Alcohol withdrawal symptoms are experienced by individuals who cease their consumption of alcohol post indulging in its chronic abuse over a prolonged period of time. Persons who indulge in binge drinking (drinking very heavily when they do) and very frequent drinkers may also experience these symptoms if they quit ‘cold turkey’, although the degree of severity may be lesser.
Unfettered use of sedative-hypnotics such as alcohol leads to physiological dependence. Simply put, the brain requires that substance to function “normally’. Alcohol withdrawal symptoms manifest themselves once the level of alcohol in the blood drops which occurs generally after 5-48 hours of the last drink.
The symptoms can be classified as physiological and psychological and further grouped according to the degree of severity (mild, moderate and severe)
- Mild to moderate psychological symptoms
- 1. Nervousness, jitteriness, agitation
- 2. Uncontrollable shaking or trembling
- 3. Anxiety
- 4. Irritability
- 5. Mood swings or emotional volatility
- 6. Fatigue
- 7. Prolonged Depression
- 8. Nightmares
- 9. Impairment of thought process
- Mild to moderate physical symptoms
- 1. Headache
- 2. Nausea and Vomiting
- 3. Profuse sweating especially on the face and having clammy palms
- 4. Heart Palpitations
- 5. Sleeping difficulties including insomnia
- 6. Pale or sickly complexion
- 7. Loss of appetite
- 8. Dilation of pupils and involuntary eye movements
- 9. Hand tremors and shaking
10. Increase in pulse rate
- Severe Symptoms
- 1. Visual hallucinations, also known as Delirium Tremens which is a state of severe confusion
- 2. High Fever
- 3. Convulsions and seizures
- 4. Black outs and memory loss
The physical symptoms are observed to be the first to occur and subside relatively quickly as well. The psychological symptoms on the other hand are more persistent. The severe symptoms emerge 48-96 hours post the last drink.
Alcohol withdrawal symptoms are not encountered by individuals who consume lesser than the amount of alcohol that renders one dependent on the substance (example: social drinkers). This has prompted alcohol withdrawal symptoms to be termed as alcoholic or alcoholism withdrawal symptoms. Individuals facing these symptoms have treatment options at their disposal which they can access through a health care provider.
The main aims of treatment are to cope with the immediate withdrawal symptoms and in the long term focus on therapy to achieve complete sobriety.
People with moderate to severe symptoms may require in-patient treatment at a health care facility which will focus on treating both physical and psychological symptoms. Out-patient detoxification is appropriate for individual with mild or sometimes even moderate symptoms. However they might require frequent visits to a treatment centre.
Line of treatment may include sedation to stabilize the symptoms followed by extensive patient and family counselling.
Alcohol withdrawal is serious condition which can accelerate to pose a threat to life. Individuals suffering from a recent of onset alcohol withdrawal symptoms must seek the counsel of a health care provider to cope effectively. In addition, it is recommended that persons intending to quit drinking after extreme long-lasting use must necessarily consult a doctor.
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