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Expectation vs. Reality: What You Need to Know About Alcohol Withdrawal

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Living a meaningful life, one that is celebrated and surrounded by friends and family, often includes alcohol.

In fact, it would be difficult to attend some kind of event or celebration without it.

So it’s not surprising that alcohol addiction is the third leading cause of preventable death in the US, according to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism.

Not only that, but alcohol abuse and addiction is also costing the United States upwards of $250 billion per year in treatment, care, and prevention.

Even so, millions of people continue to use and abuse the substance, often times leading straight into an addiction. While many get lost in their addiction for years and even decades, many others fight their way out of it.

The problem?

Alcohol withdrawal is a rough process and can lead many addicts straight back to the familiar grips of an alcohol addiction.

If you or a loved one are considering getting clean and sober from alcohol, take some time to understand the process of alcohol withdrawal. The better prepared you are, the more likely you can have a successful recovery.

How Alcohol Addiction Affects the Brain

At the neurological level, alcohol impacts GABA, dopamine, and glutamate receptor sites. This results in certain physiological effects that we’ve come to associate with being drunk or tipsy, such as an elevated mood, poor motor skills, and slowing of speech.

With binge drinking, this provides a fun feeling and experience that attracts millions of people to the substance each year.

With chronic alcohol abuse, however, it can lead to neurological dependency and damage.

Just like with substances such as cocaine, the brain becomes dependent on alcohol for proper dopamine distribution. As dopamine is the main neurotransmitter associated with the rewards center of the brain, an addiction is easily formed with regular abuse of the substance.

As you can imagine, quitting alcohol after developing a dependency can cause extreme discomfort, both physically and emotionally. In some cases, it can even be fatal.

While people addicted to opioids can use Vivitrol as a treatment method when getting sober, those addicted to alcohol have to endure the withdrawal without the help of another substance.

Symptoms Of Alcohol Withdrawal

In general, alcohol has a depressive effect on the brain and body. The substance affects the Central Nervous System (CNS), which is largely responsible for movement and speech.

When alcohol consumption is withheld, it causes the neurons in the brain to rapidly fire in an effort to compensate for the sudden lack of stimulation that alcohol once provided. This rapid firing is what causes the alcohol withdrawal symptoms.

There are many different symptoms for alcohol withdrawal, depending on the stage of withdrawal and the person’s individual characteristics.

Many of the withdrawal symptoms are dependent on

  • How long the user has been abusing alcohol (binge drinking versus long-term dependency)
  • How much alcohol is consumed per episode and for how many days out of the year
  • How suddenly alcohol consumption was interrupted

Because of these factors, the signs and symptoms of alcohol withdrawal can vary greatly, ranging from mild to severe. The most mild of symptoms are what we know as the common ‘hangover’, and often include

  • Severe headache
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Mild anxiety
  • Depressed mood

With long-term abuse, though, the withdrawal symptoms are a bit more severe

  • Confusion
  • Tremors or the shakes
  • Severe anxiety
  • Insomnia
  • Heart palpitations or tachycardia

The most severe withdrawal symptom of all comes in the form of delirium tremens, which is a potentially fatal symptom that comes from alcohol withdrawal. It usually occurs within the first 48 to 72 hours after the user stops drinking and can be identified by a rapid onset of severe confusion, hallucinations, and seizures.

While this fatal complication is indeed a risk of alcohol withdrawal, it affects only about 10 percent of alcoholics who are going through the withdrawal process.

Of all cases of delirium tremens, about 35 percent of them are fatal, making alcohol one of the most fatal substances to quit. This is why it is super important to manage your recovery and withdrawal in an inpatient hospital setting.

Though the symptoms vary from person to person, depending on their level of abuse and for how long they have been addicted, the withdrawal timeline usually lasts up to a week.

If you are considering becoming clean and sober, then be aware of the process that it entails. Once you prepare yourself for the withdrawal symptoms, then you can prepare yourself for a successful recovery.

If you or someone you know experiences mental health issues, it is important to seek help from a qualified professional. Our Resource Specialist can help you find expert mental health resources to recover in your community. Contact us now for more information on this free service to our users.

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Author Bio: Kathleen Roberts is passionate about living a sober life and living life to the fullest. She writes at Detoxes.net to help people in their sobriety journey.


Photo by Monica Silva on Unsplash

The opinions and views expressed in this guest blog do not necessarily reflect those of www.rtor.org or its sponsor, Laurel House, Inc. The author and www.rtor.org have no affiliations with any products or services mentioned in this article or linked to herein.

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1 thoughts on “Expectation vs. Reality: What You Need to Know About Alcohol Withdrawal

  1. Michelle Powell says:

    Don’t keep delaying the act of asking for help. Finding the courage to speak with an addiction professional may be the first most significant step on your journey to recovery.

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