In recent studies by the National Institutes of Health it was revealed that nearly 7% of Americans who have ever had a drink will develop an alcohol use disorder, meaning they would benefit from some type of assistance for their alcohol use. In many of these cases, there is also the presence of dual diagnosis: which means someone also suffers from a mental health issue along with an alcohol use disorder.
Withdrawing from Alcohol: The Proven Risks
If you are dependent on alcohol, then you are at risk of developing withdrawal symptoms. These symptoms will be extremely unpleasant when you attempt to stop drinking. Often this deters alcoholics from stopping their use of the substance, but Icarus Behavioral Health want you to know that help is available, and to read on to find out more about alcohol withdrawal symptoms.
The Definition of Alcohol Use Disorder
To understand how to aid the symptoms of alcohol withdrawal, you need to understand the definition of alcohol use disorder. The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism defines an alcohol use disorder as “a medical condition characterized by an impaired ability to stop or control alcohol use despite adverse social, occupational, or health consequences.”
What are Alcohol Withdrawals?
When you drink alcohol heavily, you will experience different mental and physical problems. Although these frequently happen after weeks, months, or years of drinking, they even show themselves to an extent after one heavy night of drinking, in the form of a hangover. If you are a heavy drinker, then you may notice these feelings as soon as you stop or cut back from alcohol. Symptoms can be wide ranging and vary from mild to serious or even life-threatening.
The Causes of Alcohol Withdrawal
Alcohol has a depressive effect on the human system. It slows brain function and the nervous system. Over time, the central nervous system can adjust to having alcohol in the body at all times. The body will continue to push the brain to stay awake and keep nerves sending signals to the brain. If you suddenly stop drinking alcohol, your brain will remain in the same state, which is what causes withdrawal.
How is Alcohol Withdrawal Diagnosed?
Alcohol withdrawal is primarily diagnosed by both history and physical exam. Sometimes blood tests are also used. Symptoms of alcohol withdrawal include:
- Tremors in your hands
- Fast heartbeat
- High blood pressure
- Dilated pupils
- Fast breathing
There is also a method used by doctors to assess your symptoms. This is called the Clinical Institute Withdrawal Assessment for Alcohol (CIWA-Ar). This scale uses 10 questions to measure the symptoms of:
- Anxiety or nervousness
- Mood swings
- Not being able to think clearly
- Having nightmares
- Dilated pupils
- Difficulty sleeping
- Nausea and/or vomiting
- Appetite loss
- Faster heart rate
- Pale skin
Getting Help for Alcohol Withdrawal in Albuquerque, NM
Alcohol withdrawal is different for everyone, and the severity of withdrawal from alcohol will depend on various factors. You may not even know that you need help until you experience these symptoms. Your treatment may depend on how much alcohol you drink, how often you use it, and any other co-occurring disorders you have.
Withdrawing from alcohol may feel like a horrible experience, and it can even result in death. If you do not get help for alcohol withdrawal, it may end up hurting your efforts for recovery. Unmanaged withdrawal can be dangerous, and it may require medical care to keep you safe during detox.
What is Moderate vs. Excessive Drinking?
Moderate drinking is normal for many people in the United States, but there is a difference between moderate and excessive drinking. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) defines moderate drinking as one drink per day for women, and two drinks each day for men. Moderate drinking is considered safe for most people who are of legal drinking age. One drink is classified as:
- 12 ounces of beer
- 8 ounces of malt liquor
- 5 ounces of wine
- 5 ounces of 80-proof distilled liquor or spirits
When it comes to excessive drinking, it is defined by the CDC as heavy drinking or binge drinking. Binge drinking is defined as consuming multiple drinks during one occasion. Technically, for women, binge drinking is four or more drinks in one night, and for men, it’s five or more.
Heavy drinking is when women have eight or more drinks in one week and men have 15 or more drinks per week. Although surprising, the majority of people who drink excessively may not actually have an alcohol dependency or alcohol use disorder.
How Does Alcohol Withdrawal Work?
For someone who is heavy drinking, stopping the use of alcohol ends up leading to withdrawal symptoms. Many people use alcohol to relieve anxiety and relax, but alcohol dependency is a different situation.
Alcohol increases the effects of GABA, which is a neurotransmitter responsible for creating feelings of calm and euphoria. GABA also decreases glutamate, which is another neurotransmitter that creates excitability. Heavy drinking makes it harder to increase GABA and decrease glutamate. This means that you will need to consume more alcohol for the same outcome. Your body will become used to having alcohol in the body and then produce more glutamate and less GABA.
If you stop drinking suddenly, then you won’t be producing these two neurotransmitters. Despite this, you will still be overproducing glutamate and underproducing GABA. The result is being hyper, anxious, restless, and even shaky. As a heavy drinker, your symptoms may be even more severe, and progress to tremors or even seizures.
Alcohol Withdrawal Syndrome Overview
Alcohol has a specific timeline that goes along with its use, as well as its discontinuation. Because of this, some of the withdrawal symptoms may fade off quickly, while others may have longer effects. Some can even be very painful for long periods of time.
Getting help for your alcohol detox can sometimes mean that you can avoid potentially life-threatening issues. For certain types of substances, medical detox is a helpful part of early recovery. This pertains to alcohol. Having a good medical detox protocol means you will work with doctors who can administer medication and help you to manage your withdrawal process.
Severe Withdrawal Symptoms
One of the most severe consequences of alcohol withdrawal is called delirium tremens. Also known as DTs, around 3% to 5% of people who withdraw from heavy drinking experience these symptoms. It can be fatal, so it is essential to be treated for alcohol withdrawal if they occur.
Symptoms of delirium tremens include:
- Extreme agitation
- Extreme confusion
- High blood pressure
Hospitals and detox centers have staff that can understand your symptoms and can help to treat you with your alcohol use disorder and DTs.
Dangers of Alcohol Withdrawal
There are many causes of alcohol withdrawals, but it is pretty commonly due to being an alcoholic. Tapering alcohol intake can help with alcohol withdrawal, but this should be done after a full clinical withdrawal assessment.
If you have developed a significant level of dependence, withdrawal may be difficult and even dangerous. The symptoms may develop within hours if you are heavily addicted, especially if you have benzodiazepines and alcohol link. This is why you should never quit “cold turkey”. Seeking help is the best answer.
Why do People Become Addicted to Alcohol?
Although the alcohol withdrawal timeline is different for everyone, long-term drinking effects can be very serious, including cirrhosis and liver damage. You might even eventually suffer from vascular constriction and alcohol use disorder, and other health risks of continued drinking.
When someone drinks alcohol regularly, their brain gets used to the substance. The more you drink, the higher chance you have to become dependent. This means that to function and feel “normal” a drink will need to happen.
Continued abuse of drugs or alcohol will interfere with the chemistry in your brain. This will result in both drug cravings and dependence. Detoxing from alcohol is different than detoxing from other drugs, which is why you need a special addiction plan.
What are the Forms of Alcohol Treatment?
Your treatment will depend on the severity of your symptoms, either mild, moderate, or severe.
Mild to Moderate Symptoms
If you have mild to moderate symptoms, you may be able to withdraw at home, but should consult with a medical professional. Home detox is not necessarily recommended by most addiction specialists, because of the variety of complications that can occur.
If you do decide to withdraw at home you will need to have someone with you to ensure your symptoms do not get worse. However, it is always the safest to check in with a doctor to make sure you are stabilized. Even for moderate symptoms, you may want to have a sedative prescribed, such as Ativan (lorazepam), Valium (diazepam), or Klonopin (clonazepam).
Moderate to Severe Symptoms
If your symptoms are moderate to severe, then you will most likely need to be hospitalized. Your vital signs will be monitored, and you should have blood tests as well. Eventually, you may need intravenous (IV) fluids to prevent dehydration.
Top Treatment at Alcohol Rehab in Albuquerque
Long term sobriety from alcohol is difficult to obtain after a long series of drinking and alcoholism, but it is not impossible. At Icarus Behavioral Health, our compassionate staff will help you find treatment. Whether you are ready to get sober, or are already dealing with alcohol withdrawal, there is a program for you at Icarus. Contact us today to learn more, and start feeling better now!