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What Happens During Alcohol Withdrawal?

Posted by on June 26, 2020 in Health with 0 Comments

If you’ve ever wanted to cut down on how much you drink, you could be worried about the potential for alcohol withdrawal symptoms to occur. Alcohol withdrawal can occur even when you drink moderately, but you do so on a regular basis.

Reducing how much you drink slowly can help with these symptoms, as can some medicines inn more severe cases.

The following are some of the things you should know about alcohol withdrawal symptoms and what can happen if you’re experiencing them.

What is Alcohol Withdrawal?

Alcohol withdrawal is a term describing a set of sometimes broad symptoms that can occur if you’ve been drinking regularly and you suddenly stop. We associate alcohol withdrawal with severe alcoholics, but that’s not always the reality.

The more you drink, the more likely you are to have symptoms of withdrawal if you stop.

Alcohol withdrawal tends to occur because when you drink there’s a slow-down effect on your brain. If you drink in the long-term, your brain is continuously exposed to the depressant effects of alcohol. Then your brain chemistry eventually adjusts to this and it produces more stimulating brain chemicals in response.

If you suddenly stop drinking, rather than gradually tapering, your brain may be overstimulated.

Symptoms of Alcohol Withdrawal

When you have symptoms of alcohol withdrawal, you may not experience all of them. You may experience one or perhaps a few. Some of the potential symptoms include:

  • Tremors: Also known as the shakes, you may start to experience this symptom first—within five to 10 hours after you have your last drink.
  • Anxiety
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Headache
  • Increased heart rate
  • Insomnia, sleep disturbances or nightmares
  • Irritability
  • High blood pressure

Your symptoms could get worse over the first two-to-three days after you stop drinking. For some people, particularly heavier drinkers, mild symptoms may go on for several weeks.

There is the potential for withdrawal to be severe as well, although this is rare.

There is something called delirium tremens or DT that can occur in long-term heavy drinkers who stop cold turkey.

This syndrome can include extreme confusion and agitation, hallucinations, fever, and seizures. Severe symptoms of alcohol withdrawal are considered a critical medical emergency.

Who Is Most at Risk for Withdrawal Symptoms?

If you drink heavily for years, you are more likely to experience withdrawal symptoms, but even drinking heavily for months can mean you feel some symptoms.

Moderate drinking, as defined by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) is usually up to one drink a day if you’re a woman, and up to two drinks a day if you’re a man. Moderate drinking isn’t usually characterized as a health risk for people over the age of 21.

One drink is five ounces of wine, eight ounces of malt liquor, or 12 ounces of beer. It’s 1.5 ounces of distilled liquor.

The CDC classifies excessive drinking as having for or more drinks a day if you’re a woman, or five or more a day if you’re a man. If you have more than eight drinks a week as a woman or 15 drinks or more a week as a man, that’s considered excessive drinking by medical standards.

Excessive drinking doesn’t necessarily mean you’re an alcoholic or have an alcohol use disorder, however.

What Are the Treatment Options for Alcohol Withdrawal?

For many people who aren’t necessarily alcoholics or heavy drinkers, cutting down on how much they drink gradually is likely the best way to avoid withdrawal symptoms.

If you are a very heavy drinker, you should speak to your health care professional before you stop drinking. They can give you advice on how to handle the situation. A lot of people can go through withdrawal at home, perhaps with the help of a family member or friend.

In very severe cases, hospitalizations may be required.

For milder cases, you may have nutritional deficiencies from drinking that you should address as you quit, to feel your best mentally and physically.

For example, alcohol impairs your body’s ability to absorb fat, and that means that fat-soluble vitamins like A, E, and D may be something you should supplement with. B vitamins can also be important as you quit drinking and supplementing with certain minerals like iron and zinc may help your body repair itself from the damage of alcohol.

If you are concerned about alcohol withdrawal, always consult your doctor with questions you may have. For some people, it can be very serious and may require treatment.

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