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Alcohol Withdrawal: What It’s Really Like

The image of someone’s hands shaking because they haven’t had their morning booze may seem like a phenomenon reserved for homeless people and old men, but it’s shockingly common. There are more than 200,000 cases of alcohol withdrawal seen in the United States each year. Basically, if you drink alcohol heavily for weeks, months, years, or really any amount of time, you will have mental and physical issues when you stop, most likely. Of course this is not the case if you drink once in a while, but for most addicts and alcoholics it is an all too common, and sad, reality.

So what causes this withdrawal from alcohol, physically speaking? Well, to understand that process, its first important to realize that alcohol is a depressant, meaning it has depressive effects on your body’s system. It will slow down brain functioning and also change the nervous system, if imbibed for enough time and at sufficiently large quantities.

What’s additionally pertinent about alcohol withdrawal treatment are the shocking statistics. It is estimated that over sixteen million adults in the United States in 2013 had an alcohol abuse disorder. Furthermore, 33 percent of all ER visits are related to the use and abuse of alcohol. Additionally, alcohol used in excess or inappropriately/abused accounted for 10 percent of the deaths of working adults. Lastly, alcohol has been found as the third major (preventable) reason for death in US adults.

So what does it mean to have alcohol use disorder and why can people die from it? Well, the answer is alcohol withdrawal, primarily. So what does alcohol withdrawal entail? Well, there are several stages of alcohol withdrawal. Stage one includes anxiety, loss of sleep, stomach ache, pain in back and abs, tremors, depression, unclear thinking, change in mood/appetite, heart tremors and more. Stage two on the other hand is more moderate. It entails an increase in one’s blood pressure, their heart rate is also increased. Furthermore, their body temperature and ability to respirate is out of whack. Additionally, you can expect mental confusion, sweat, irritability, change in mood and more. Stage 2 is the most severe phase of alcohol withdrawal and is marked by delirium tremens. It also includes hallucination, seizures, confusion, profound memory loss, aggressiveness and more.

Keep in mind that alcohol withdrawal is very specific to the individual who is experiencing it. There are a lot of factors that go into alcohol withdrawal, including: amount drank, history of drinking and for how long it was done, family history, personal health and more. Furthermore, if someone is using illicit drugs while drinking/withdrawing from alcohol, the effects will be exacerbated. Among the most serious symptoms of alcohol withdrawal include delirium tremens, which entail a quick onset of confusion most often incited by lack of alcohol. Delirium tremens can include shaking, confusion and hallucinations. Delirium tremens only appear in three to five percent of alcohol withdrawal cases, but they are very dangerous. If you or a loved one are experiencing delirium tremens, you/they need to seek medical attention immediately.

Just because alcohol withdrawal will not always include delirium tremens does not mean it is not serious. Any detox from alcohol needs to be treated with the utmost caution. It is important to understand exactly what the phase entails. A rough estimate of the (alcohol) detox timeline is that eight hours after the last drink the withdrawal begins. The symptoms peak between 24 and 72 hours after the last drink. However, there are symptoms for days. At five to seven days these symptoms may begin to taper off. However, some effects, particularly those of a mental nature (as opposed to physical) will last for weeks, even months. This is why it is important to pursue not only the initial detox but also to seek long-term treatment that will aid you in your journey to find recovery.