Alcohol withdrawal is the process of coming off alcohol after prolonged and heavy use. The body can develop a strong physical dependence on alcohol, making it challenging for someone to simply stop drinking. Nevertheless, you can recover from an addiction to alcohol with the help of specialist care. Alcohol withdrawal usually involves a period of acute symptoms that peak somewhere between 48 and 72 hours after the last drink, but different people and circumstances can alter this timeline. In general, however, those who frequently binge drink may experience more severe symptoms than those who drink less frequently. Read on to learn what happens during alcohol withdrawal, how to prevent its onset, and what assistance is available if you or someone you know has an alcohol problem.
What is Alcohol Withdrawal?
Alcohol withdrawal occurs when someone who has been drinking heavily stops drinking suddenly. The sudden stop can cause a host of unpleasant symptoms which can be much worse than the short-term effects of drinking too much. The symptoms of alcohol withdrawal often send people right back to drinking to reduce or eliminate them—a pattern known as the "alcohol rollercoaster." This can make it incredibly difficult for people to ever quit, particularly if they are not in a controlled environment or receiving help from medical professionals.
While alcohol dependence can occur in anyone who drinks, there are some factors that make people more likely to experience withdrawal when they stop: The more they drink, the greater the amount of alcohol they consume per week. Binge drinking and heavy drinking are both linked to a higher risk of alcohol dependence. Normally, the human body can metabolize the alcohol we consume and break it down into carbon dioxide and water. But people who drink heavily can develop a physical dependence on alcohol as their bodies adapt to function with its aid. When a heavy drinker quits, his or her body has to re-learn how to operate without alcohol.
Symptoms of Alcohol Withdrawal
Symptoms of alcohol withdrawal include:
- Restlessness and inability to sit still
- Irritability and mood swings
- Sudden outbursts of aggression
- Sweating, tremors, and muscle spasms or twitches
- Nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea
- Sleep and energy problems including both fatigue and insomnia
- Headachse and cold sweats
- Hallucinations, psychosis, and delirium
- Increased heart rate and blood pressure
If someone is experiencing these symptoms, a doctor it is important that they could support and, in some severe cases, even medical attention.
How to Help Someone in Alcohol Withdrawal
If you know someone who is in the midst of alcohol withdrawal, there are a few things you can do to help them. First, make sure they stay hydrated. Drink lots of water, but avoid caffeinated and carbonated beverages. They can cause issues like nausea and vomiting, which will just make the person feel worse. You can help the person stay as calm and relaxed as possible by decreasing noise in the environment, turning off bright lights, and keeping the room at a comfortable temperature. You can also try to distract the person with low-key music or a soft, soothing voice. Tranquilizers like benzodiazepines (Xanax, Valium, Ativan, etc.) can help ease the symptoms of alcohol withdrawal, but you should only give them to someone who is medically supervised. Take care not to confuse alcohol withdrawal with a medical condition like anxiety or a psychotic episode.
Managing Depression and Anxiety During Alcohol Withdrawal
Alcohol withdrawal can trigger both depression and anxiety, so it's important to know how to deal with these side effects. If the person is anxious, using a meditative technique like mindfulness can help. If they're depressed, you might want to consider antidepressants. Doctors also sometimes prescribe certain medications to help with alcohol withdrawal. This is known as medication-assisted treatment. If the person has been drinking heavily for quite some time, it's also possible that they have developed a depressive or anxiety disorder from drinking too much. In this case, alcohol withdrawal may actually help reduce the severity of these conditions.
Managing Shaking and Tremors During Alcohol Withdrawal
If the person is experiencing uncontrollable shaking during alcohol withdrawal, a doctor may prescribe a benzodiazepine. You should also try to get the person to eat or drink something sugary, like a sweet tea or a slice of toast with honey. It is also helpful to apply heat through a warm, damp cloth, or through a heating pad set to low. If the person is extremely agitated, stressed, or anxious, you might also want to try yoga, meditation, or other relaxation techniques.
How Long Does Alcohol Withdrawal Last?
The length of time alcohol withdrawal lasts can vary depending on the person's age and the amount of alcohol they’ve accustomed themselves to consuming. On average, though, withdrawal lasts around a week. However, for people who are used to consuming high quantities of alcohol every day, this can last a lot longer. For people with slow metabolisms, alcohol withdrawal can also last longer.
Quit Alcohol at Sober Living West in Los Angeles, CA
If you're experiencing alcohol withdrawal and need medical attention, a doctor will likely recommend you stay in the hospital for a few days. Once you've been released, you may want to consider entering a sober living environment. This can make the transition to life without alcohol much easier.
Sober living communities are residential homes tailored to the needs of people who want to overcome an alcohol addiction but don't want to be in a clinical setting. They provide a safe and alcohol-free environment where people try to rebuild their lives without the use of alcohol. Sober Living West is a sober living for men located in Los Angeles. Our sober living house will help you rebuild your life, develop a social support system, and develop a confident foundation for long-term sobriety. Reach out today if you’d like to begin your sober journey!