Alcohol withdrawal refers to symptoms that may occur when a person who has been drinking too much alcohol every day suddenly stops drinking alcohol.
What are the symptoms of Alcohol withdrawal?
- Alcohol withdrawal symptoms usually occur within 5 – 10 hours after the last drink, but can occur days later. Symptoms get worse in 48 – 72 hours, and may persist for weeks.
- Common symptoms include:
- Anxiety or nervousness
- Not thinking clearly
- Jumpiness or shakiness
- Mood swings
- Other symptoms may include:
- Clammy skin
- Enlarged (dilated) pupils
- Insomnia (sleeping difficulty)
- Loss of appetite
- Nausea and vomiting
- Rapid heart rate
- Tremor of the hands or other body parts
- A severe form of alcohol withdrawal called delirium tremens can cause:
- Severe confusion
- Seeing or feeling things that aren’t there (hallucinations)
What causes Alcohol withdrawal?
- Alcohol withdrawal occurs most often in adults, but it may occur in teenagers or children.
- The more you drink every day, the more likely you are to develop alcohol withdrawal symptoms when you stop drinking.
- You may have more severe withdrawal symptoms if you have certain other medical problems.
When to seek urgent medical care?
- Alcohol withdrawal is a serious condition that may rapidly become life threatening.
- Call your health care provider or go the emergency room if you think you might be in alcohol withdrawal, especially if you were using alcohol often and recently stopped.
- Call for an appointment with your health care provider if symptoms persist after treatment.
- Go to the emergency room or call the local emergency number (such as 911) if seizures, fever, severe confusion, hallucinations, or irregular heartbeats occur.
- Your health care provider will perform a physical exam. This may reveal:
- Abnormal eye movements
- Abnormal heart rhythms
- Not enough fluids in the body (dehydration)
- Rapid breathing
- Rapid heart rate
- Shaky hands
- Blood and urine tests, including a toxicology screen, may be done.
- The goal of treatment includes:
- Reducing withdrawal symptoms
- Prevent complications,
- Therapy to get you to stop drinking (abstinence)
- INPATIENT TREATMENT:
- People with moderate-to-severe symptoms of alcohol withdrawal may need inpatient treatment at a hospital or other facility that treats alcohol withdrawal.
- You will be watched closely for hallucinations and other signs of delirium tremens.
- Treatment may include:
- Monitoring of blood pressure, body temperature, heart rate, and blood levels of different chemicals in the body
- Fluids or medications through a vein (by IV)
- Sedation using medication called benzodiazepines until withdrawal is complete
- OUTPATIENT TREATMENT:
- If you have mild-to-moderate alcohol withdrawal symptoms, you can often be treated in an outpatient setting. You will need someone to commit to staying with you during this process,k and who can keep an eye on you.
- Daily visits to your health care provider are needed until you are stable.
- Treatment usually includes:
- Sedative drugs to help ease withdrawal symptoms
- Routine blood tests
- Patient and family counseling to discuss the long-term issue of alcoholism.
- Testing and treatment for other medical problems linked to alcohol use
- It is important that the patient goes to a living situation that helps support them in staying sober. Some areas have housing options that provide a supportive environment for those trying to stay sober.
- Permanent and life-long abstinence from alcohol is the best treatment for those who have gone through withdrawal.
Where to find medical care for Alcohol withdrawal?
Ask our experts on Alcohol withdrawal
What to expect (Outlook/Prognosis)?
- How well a person does depends on the amount of organ damage and whether the person can stop drinking completely.
- Alcohol withdrawal may range from a mild and uncomfortable disorder to a serious, life-threatening condition.
- Symptoms such as sleep changes, rapid changes in mood, and fatigue may last for months. People who continue to drink a lot may develop health problems such as liver and heart disease.
- Most people who go through alcohol withdrawal make a full recovery. However, death is possible, especially if delirium tremens occurs.
- Reduce or avoid alcohol.
- If you have alcoholism, you should stop drinking completely.
Support groups are available to help people who are dealing with alcoholism.
- ALCOHOLICS ANONYMOUS (AA)
- Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) is a self-help group of recovering alcoholics that offers emotional support and specific steps for people recovering from alcohol dependence. The program is commonly called a “12-step” approach. There are local chapters throughout the United States.
- AA offers help 24 hours a day and teaches that it is possible to participate in social functions without drinking.
- AL-ANON Family members of a person with an alcohol abuse problem often need counseling. Al-Anon is a support group for partners and others who are affected by someone else’s alcoholism.
- Alateen provides support for teenage children of people with alcoholism.
- OTHER SUPPORT GROUPS:
- SMART recovery teaches you have to change your thoughts and behaviors to help people with alcoholism recover.
- LifeRing recovery and SOS are two nonreligious programs that offer support for people with alcohol abuse.
- Women for Sobriety is a self-help group just for women.
- Moderation Management is a program for those who want to reduce how much they drink. It recommends abstinence for people who cannot do this.
- National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism
- Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration