Identifying alcohol withdrawal symptoms
will not only help you understand why you or a loved one is suffering these symptoms but may also be the first unavoidable sign that you have a problem. Many people suffering from alcohol abuse ignore the warning signs, but withdrawal cannot be ignored. Initially, signs of the brain and body withdrawing from an addiction to alcohol generally begin six to 12 hours following your last drink. You may feel some of the symptoms listed below and should treat these alcohol withdrawal symptoms as a warning sign that you are suffering from an addiction or alcohol abuse problem.
Why Alcoholics Suffer Alcohol Withdrawal Symptoms
When you or someone you love is suffering from alcohol withdrawal symptoms you are likely more focused on relieving the discomfort rather than understanding why the symptoms are there in the first place. These symptoms are due to neurochemical changes in the brain, specifically depletion of dopamine, serotonin, gamma aminobutyric acid (GABA) and opioid peptides. All of these chemicals are responsible in some way to provide us with feelings of well-being, pleasure and euphoria. We get those feelings from alcohol abuse because the body becomes dependent on the alcohol to create those feelings for us. Without the alcohol, the body tries to balance itself, this is called withdrawal.
However, the alcoholic brain also experiences a simultaneous increase in stress-inducing chemicals called corticotropin releasing factor, or CRF. Unlike the "feel good" neurotransmitters serotonin and dopamine, these CRF chemicals promote feelings of depression, agitation and anxiety. As a result of alcohol withdrawal symptoms that cause a chemical imbalance in the brain, alcoholics feel compelled to continue drinking in order to suppress the surge of stress hormones and feelings of depression they produce.
Alcohol withdrawal symptoms occur because the brain wants to continue feeling "good". When you stop drinking, the brain continues to pump out abnormally large amounts of CRF, which overwhelms the too-low levels of serotonin and dopamine. This is why you feel such a powerful urge to keep drinking. Many people find that medical detox programs help them feel more comfortable during the withdrawal process.
Identifying and Treating Alcohol Withdrawal Symptoms
Mild to moderate signs of alcohol withdrawal include:
- Heart palpitations/increased heart rate
- Trembling/shaking/mild tremors
- Clammy, sweaty skin
- Pulsing headache
Alcohol withdrawal symptoms may worsen as time passes and may persist for several hours or days, depending on the severity of the addiction. Doctors generally prescribe benzodiazepines for relief from the insomnia and anxiety of alcohol withdrawal.
Severe symptoms of alcohol withdrawal, sometimes referred to as delirium tremens (DTs), are characterized by hallucinations (both visual and auditory), seizures and serious cognitive problems. People who have been abusing alcohol for several years may benefit from hospitalization to avoid suffering potentially dangerous medical conditions caused by a profound addiction to alcohol.
How Long Before Alcohol Withdrawal Symptoms Diminish?
Complete withdrawal from alcohol, as well as symptom variations, depends on several factors that influence an addict's health. Age, genetics, the presence of existing illnesses and drinking patterns all affect the time it takes for alcohol withdrawal symptoms to subside permanently.
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