Adults can encounter alcohol almost everywhere they go. Alcoholic drinks are sold at restaurants and in grocery stores, and they’re commonly served at weddings, parties, and other social events. Despite being so accessible, alcohol can be incredibly detrimental when consumed in large quantities and for long periods of time. Moreover, when heavy, long-time drinkers try quitting alcohol, they often find themselves facing a host of uncomfortable and even frightening withdrawal symptoms. Understanding what these symptoms are and why they occur can be helpful for anyone who’s planning to quit drinking. After all, fear of the known is often enough to keep people from taking the all-important first step toward sobriety.
Early withdrawal symptoms generally start within eight hours of a person’s last drink. Depending upon how much alcohol you regularly consume, and how often drink, these symptoms may present earlier or later. There are many different factors that determine how challenging an alcohol detox will be, including age, body weight, gender, and general health among others. As withdrawal symptoms progress, they tend to become more widespread and increasingly severe. For some recovering alcoholics, withdrawal symptoms can peak within just 24 to 48 hours. For others, widespread physical distress can continue for one full week or even longer. Fortunately, with medically supervised detox, withdrawing from alcohol is guaranteed to be far more comfortable, much safer, and much easier all-around.
Why Alcohol Withdrawal Symptoms Occur
There are several signs of a developing alcohol addiction. People who have a hard time stopping drinking, and those who have a hard time limiting their alcohol use are likely addicted. Continuing to drink despite facing devastating losses or other consequences for doing so also indicates alcoholism. However, the surest sign of alcohol addiction is physical dependency. This is the inability to stop drinking without experiencing physical distress. For instance, if you feel shaky, disoriented, sweaty, clammy, or nauseous after not drinking for a while, this means that your brain and body are now dependent upon alcohol. Without regular alcohol consumption, certain forms of basic functioning will begin to flounder.
When people drink, their brains release massive amounts of neurotransmitters that make them feel good. These include dopamine, glutamate, serotonin, and gamma aminobutyric acid or GABA. These chemicals are responsible for the feelings of euphoria and increased confidence that come with being intoxicated. They also power the brain’s reward system and play roles in various ongoing physical functions. For instance, some neurotransmitters exist to keep you feeling motivated, and other help out with:
- Fine motor control
- Smooth muscle control
- Mental focus
- General coordination
Long-term alcohol use disrupts the production and release of neurotransmitters. Excessive alcohol use can even burn neurotransmitters out. As a result, some neurotransmitters are no longer sufficiently produced, and some are produced and released in excess. Once these things occur, the brain and body rely on alcohol consumption to drive many of its basic processes. When no alcohol is consumed, distress signals are sent out and various systems start to fail. For this reason, it is never safe for heavy drinkers to detox on their own, and without qualified medical support.
Early Alcohol Withdrawal Symptoms and What to Expect
Among one of the earliest and most noticeable symptoms of alcohol withdrawal is intense cravings for a drink. You may feel irritable or depressed, and you may feel both physically and emotionally restless. After just 10 to 14 hours without drinking, many people experience:
- Extreme fatigue
- Headaches or migraines
- Lack of focus
- Loss of appetite
and more. While these symptoms can be incredibly uncomfortable, there’s always the risk that they’ll continue to heighten and lead to far more dangerous and severe developments. For heavy alcohol users, there is a very high risk of developing delirium tremens.
Delirium Tremens and How to Avoid It
Delirium tremens is the most intense stage of alcohol withdrawal, and it’s often experienced by heavy drinkers who attempt to quit “cold turkey” or without professional help. During delirium tremens, a person’s vital signs can undergo dramatic fluctuations. These can include significant changes in:
- Heart rate
- Blood sugar
- Blood pressure
and even body temperature. People can toggle between being excessive hot and extremely cold, and between having their hearts racing to seeming like they’re barely beating at all. Without monitoring, medical intervention, and ongoing support, delirium tremens can be terrifying and even deadly. Delirium tremens can cause a person to enter into a coma or experience seizures, have visual and auditory hallucinations, and suffer an extreme decline in cognitive functioning.
The seriousness of alcohol withdrawal is often underestimated due to the pervasive nature of alcohol itself. It’s often difficult to imagine that quitting something that’s bad for you can also be bad for your health if it isn’t done properly. Receiving medical detox support is the absolute surest way to keep alcohol withdrawal symptoms at a minimum. Detoxing in a licensed and well-staffed facility allows for a safer, more streamlined, and far more comfortable experience overall. In fact, when early withdrawal symptoms are medically managed, many people are able to avoid the challenges and dangers of delirium tremens entirely. If you’re ready to quit drinking and want to do so in a safe, supportive environment, we’re here to help you find it. Contact us now by calling 844-903-2111.