When a person suddenly stops drinking alcohol after drinking too much alcohol consistently each day, he is likely to experience alcohol withdrawal symptoms. The severity of symptoms depends on how long and to what extent the person has been consuming alcohol. Therefore, those who have only had alcohol in small amounts over a short time will only experience mild symptoms. On the other hand, those who habitually consumed large amounts of alcohol over a long time period can experience quite severe withdrawal symptoms. These are called delirium tremens (DTs) and these are potentially life threatening.
Alcohol Withdrawal Symptoms
Alcohol withdrawal symptoms are likely to grow worse within two to three days and may continue for weeks afterwards.
1. Symptoms in First Phase (6-12 hours after last drink)
In this phase you are most vulnerable and likely to relapse if you do not have a support system. Although not usually life-threatening these symptoms are hard to handle. These symptoms may vary for each individual and include any of the following: fear, nausea, the shakes, sweating, restlessness, vomiting and anxiety. Cravings are another common symptom that will range in intensity long after other physical symptoms have passed.
2. Symptoms in Second Phase (12-24 hours after last drink)
At this stage withdrawal symptoms can be expected to become much more severe. Many of the following symptoms are rather difficult to handle on your own without some sort of professional help of detoxing. These symptoms include: feeling agitated, confused, irritable, or experiencing tremors and hallucinations.
3. Symptoms in Third Phase (1-2 days after last drink)
At this stage you will still be experiencing the same symptoms as you are after 24 hours of not drinking. This phase can be one of the most unbearable for anyone stopping a habit of alcohol use. Here your body is in dire need of a drink. This is also a dangerous period in which you are most likely to experience severe seizures which can result in death.
4. Symptoms in Fourth Phase (2 days-2 weeks after last drink)
At this stage the most severe symptoms have lessened. However, those who have a severe addiction to alcohol may take an extra 4 to 12 days before you stop experiencing severe symptoms. These may include: hallucinations that make it hard to distinguish fiction from reality, ongoing seizures, fever, high blood pressure and extreme confusion.
5. Symptoms in Fifth Phase (2+weeks after last drink)
Many people will have no apparent symptoms after two weeks of their last drink. The physical longings will have subsided leaving the mental and psychological cravings. It is possible to experience what is called protracted withdrawal which can persist for up to one year. The signs of this are: headaches, disorientation, severe cravings for alcohol, the inability to feel pleasure normally, vomiting, and nausea.
When to See a Doctor
You should always consult with a doctor when withdrawing from alcohol. Some of the symptoms can be rather severe and if left untreated repeatedly can become worse each time. This is especially the case for those people who are attempting to quit alcohol, at the same time suffering from other conditions such as lung disease, heart disease, infections, and a history of seizures or quitting other substances like injected drugs, cocaine or tobacco.
How to Diagnose Alcohol Withdrawal Symptoms
Alcohol withdrawal is not to be taken for granted. You should try to get professional help or see a doctor if you are presenting with any of the symptoms listed above.
Diagnosing alcohol withdrawal syndrome will begin with your doctor taking a medical history to determine how much, and how long you have been drinking and the last time you had a drink. A physical exam will then be done to identify any signs of withdrawal or complications such as congestive heart failure, pancreatitis, liver disease, infections and gastrointestinal bleeding. You may also have to undergo blood tests. The results of these tests will help your doctor determine the presence and intensity of alcohol withdrawal syndrome.
Treatments for Alcohol Withdrawal Symptoms
The main aim of treatment for alcohol withdrawal includes decreasing the symptoms, avoiding the complications of alcohol use and finally, staying away from alcohol completely. Getting help for alcohol withdrawal may involve either one of inpatient or outpatient care.
1. Inpatient Treatment
Checking into an inpatient facility is a choice made by many people struggling with moderate to severe alcohol withdrawal symptoms. Here you can be closely monitored for signs of hallucinations and delirium tremens. Trained staff will monitor your blood pressure, blood chemical levels, temperature and heart rate. You may be administered nutrients and medication through an IV. In severe cases you may be sedated using benzodiazepines to help you cope with the withdrawal process.
2. Outpatient Treatment
- Apply medical treatments
Medical treatments to help with alcohol withdrawal include blood and other related tests to find and deal with any other conditions associated with alcohol use. You may also get sedatives to help you to deal with the pain and discomfort.
- Consult a therapist
Talking with a therapist can be a comforting and cathartic experience which can help you cope during the withdrawal process. These sessions can also help you determine the root causes of your alcohol dependency so that you can avoid falling back into alcohol use.
- Find a role model
It is important to have someone you can talk to while you’re going through withdrawal. This should be someone you can depend on to give you encouragement especially when you feel weak.
- Join Alcoholics Anonymous
Joining a support group such as Alcoholics Anonymous will allow you to meet and interact with other people who have or are still facing the same struggles that you are with alcohol withdrawal. This gives you an unending source of hope and encouragement to help you through recovery.
- Choose a treatment center
A treatment center is the best option for the recovering alcoholic who has difficulty quitting on his own or finds it hard to resist the urge to drink. In these facilities you will find a safe haven where trained staff and other addicts help to monitor your progress, and offer support and guidance.
Watch a video for more information about treatments for alcohol withdrawal