Alcohol withdrawal symptoms can quickly derail your attempts to stop drinking. They can also be dangerous or even deadly, which is why medical detox is essential for safe, comfortable withdrawal when quitting alcohol. With the help of a variety of medications during medical detox, alcohol withdrawal symptoms are treated to reduce their severity and shorten their duration.
Why Alcohol Withdrawal Occurs
Dependence isn’t the same thing as addiction. Dependence occurs as your brain changes its chemical function in order to compensate for alcohol’s effects. For example, chronic alcohol abuse increases the activity of the neurotransmitter GABA, which is responsible for feelings of relaxation. At the same time, it decreases the activity of the neurotransmitter glutamate, which is responsible for feelings of excitability. The brain works to maintain normal brain function by reducing the activity of GABA and increasing the activity of glutamate.
These and other brain changes produce tolerance, resulting in the need for larger and larger doses of alcohol to get the same effects. But as you increase your alcohol consumption, the brain continues to adapt. At some point, it may function more “normally” when alcohol is present than when it’s not. Then, when you stop drinking, normal brain function rebounds, and this causes alcohol withdrawal symptoms.
Early Alcohol Withdrawal Symptoms
Not everyone experiences all the symptoms of withdrawal, and symptoms can range from mild to severe. Alcohol withdrawal symptoms can last anywhere from a few days to a few weeks or more, depending on a number of factors, including age, state of physical and mental health, and how much alcohol is in your body at the time of detox.
Symptoms typically begin within eight hours after your last drink. According to the U.S. National Library of Medicine, most symptoms typically peak within 24 to 72 hours. Early alcohol withdrawal symptoms include:
- Intense cravings.
- Irritability and mood swings.
- Difficulty concentrating.
- Nausea and vomiting.
- Insomnia and nightmares.
During medical detox, medications will be administered as they’re needed to help reduce the severity of symptoms.
Severe Alcohol Withdrawal Symptoms
A severe form of alcohol withdrawal known as delirium tremens, or DTs, may occur within 48 to 96 hours after you quit drinking. The symptoms of DTs occur suddenly, and they can quickly turn dangerous or life-threatening. Severe alcohol withdrawal symptoms include:
- Sudden delirium.
- Severe mood changes.
- Deep sleep lasting longer than normal.
- Agitation or restlessness.
- Chest or stomach pain.
- Irregular or rapid heartbeat.
- High fever.
If you’re at an elevated risk for DTs, medications will be given during medical detox to help prevent severe alcohol withdrawal symptoms.
Holistic Medical Detox Helps
A high-quality medical detox program helps you during alcohol withdrawal symptoms through medication, nutrition, and a high level of emotional support. Holistic programs offer complementary therapies like massage, acupuncture, and restorative yoga to reduce stress and improve feelings of well-being.
After detox, a treatment program is essential for successful recovery, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse. Treatment helps you end the addiction for good through a variety of traditional “talk” therapies and holistic therapies that address a range of issues and help you develop essential coping skills. Medical detox followed by addiction treatment improves your chances of successful long-term recovery and a higher quality of life for the long haul.