated is correlated with the time for which the person had an association with alcohol.

The symptoms relating to withdrawal can show within a few hours following the last drink. It can take a day or two for people who have not been drinking alcohol for years.

The withdrawal symptoms may last for a few days and up to a few weeks in some cases. This is probably the most difficult stage in getting sober. The pain and trauma has been such a challenge for some that it has led to people not opting for withdrawal treatment or discontinuing treatment.

Withdrawal must be done under medical supervision. The effects of withdrawal increase over time and it is very difficult for the addict to stay cool and balanced without medical assistance. Medical treatment helps alleviate and monitor some of the alcohol abuse withdrawal side effects, such as potential seizures.

Causes of Alcohol Abuse Withdrawal

There are several causes of withdrawal. Prolonged and heavy drinking is the primary cause. Particularly if the individual drinks on a daily basis, then it can cause serious damage to one’s chemical composition in the brain. The brain would become incompetent at transmitting messages and sending essential signals to different parts of the body.

Alcohol consumption in the initial phases have an impact on GABA, the neurotransmitter which is responsible for producing feelings of calm and relaxation. If the habit continues at a brisker rate, then it can completely sabotage GABA’s functioning capabilities. Regular alcohol consumption also leads to suppression of glutamate’s activity that is responsible of producing excitability feelings. The glutamate’s response rate would be far quicker and more effective in sober people in comparison to regular drinkers.

Alcohol Withdrawal

When a chronic alcoholic stops his or her alcohol consumption, the neurotransmitters that were earlier suppressed by alcohol are no longer inactive. They give out a rebounding response, which is called brain hyper excitability. This reaction is perhaps the reason why the signs of withdrawal, such as tremors, DTs, agitation, irritability, etc. are completely the opposite to what an individual would feel or go through had he been under the influence of alcohol.

Withdrawal symptoms are usually pretty much the same for different individuals. The impact and the severity of the problem majorly depend on the duration of drinking and the levels of consumption. If an individual has a minor alcohol problem, then the withdrawal symptoms should show up somewhere after 6 to 12 hours of the last drink. The symptoms that usually show up are shaky hands, mild anxiety, headaches, insomnia, and sweating.

Close to 24 hours post cessation, some patients go through auditory, visual, or tactile hallucinations. There is nothing serious about this condition and it should resolve in a few days. Though the name of the condition is alcoholic hallucinosis, it is not the same as the hallucinations that one goes through with delirium tremens. The good thing is that most people who go through these hallucinations are aware of the fact that they are not for real and thus they usually will not have much impact on them, either psychologically or physically.

Symptoms of potential seizures usually show up anytime between 24 hours and 48 hours post cessation. The potential risks for a seizure are even greater in individuals who have undergone multiple detox procedures. Though there are chances of DTs showing up just two hours post cessation. The usual period for occurrence is anywhere between 48 and 72 hours post cessation. Some of the other factors that can increase the chances of DTs are chronic medical illness, history of seizures during withdrawal, improper functioning of the liver, old age, etc.

Medical Help for Withdrawal

Some of the symptoms of DTs are confusion, disorientation, severe anxiety, profuse sweating, hallucinations, blood pressure problems, seizures, severe tremors, irregular and racing heartbeat, low-grade fever, etc. If one goes for a medical checkup relating to his or her withdrawal symptoms, then the doctor will invariably undertake a thorough physical examination of the person.

Alcohol Withdrawal

The quantity of alcohol consumption, the duration of consumption, and the time since the last sip are some of the questions that the doctor would like to have answered by the patient.

The doctor will also be keen on knowing whether the patient has had a history of alcohol withdrawal in the past, or if he had abused any other substance.

The doctor would also like to know about the general medical condition of the patient.

During the course of the physical exam, the doctor would find out the symptoms relating to alcohol withdrawal.

If there had been any other complicated medical problems, such as irregular heartbeat, coronary artery problems, congestive heart failure, gastrointestinal bleeding, liver disease, infections, pancreatitis, etc., then they would come to the forefront as well with the physical examination.

The doctor would also get some blood tests done to find out the levels of alcohol in the individual’s blood. The test will also reveal data relating to liver functions, electrolyte levels, and the overall blood count. With these results, the doctor is able to find out whether the individual has withdrawal syndrome or not, and if yes, then what the levels of severity are.

Treatment for Alcohol Abuse Withdrawal

If the withdrawal symptoms are mild to average, then the patient could consider continuing treatment in an outpatient environment. This means that the patient would not be required to stay in a rehab center. He can undertake the treatment from his home. The outpatient treatment recommendation would be done not only on the basis of the patient’s levels of withdrawal symptoms, but also if the patient has very supportive and caring family members.

At the end of the day, these people will be taking care of the patient during outpatient treatment. Compared to inpatient treatment, outpatient programs are safe, less costly, and pretty effective. But irrespective of the severity of the symptoms, the patient would be advised to go into an inpatient program if he does not have very reliable social connections, or if the patient is pregnant, or if he has some history with medical conditions, such as severe withdrawal symptoms, DTs or withdrawal seizures, several previous detox procedures, or psychiatric or medical illnesses.

The goals of rehab can be classified into three objectives bringing down the number and levels of withdrawal symptoms, reducing or negating the onset of medical complications, and laying the foundation for long-term therapy to promote recovery from alcohol. To help manage the withdrawal symptoms, the doctor may put the patient on several prescription drugs, such as Valium, Serax, Librium, Ativan, etc.

These drugs help control symptoms that are associated with withdrawal. These drugs also bring down the risks that are related to DTs and seizures. Patients with mild to average symptoms would be better off using Tegretol, a drug that can be a great alternative to the mentioned prescription drugs.

There are several other drugs that the doctor might prescribe the patients. An antipsychotic drug would help relieve hallucinations and agitation. The beta-blocker would help bring down the faster heart beat to normalcy and would also bring down high blood pressure. Clonidine is another drug that doctors prescribe to deal with blood pressure.

Getting Help After Withdrawal

Withdrawal treatment does not treat the cause of addiction or dependence. It only addresses the symptoms that arise when an individual gives up his habit. To get rid of the addiction completely, one would have to address the root of the problem. Alcohol addiction treatment is a must and should be followed when the symptoms of withdrawal subside.

For people with alcohol abuse problems, short outpatient interventions are often more than enough for the next step. However, for people who are addicted or dependent on alcohol, a more intense and rigorous treatment is suggested. The doctors may also prescribe certain medication to the patient if he has alcohol dependence. The doctor might even recommend that the patient joins a 12-step program, such as Alcoholics Anonymous. In addition, the patient is advised to check into an inpatient program in a rehab center.

Getting rid of or managing withdrawal symptoms will probably be some of the toughest things to manage for an alcoholic during his treatment. Once this stage is over, he can deal with other things much more easily. One must understand that dealing with withdrawal symptoms is just the beginning of the journey.

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