People who drink heavily for a long period of time can unfortunately become dependent on alcohol. Those with an alcohol dependency experience health problems when they stop drinking. These are alcohol withdrawal symptoms. They range from mild to dangerous, so please speak to a medical professional before attempting to detox from alcohol.
The timeline for an alcohol detox is broken down into three stages:
Stage 1 of an alcohol detox (first six to 12 hours)
The first stage of alcohol withdrawal is the mildest. The patient may experience headaches, stomach pains, anxiety and nausea.
Stage 2 of an alcohol detox (first 12 to 48 hours)
The second stage of alcohol withdrawal is more intense. The patient may experience confusion as well as raised body temperature, heart rate and blood pressure.
Stage 3 of an alcohol detox (first 48 to 72 hours)
The last stage of alcohol withdrawal is the most dangerous. The patient may experience shakes, seizures, hallucinations and delirium tremens (DTs). At this stage, there is a risk of death.
All timeframes given are an estimate and may vary from person to person. In most cases, a patient will be symptom-free within seven days. In some cases, it can take weeks for symptoms to subside.
What is an alcohol detox?
A medical detoxification, also known as a detox, is the safest way for people with an alcohol dependency to stop drinking. A doctor can prescribe medication to reduce or eliminate the symptoms of alcohol withdrawal. They can also monitor the patient 24/7.
What happens to your body when you detox from alcohol?
Why is detoxing from alcohol dangerous? It’s because of the relationship between alcohol and GABA. GABA stands for gamma-aminobutyric acid. GABA is one of the chemicals in the brain. Low levels of GABA in the brain have been linked to schizophrenia and depression.
Alcohol increases the effects of GABA. This is what causes drunk people to think, speak and move more slowly. So people with an alcohol dependency are under the influence of the slowing effects of GABA. When they stop drinking, the slowing effects of GABA stop as well. This causes the brain to speed up, essentially becoming overexcited. It’s this that causes the risk of death.
Who is at risk of alcohol withdrawal?
Anyone with an alcohol dependency is at risk of alcohol withdrawal. Adults are more likely to experience alcohol withdrawal than children. If you’ve been drinking alcohol for a long time, you’re also more likely to experience alcohol withdrawal. If you already have other health problems, then alcohol withdrawal can be exacerbated.
Are the effects of alcohol withdrawal worse every time?
It’s also important to note that alcohol withdrawal can get worse each time it is experienced. This is “kindling”. For example, a heavy drinker may experience no withdrawal symptoms the first time they detox. But after a series of relapses and detoxes, the withdrawal effects become more intense. Seizures are more common in patients who have already detoxed from alcohol once before.
How is alcohol withdrawal treated?
There is a range of medications that can be prescribed to reduce the effects of alcohol withdrawal. Benzodiazepines, such as diazepam, are generally safe in suppressing the symptoms of alcohol withdrawal. One possible drawback is that benzodiazepines are also addictive. That’s why it’s essential they should only be used under careful medical supervision.
Many people with an alcohol dependency also experience vitamin deficiencies. Vitamin supplements are an easy treatment. A good nutrition programme will address this.
There are also medications that are thought to prevent people from relapsing into drinking; disulfiram, naltrexone and acamprosate, for example.
Contact Charterhouse Clinic on 0808 123 0222 to talk to someone about alcohol withdrawal. If you think that you or a loved one is experiencing alcohol withdrawal, don’t delay: call 999 immediately.