Alcohol can be one of the most dangerous substances to abuse as well as withdraw from. The brain chemistry changes prolonged alcohol abuse causes can result in potentially life-threatening alcohol withdrawal symptoms that should always be managed in a medical detox facility.
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Drinking depresses the central nervous system, causing a person to feel sensations of relaxation and, at times, euphoria. This is because the alcohol has an effect of both slowing down the central nervous system while also working to overproduce neurotransmitters, such as serotonin and norepinephrine, which can create euphoric feelings.
When a person begins to withdraw from alcohol, these neurotransmitters are present in large amounts, yet are not balanced with the central nervous system depressant chemicals that they are used to. As a result, the body's systems start to speed up, which can cause a rapid heartbeat, excessively high temperature and hallucinations.
People with alcoholism are mentally and physically addicted to alcohol. As a result, they will experience withdrawal in some form if they quit "cold turkey" and suddenly stop drinking altogether.
The severity and length of withdrawal depend upon a person's unique body chemistry, how long he or she has used alcohol and if he or she has a history of withdrawing from alcohol. The more times a person withdraws and returns to drinking, the more severe symptoms are likely to be.
As a general rule, withdrawal will typically begin about eight hours after a person has his or her last drink. The symptoms will typically hit their peak between 24 and 72 hours later, according to the National Institutes of Health. Some people can experience milder withdrawal symptoms for as long as several weeks. This is known as post-acute withdrawal.
While every person addicted to drinking will experience some withdrawal symptoms to a certain degree, some people can experience dangerous health symptoms while others may have mild to moderate health symptoms.
Physical symptoms associated with withdrawal from alcohol include:
Mental symptoms associated with withdrawals include:
Delirium tremens (DTs) is a severe alcohol withdrawal disorder associated with life-threatening symptoms. These include agitation, fever, hallucinations, seizures and severe confusion. The potential for these severe symptoms illustrates why it is so important that a person undergo the detox process in a drug rehabilitation facility where doctors can provide supportive medications.
Alcohol addiction affects nearly every aspect of a person's life and health. The seriousness of the addiction requires serious and supportive treatment at a residential facility.
Doctors can perform a thorough assessment of a person to determine potential risks associated with alcohol withdrawal syndrome. These include a physical exam that measures heart rhythms, breathing, hydration levels and temperature. A doctor may also recommend blood and urine tests to determine any hormonal imbalances as well as a person's blood alcohol level.
Breaking an addiction does not end with simply physically withdrawing from the substance. Through residential treatment, a person can receive support to break an addiction today as well as learn relapse prevention techniques that help a person remain sober long after he or she has returned home.
After alcoholism treatment in a residential facility, alcoholics need significant support, including counseling, therapy and addiction aftercare programs, such as Alcoholics Anonymous.