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Alcohol Withdrawal: Mild, Severe Symptoms

Alcohol addiction affects more than 14.5 million Americans aged 12 and over. People who struggle with alcohol use disorder (AUD) are bound to experience withdrawal symptoms when they suddenly stop drinking.

Alcohol withdrawal symptoms are inevitable for anyone who wishes to conquer a drinking problem. Excessive alcohol intake (overdrinking, binge drinking) was the start of the problem; sobriety is the end goal of the solution. Getting there involves some rough patches.

What are the symptoms of alcohol withdrawal?

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Mild Alcohol Withdrawal Symptoms

Alcohol abuse is often a symptom of maladaptive behavior, where the person drinks to overcome feelings of stress, depression and insecurity. While intoxicated, the drinker may feel manic, overjoyed, emotional, cocky, uninhibited and shameless. Without alcohol, the feelings the drinker tries to avoid may come back tenfold, mixed with nauseous physical symptoms.

For the recovering alcoholic, withdrawal begins with alcohol cessation, the moment or hour after that last drink where the individual commits to an alcohol-free life. Mild alcohol withdrawal symptoms include:

  • Anxiety – People drink at bars and parties to avoid feelings of shyness, self-consciousness, insecurity and social phobia. This is often the case with men at singles bars.
  • Irritability – Not all people with AUD are irritable by nature but some become so after several drinks. Once they grow dependent on alcohol, they might get irritable any time there’s no supply.
  • Depression – People often drink to cope with depression. The numbing effects of alcohol can put people in trance-like states of mixed emotions (overjoyed, teary, saccharine-sentimental).
  • Fatigue – Alcohol is a depressant that drains people of their vigor, energy and concentration. Days are interchangeable for most people with AUD, who often lay about and accomplish little.

The mild symptoms of acute alcohol withdrawal are possible to overcome in a supervised setting. Mild anxiety is common and understandable. People with alcohol use disorders who are serious about sobriety should check into a treatment center for assistance and care during the recovery process.

Moderate Alcohol Withdrawal Symptoms

During the stage of early withdrawal, mild symptoms sometimes mix with more disturbing ones, including:

  • Jitters – A person might shake or tremor during the first few days as they break free of alcohol dependency. This could be a physical sign of withdrawal anxiety.
  • Mood swings – People can be exceedingly irritable during alcohol withdrawal, to the point of going from hot to cold in seconds. Anything might set the person off.
  • Brain fog – People who drink heavily then stop abruptly may have muddled thoughts for the next few days. Early into the alcohol withdrawal timeline, it might be difficult to concentrate on anything.
  • Nightmares – People who dream are more prone to have nightmares as a side-effect of withdrawal syndrome. This can cause sleep disturbances, insomnia and fatigue.

Other moderate symptoms of alcohol withdrawal include pupil dilation, sweats, headaches, pale skin and tremors. Some people experience auditory hallucinations, where they hear sounds that aren’t there. While not exactly the warning signs of a medical emergency, symptoms like mood swings and brain fog are more pronounced than the milder symptoms of alcohol withdrawal.

Severe Withdrawal Symptoms

After months or years of excessive drinking, alcohol withdrawal symptoms are bound to be more severe. People who constantly drink themselves to a high alcohol level (0.08% BAC or higher) grow physically and mentally unaccustomed to sobriety. Hardcore alcohol addiction is difficult to overcome.

For people who struggle with intense alcohol use disorder, some of the more severe withdrawal symptoms include:

  • Fever – High body temperatures, typically associated with endemic seasonal flu symptoms, can occur among people with severe symptoms of alcohol withdrawal.
  • Seizures – Alcohol withdrawal seizures, where the person has a sudden brain disturbance, may occur during the first few days of alcohol withdrawal if the person is not properly medicated.
  • Hallucinations – People withdrawing from high levels of alcohol consumption may hallucinate as chemicals clear through the body. They might experience severe confusion or see things that aren’t there.
  • High blood pressure – Alcohol withdrawal in its most severe form involves life-threatening symptoms like high blood pressure, irregular heartbeats and other cardiovascular problems.

Anything involving high blood pressure and heart trouble should be treated as a medical emergency; these are life-threatening symptoms. Other serious alcohol-related physical complications include delirium tremens, which involve sudden disruptions to the central nervous system. It’s extremely dangerous to overlook these more severe symptoms.

Alcohol Withdrawal Syndrome

Alcohol withdrawal symptoms often overlap with co-occurring mental health disorders. People exposed to chronic alcohol use in their family or social circle are far more likely to get dependent on alcohol themselves. Alcohol use disorder often stems from mental illness and environmental factors.

It takes a holistic approach to rehab therapy to help patients in their management of alcohol withdrawal syndrome. Examples of therapy for alcohol withdrawal syndrome include:

  • Dual diagnosis therapy – Designed to pinpoint co-occurring symptoms in the AUD patient that feeds into his/her alcohol abuse, such as past trauma, grief, depression and family issues.
  • Family therapy – People with extreme alcohol dependence often grow estranged from their relatives and feel more isolated. In many cases, multiple family members have AUD.
  • Cognitive-behavioral therapy – Reverses the deep-seated beliefs that people can’t shake despite their better judgment (“I should stop drinking, but it’s too hard and I’ve nothing to live for anyway.”)

Today’s rehab counselors take a multi-faceted approach to treating alcohol withdrawal. People experiencing withdrawal symptoms usually have pre-existing issues that feed into their alcohol-related disorders. Counselors treat alcohol withdrawal syndrome by helping patients heal on the mental, physical and spiritual levels.

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Don't go through the process of recovery alone. There are people who can help you with the struggle you're facing. Get in touch with one today.

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Treat Alcohol Withdrawal Symptoms

Alcohol withdrawal symptoms can range from mild to moderate to severe. It somewhat depends on the severity of one’s alcohol addiction at the time of cessation. That said, everyone with alcohol use disorder should make the effort to get clean and sober.

Across the US, treatment centers offer alcohol detox and addiction treatment programs for people who struggle with AUD. For people with severe alcohol withdrawal symptoms, most centers offer medical detox to help patients through stress and discomfort.

Treatment centers also offer a range of other programs, including drug abuse rehab, mental health counseling, family therapy and support groups. Modern substance abuse treatment follows practices in accordance with the Mental Health Services Administration.

If someone you know struggles with AUD, inquire about local substance abuse treatment options. If the person is a heavy drinker, he/she may need immediate medical attention. Contact the rehab centers in your area to discuss treatment options today. Your call could save a life.

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