If a person who drinks alcohol heavily for weeks, months, or years, stops or drastically cut back on alcohol consumption, he/she may experience both mental and physical problems when you. This is called alcohol withdrawal. Symptoms can range from mild to serious.
If you drink only once in a while, it’s unlikely that you’ll have withdrawal symptoms when you eventually stop. However, if you’ve gone through alcohol withdrawal once, you’re more likely to go through it again the next time you call it quits.
Causes of alcohol withdrawal
Alcohol contains a depressive effect on your system. It slows down the function of your brain and changes the way your nerves send messages back and forth.
After a while, your central nervous system may fine-tune to having alcohol around all the time. Your body works hard to keep your brain in an alert state and to keep your nerves talking to one another. When the alcohol level suddenly drops, your brain stays in this keyed up state. That’s what causes withdrawal.
Symptoms of alcohol withdrawal
Symptoms of alcohol withdrawal can range from mild to severe. What yours are depends on how much you drank and for how long.
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Mild symptoms usually show up as early as 6 hours after you stop taking alcohol. They may include:
- Nausea and vomiting
- Shaky hands
More serious problems range from hallucinations about 12 to 24 hours after that last drink to seizures within the first 2 days after you stop. You can even feel, see, or hear things that aren’t there.
That isn’t the same as delirium tremens, or DTs. DTs usually start 48 to 72 hours after you stop alcohol intake. These are severe symptoms that include vivid hallucinations and delusions. Only about 5% of people with alcohol withdrawal have them. Those that do may also have:
- Racing heart
- Racing heart
- Heavy sweating
How Is Withdrawal Diagnosed?
Your doctor may ask question about your drinking history and how recently you stopped. Your doctor will want to know if you’ve ever gone through withdrawal before. He may look for other medical conditions to see if they are responsible for your symptoms.
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Unless you have a serious health condition or you’ve had serious withdrawals in the past, you probably won’t need more than a supportive environment to help you through. That includes:
- Soft lighting
- A quiet place
- A positive, supportive atmosphere
- Limited contact with people
- Healthy food and lots of fluids
If your body temperature, blood pressure, or pulse rises, or if you have more serious symptoms like seizures and hallucinations, your doctor could suggest inpatient care and drug treatment.
To help with symptoms like insomnia, seizures, and anxiety, common medications like benzodiazepines may be prescribed by your doctor. You might also take anti-seizure meds and antipsychotics with other drugs.
Can You Prevent It?
Treating alcohol withdrawal is a short-term fix that doesn’t help the main problem. When you talk to your doctor about symptom relief, it’s a good idea to discuss treatment for alcohol abuse, addiction or dependence.