Am I Experiencing Alcohol Withdrawal?

Alcohol withdrawal can be experienced when an individual abruptly reduces or ceases their alcohol intake after a period of heavy drinking. Withdrawal signs can begin whether the binge drinking period lasted days, months or years. Symptoms of withdrawal can range in severity from mild to serious to fatal.

How do I know if I am experiencing alcohol withdrawal?

The specific signs of withdrawal, and the severity of those signs, will vary depending on how long you have used alcohol, the quantities you regularly consume, and whether you have merely reduced your alcohol intake or stopped it abruptly. Symptoms of alcohol withdrawal symptoms include:

  • Tremors or shaking, especially in the hands
  • Anxiety
  • Depression
  • Nausea
  • Insomnia
  • Sweating or clammy skin
  • Irritability
  • Increased heart rate
  • Seizures
  • Fatigue
  • Confusion
  • Brain fog
  • Mood swings
  • Loss of appetite
  • Rapid breathing
  • Hallucinations
  • Headache
  • High blood pressure
  • Nervousness
  • Dilated pupils
  • Disorientation
  • Low electrolyte levels
  • Fever
  • Restlessness
  • Pale skin

Some of these symptoms, like seizures, fever and hallucinations, are quite rare and typically only manifest in severe cases of alcohol addiction. These symptoms are also part of a cluster of symptoms known as delirium tremens, which are considered to be a medical emergency and can be fatal if not urgently treated. 

Why am I experiencing alcohol withdrawal?

Alcohol addiction is a chemical one, wherein the body physically craves alcohol and responds accordingly to its absence. Prolonged use of alcohol will change the way your brain and central nervous system function, and they will eventually adjust to the presence of alcohol as your body’s sort of homeostasis. Withdrawal symptoms can begin as early as a few hours after your most recent drink. Some seek to avoid withdrawal symptoms by drinking alcohol when they feel the signs coming on, but this will only worsen the body’s dependence on alcohol.

In terms of why we experience alcohol addiction and subsequent withdrawal, the primary reason can be traced back to alcohol’s relationship with the neurotransmitter dopamine. Dopamine is responsible for us feeling pleasure and reward, and it is rapidly fired off when we consume alcohol. This can lead to individuals continuously chasing that rush of dopamine, to the point that the central nervous system and the body become dependent on the presence of alcohol. Once the body becomes addicted to alcohol, the central nervous system must readjust whenever alcohol is no longer present at the same levels it had consistently been. This is when the withdrawal process begins. The central nervous system suddenly finds itself out of sorts and attempts to overcorrect rather quickly, which is why withdrawal signs can begin after only a few hours

How can I relieve my alcohol withdrawal symptoms?

For some, experiencing withdrawal symptoms is the wake-up call that motivates them to seek treatment for their alcohol addiction. Because of the potentially dangerous side effects of alcohol withdrawal, it is important to consult with a physician or a treatment center before you quit drinking cold turkey.

There are options for not only treating the physical withdrawal symptoms but also the underlying alcohol use disorder. The very first step in recovery is admitting you need help; the second step is detoxing your body’s dependence on alcohol. This can be done through medication-assisted treatment, an approach often used to treat substance use disorder but can also be effective at treating alcohol use disorder. Medication-assisted treatment for alcohol utilizes the drug naltrexone to block the euphoric effects of alcohol, reduce the feeling of intoxication and eliminate cravings.

Once the physical detox is complete, individuals can either choose an inpatient or outpatient program to continue the mental aspect of alcohol addiction treatment. This is ultimately what will help sustain your recovery in the long run. Two of the most popular options, both relatively high levels of care, are a partial hospitalization program and an intensive outpatient program. Both offer myriad treatment options throughout the program, including cognitive behavioral therapy, psychotherapy, group therapy, recreational therapy and individual counseling, with more flexibility than a residential treatment program.

Mazzitti & Sullivan Counseling offers comprehensive treatment to adolescents, adults and families struggling with alcohol use disorder. In particular, our partial hospitalization program, intensive outpatient program and medication-assisted treatment program are effective at first reducing alcohol withdrawal symptoms and then focusing on long-term recovery. Get help today by calling 800-809-2925.