When a person becomes dependent on alcohol, it can be physically and emotionally challenging to stop drinking. Withdrawal, or the process of what happens to a person’s brain and body when they suddenly stop drinking, can be difficult or even dangerous to manage alone.
If someone decides to stop drinking, it is important they understand the process and symptoms of withdrawal, as well as have resources to support them through the process.
Alcohol Use Facts
Excessive alcohol use is defined as having five or more drinks on one occasion for men and four or more drinks on one occasion for women.
Taking a cautious and conservative approach is always best in alcohol consumption, with women limiting themselves to 1 drink daily and 2 drinks daily for men. A “drink” is defined as 0.5 ounces of alcohol—or 1.5 ounces of spirits, 5 ounces of wine, or 12 ounces of beer.
Consuming more than this amount increases a person’s risk of liver disease, cardiovascular disease, and other injuries. Even drinking within the recommended limits or less may increase a person’s cancer risk and can increase their risk of alcohol dependence.
Some adults can take a cautious approach to alcohol consumption and not have it seriously impact their lives. Many others find that moderate use lies at one end of a set of stages that move from use to dependence, and an alcohol use disorder (AUD).
Common Signs of Alcohol Use Disorder
Because alcohol use is common and socially acceptable, and sometimes even socially expected, it can be difficult to identify a problem. Many times, what is actually the early stages of alcohol use disorder AUD is overlooked as just having fun, relaxing, or being social. However, for someone with AUD, it is not long before alcohol use leads to serious health, relational, and legal problems.
Some common signs of alcohol use disorder include:
- Choosing to drink over other priorities such as work, school, and family
- Had more to drink than planned on one or more occasions
- Tried to stop drinking unsuccessfully
- Failed attempts to cut back on consumption
- Continued to drink despite negative consequences
- Hide or lie about when or how much you drink
- Gotten sick from drinking
- Experience legal issues as a result of drinking
- Compromised your values and ethics and have increased risk-taking behaviors
- Experience strong cravings for alcohol
- Plan activities around alcohol
- Have blackouts or periods where you can’t remember what you did while drinking
What is Alcohol Use Disorder?
Alcohol Use Disorder (AUD), also commonly called alcoholism or alcohol dependence, is a chronic relapsing brain disease characterized by compulsive alcohol use, loss of control over alcohol intake, and a negative emotional state when not using. (1) Approximately 16 million American adults meet the criteria for alcohol use disorder (AUD), which is the third-leading cause of preventable death in the US.
There are four primary symptoms: (2)
- Craving—a strong need or urge to drink alcohol
- Loss of control—inability to stop drinking when drinking has begun
- Physical dependence—the presence of withdrawal signs and symptoms after stopping drinking
- Tolerance—the need to drink higher amounts of alcohol to get the same desired effect
The Three Stages of Alcohol Use Disorder
Alcohol use disorder is a progressive disease, so it is important to understand the stages to identify a problem and get help.
Early Stage AUD
It can be very difficult to determine if there is a problem at this early stage. Some of the signs might include drinking to excess, which is defined as having five or more drinks on one occasion for men and four or more drinks on one occasion for women. Other subtle signs include missing work and putting off responsibilities.
Middle Stage AUD
During the second or middle stage of AUD, more of the problems commonly associated with an alcohol problem arise. This might include vomiting, blackouts, and severe hangovers. Emotional stability decreases in this stage and they may begin to hide drinking from family and friends.
Late Stage AUD
The last or late-stage AUD is typically what people think of when they imagine having alcohol dependency. During this stage, a person typically finds it difficult to maintain jobs or relationships. The person also begins to experience physical and health issues such as cirrhosis of the liver, pancreatitis, hepatitis, and respiratory issues.
No matter which phase the person is in, it is important to realize that there is help. Detoxing should happen with the help and support of medical professionals such as the ones at Everlast Recovery. Detoxing alone or going “cold turkey” after becoming physically dependent can be dangerous and have serious, even fatal consequences.
Alcohol detox is the first stage of AUD treatment. During this stage, alcohol is flushed from the body’s system. Alcohol is a depressant, and throughout use, the body becomes accustomed to its presence in the system. Over time, the brain stops producing chemicals that alcohol replaces, which results in alcohol dependence.
When a person stops drinking, it takes time for the body to adjust to the absence of alcohol and its effects. During this time, the person experiences the symptoms of withdrawal.
Some of the symptoms of withdrawal include:
- Irregular heartbeat
- Excessive sweating
- Mood swings
- Emotional outbursts
- Extreme dehydration
- Delirium Tremens (DTs)
The most serious effect of alcohol withdrawal is delirium tremens. Symptoms of DT include altered mental status and sympathetic overdrive (feeling on edge or increased startle reflex), which can lead to cardiovascular collapse. It can start as early as two days into detox and can become life-threatening. Less than five percent of those going through detox experience delirium tremens.
Because of the nature of detox, it is important to work with medical professionals that specialize in alcohol detox.
Alcohol Detox Timeline
Depending on the severity of the dependence, the symptoms of alcohol withdrawal can happen as soon as two hours after the last drink. The most difficult symptoms typically subside within 7-10 days, and milder symptoms may last for several weeks and even up to a year.
While there is no exact timeline for the detox process, here is what most people can expect:
First 12 Hours
The initial symptoms of alcohol detox are mild, but can quickly begin to worsen. Some of the early withdrawal symptoms include headaches, anxiety, shaking, nausea, sweating, insomnia, and irritability.
Within this time, the person going through detox might experience hallucinations and panic attacks. Seizures are also a risk during this time.
48-72 Hours (3)
Delirium tremens, or DTs, usually start in this timeframe. These are severe symptoms that include vivid hallucinations and delusions. Symptoms might include confusion, racing heart, high blood pressure, fever, and excessive sweating.
While most symptoms decrease and their severity lessens within the first two weeks, some people may experience post-acute withdrawal syndrome (PAWS) – the prolonged symptoms of detox. Symptoms of PAWS include anxiety, low energy, trouble sleeping, and delayed reflexes. PAWS can last from several months to a year.
Medications Used During Alcohol Detox
Most withdrawal symptoms begin to taper off within the first week. Some symptoms may persist for several weeks. When a person undergoes detox in a treatment center, many of the persistent symptoms can be treated with medication.
Some of the common medications used to treat the symptoms of detox include:
Benzodiazepines- Used to treat insomnia, anxiety, and muscle spasms
Naltrexone- Used to decrease cravings
Acamprosate– Used to treat insomnia, anxiety, and restlessness
Disulfiram- Produces severe reactions if alcohol is consumed
Why Should a Person Detox in a Treatment Center?
Detoxification is the first step in a successful recovery, but the process is not easy. The detox process comes with many symptoms that are difficult to manage alone. In some cases, it can even become dangerous. Everlast Recovery Centers offers a safe, comfortable, and home-like atmosphere backed by caring professionals, solely dedicated to recovery.
About Everlast Treatment Centers
Located in sunny Southern California, Everlast Treatment Centers help individuals win the battle against alcohol addiction. The program was founded on the premise that everyone deserves a second chance and should have unending support in their journey. Because of this, the facilities boast a 3:1 patient-staff ratio to help develop the strong bonds necessary for the recovery process. With Everlast Treatment Centers, the next step doesn’t have to be alone. Contact us for more information.