Coping with Alcohol Withdrawal Symptoms
When a heavy drinker—whether a binge drinker or alcoholic—suddenly stops or severely reduces the amount of alcohol they consume, a wide variety of alcohol addiction withdrawal symptoms can occur. On the mild side of the spectrum, those with an alcohol abuse problem can expect anxiety or nervousness, depression, irritability, jumpiness or shakiness, mood swings, unclear thinking and nightmares.
However, for those at a more advanced state of alcoholism symptoms can be much more serious and may involve alcohol withdrawal syndrome, a potentially life-threatening condition. For those suffering from the syndrome, withdrawal symptoms can begin in as little as two hours after the last drink and persist for weeks. In addition to the milder side effects previously mentioned, such serious effects can include seizures and delirium tremens (DTs) as well as chronic confusion, a rapid heartbeat, high fever and hallucinations.
It’s believed that alcohol withdrawal syndrome occurs because heavy and prolonged drinking suppresses the brain’s neurotransmitters, those brain chemicals that transmit messages throughout the body. These chemicals include GABA—which produces feelings of relaxation and calm—and glutamate, which produces feelings of excitability. When the suppression of these neurotransmitters is suddenly eliminated they rebound exponentially, and the brain enters a state of hyperexcitability.
Because alcohol withdrawal symptoms can rapidly worsen, it’s vital to seek medical attention, as there are highly effective treatments that are effective in easing or eliminating the symptoms of withdrawal. This is especially crucial if an alcoholic or alcohol abuser has an underlying health condition such as uncontrolled infections, heart or lung disease or a history of seizures.
Enduring the rigors of alcohol withdrawal is no doubt a scary prospect. But as therapists are quick to counsel, there is light at the end of the tunnel. Indeed, while the very thought of embarking on a quest to quit drinking alcohol may seem daunting, millions and millions have successfully conquered their addiction, emerging into an alcohol-free life filled with new hope and promise.