Alcohol withdrawal syndrome is basically a life-threatening condition which occurs in people who drink alcohol heavily for years, months and weeks and then significantly reduce or stop their consumption of alcohol. Alcohol withdrawal symptoms can start as early as one hour post the last drink and stay for weeks ranging from mild shakiness and anxiety to severe problems like delirium tremens and seizures. Delirium tremens are characterized by rapid heartbeat, fever and confusion. Since the symptoms of alcohol withdrawal can worsen very rapidly, it is important to take immediate medical attention even if the signs are mild. Treatments for the symptoms of alcohol withdrawal taken within time remaining can help in reducing the chances of developing withdrawal DTs and seizures.
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The Most Significant Signs of Alcohol Withdrawal
Alcohol withdrawal symptoms generally occur within one hour of having the last drink or even days later. The symptoms are at their peak between 24 and 72 hours and might carry on for several weeks. The most common symptoms of alcohol withdrawal include:
- Nervousness or anxiety
- Mood swings
- Shakiness or jumpiness
- Not being able to think clearly
The other symptoms of alcohol withdrawal include:
- Clammy skin
- Enlarged or dilated pupils
- Loss of appetite
- Insomnia or sleeping difficulty
- Vomiting or nausea
- Rapid heart rate
- Tremor of the different parts of the body
- Hallucinations or feeling or seeing things that are not present
- Severe confusion
- High blood pressure
When to See a Doctor?
It becomes very important to consult a doctor if the withdrawal episodes are experienced again and again. Apart from this, it is also important to see a doctor if there are other health conditions experienced. These include heart disease, infections, history of seizures and lung disease. The severe signs of alcohol withdrawal should be taken as a medical emergency. The patient should be taken to an emergency room or 911 should be called if fever, seizures, hallucinations, irregular heartbeats and severe confusion occur.
The Causes of Alcohol Withdrawal Syndrome
Drinking excessively excites and even irritates the central nervous system. People who are in the habit of drinking on a regular basis, get completely dependent on alcohol with time. This is the time when the nervous system loses its ability of adapting to the lack of alcohol. People who stop drinking suddenly or reduce the intake of alcohol significantly can suffer experience the symptoms of alcohol withdrawal.
The people who are into heavy drinking or the ones who are addicted to taking alcohol regularly and are not able to cut down on their alcohol intake gradually have increased chances of suffering from alcohol withdrawal syndrome. This syndrome is common in adults but even teenagers and children who are into excessive drinking might experience the signs of alcohol withdrawal. People who have previously had the symptoms of withdrawal or the ones who required medical detox for some kind of drinking problem might also be at the risk of suffering from alcohol withdrawal syndrome. As per the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, having more than 15 drinks per week for men and more than 8 drinks per week for women is considered heavy drinking.
Measuring the Alcohol Equivalents
The following are equivalent of one alcoholic drink:
- 5 ounces of wine
- 5 ounces of distilled liquor or spirits which will include rum, gin, whiskey and vodka
- 12 ounces of beer
- 8 ounces of malt liquor
One of the most common forms of heavy drinking is binge drinking. Binge drinking for women is having more than four drinks at one sitting and for men it is having more than five drinks per sitting.
Different Treatment Methodologies for Alcohol Withdrawal Syndrome
There are different types of treatments available for alcohol withdrawal symptoms. The main objective behind the treatment includes preventing major complications associated with the use of alcohol; reducing the signs of withdrawal and offering the right therapy to stop drinking or abstinence. The different treatment methodologies are as follows:
Inpatient treatment is meant for the people experiencing mild to severe signs of alcohol withdrawal. This type of treatment is offered at a hospital or any other facility that deals in treating alcohol withdrawal. During this treatment, the patient is watched carefully for the symptoms of delirium tremens and hallucinations.
The treatment includes:
- Giving medications or fluids through the vein
- Monitoring body temperature, blood pressure, blood levels of various chemicals within the body and heart rate.
- Sedation with the use of medicines till the withdrawal is over
Outpatient treatment is for people who experience mild to moderate signs of alcohol withdrawal. Outpatient treatment involves having a family member to stay with the patient during the procedure for keeping an eye on the patient. The patient will have to visit his or her medical consultant until he or she is stable.
This type of treatment involves:
- Blood tests
- Sedative drugs for easing alcohol withdrawal symptoms
- Family and patient counseling for discussing long-term problems related to excessive drinking
- Treating other medical issues associated with the use of alcohol.
It is quite necessary to take the services of a group that supports the patient in staying calm and sober. There are some organizations with housing options providing supportive environment for patients trying to remain sober.
Prognosis or Outlook
The entire treatment procedure and how well a patient is able to do are completely dependent on the damage intensity caused due to alcohol abuse. However, it is important to note that there are people who have been found to make full recovery from their alcohol withdrawal symptoms by staying positive and by using the right treatment procedure. However, death is always possible if there is the occurrence of delirium tremens.
The ultimate prevention is avoiding or reducing the intake of alcohol. Alcoholism is life-threatening and therefore you must stop drinking right away.