What Is Alcohol Withdrawal?

Alcohol withdrawal is a collection of symptoms which binge drinkers or alcoholics experience when they suddenly stop drinking alcohol. The symptoms of alcohol withdrawal can be mild, but sometimes alcohol withdrawal is life-threatening. Withdrawal is most common in adults, but children and adolescents who have an alcohol use disorder can experience it as well. Fortunately, most people who suffer alcohol withdrawal will survive, especially if they receive treatment.

Alcohol is a central nervous system depressant. It impairs certain functions of the brain by disrupting connections between neurons. This is why someone who drinks too much alcohol will have trouble with coordination and judgment. When someone drinks alcohol regularly or in large quantities, their brain will begin to adapt to the effects of alcohol and develop tolerance. Eventually, the person will feel that they need to drink to feel normal or get through the day.

When someone with alcohol dependence stops drinking, the sudden absence of alcohol in their body shocks their nervous system, which causes withdrawal. To avoid withdrawal, people who are addicted to alcohol drink compulsively, even though they know that alcohol is harming their health and their relationships. Alcohol withdrawal is not only physically dangerous, but it’s also a major obstacle to overcoming alcohol addiction.

What Is Alcohol Detox?

The best way to conquer addiction to alcohol or any other substance is to stop using it. When someone undergoes alcohol detox, they deliberately abstain from drinking to give their body time to adjust to functioning without alcohol. Alcohol detox can be painful and distressing because it requires a person to experience the full range of withdrawal symptoms. Although withdrawal often causes a person to relapse, when someone resolves to experience withdrawal and not suppress it by having another drink, they reach an important milestone on the path to sobriety.

Since some symptoms of alcohol withdrawal are dangerous, people should undergo alcohol detox under medical supervision at a rehab facility. People who detox from alcohol with professional help are more likely to weather the process safely and successfully. Detox may not be pleasant, but it is a necessary first step for anyone who wants to defeat alcoholism. After detox is over, a person in recovery can begin therapy in a treatment program.

What Are the Symptoms of Alcohol Withdrawal?

Everyone who undergoes alcohol withdrawal will have a different experience, but the most common symptoms of alcohol withdrawal are:

  • Anxiety
  • Confusion
  • Fatigue
  • Headaches
  • Heart palpitations
  • Heightened blood pressure
  • Insomnia
  • Irritability
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Shaking and tremors
  • Sweating

Delirium Tremens

Delirium tremens is a condition which characterizes extreme alcohol withdrawal. Delirium tremens is potentially fatal because it can cause seizures. About 1 in every 20 people who experience alcohol withdrawal will also suffer delirium tremens. The condition is most likely to occur in people who are severely addicted to alcohol and have experienced alcohol withdrawal in the past.

Most symptoms of delirium tremens usually begin within two to three days after a person stops drinking. If you or someone you know exhibits signs of delirium tremens, it is important to get help right away. The symptoms of delirium tremens include:

  • Emotional distress
  • Fatigue
  • Fever
  • Hallucinations
  • Hypersensitivity to sound, touch, and light
  • Intense agitation or irritability
  • Intense confusion
  • Hallucinations
  • Seizures (usually within one day of the last drink)