What to Expect When Quitting Drinking
Alcohol can exert a powerful hold on those who overuse it habitually. Over time, alcohol use disorder causes the brain to build up a physically and emotionally complex dependence to break. Your brain gets used to alcohol’s effects and can react violently when deprived of the substance, especially after months or years of use.
When you do give it up, you can expect to experience a range of symptoms, from mild anxiety and tremors to severe reactions like a heart attack or stroke. Withdrawal symptoms are a natural consequence of quitting drinking and can be managed successfully. Treatment is best handled by professional treatment specialists who can also stay with you after initial withdrawal to achieve long-term recovery.
What Is Withdrawal?
Alcohol withdrawal occurs when the brain reacts to suddenly being deprived of alcohol after chronic use. Alcohol is a depressant, which slows down the brain. If you drink habitually, you’re creating an imbalance which the brain will correct by producing a natural stimulant like serotonin or norepinephrine.
Over time, your brain gets used to producing stimulants to compensate. When you suddenly stop drinking, you’ve removed the depressant, but the brain keeps putting out the simulant – something like what happens when you slam the brakes on a speeding car.
Mild Alcohol Withdrawal Symptoms
The first symptoms usually begin a few hours after you finish your last drink and continue for 24 to 48 hours. They include feelings of anxiety or panic, shaking, sweating, nausea and vomiting. You may have trouble sleeping. These physical reactions and the lack of alcohol to relieve them will probably make you feel irritable, and you may lash out at anyone trying to help.
Moderate Alcohol Withdrawal Symptoms
After about 12 to 24 hours, your symptoms will get worse as you continue depriving your body of alcohol. You may experience hallucinations – seeing, hearing, and even feeling or smelling things that aren’t there. Your body could undergo seizures, which usually involve uncontrollable movements but may also include mood swings, confusion, and loss of consciousness.
Severe Alcohol Withdrawal Symptoms
About 1 in 20 people will have the most severe withdrawal symptoms, known as delirium tremens or DTs. They set in about 48 to 72 hours after you stop drinking. Delirium Tremens happens when the brain cannot smoothly correct a severe chemical imbalance. The brain has problems regulating your breathing and heartbeat, which can lead to heart attack, stroke, or death. You could also have vivid hallucinations, fever, and heavy sweating.
How to Safely and Comfortably Detox from Alcohol
If you have the most severe symptoms of alcohol withdrawal, you should seek treatment in a hospital. DTs may be treated in the hospital’s intensive-care unit, where your heart rate, blood pressure, and breathing can be closely monitored and emergency life-support if needed, is quickly available. Drugs used in alcohol detox treatment include benzodiazepines to relieve anxiety and insomnia, as well as anti-seizure and antipsychotic medications.
Hospitalization may not be necessary for successful alcohol detox unless you experience the most severe symptoms or have an underlying medical condition that needs monitoring. But it’s impossible to predict if mild symptoms will become painful and life-threatening, so addiction experts recommend alcohol detox in a medical setting. They can supervise your withdrawal and will be able to help if your symptoms worsen. Their treatment plan should offer a comprehensive, interdisciplinary approach that includes individual and group therapy and relapse prevention.
For information on alcohol addiction treatment for yourself or a loved one, contact Muse Treatment at 800-426-1818.