Paul felt controlled by alcohol. He was often drinking every night. Between the beer and bourbon, he was under the influence regularly. One day, after some routine blood work, his doctor asked him about his alcohol use. He informed him that his liver enzymes were concerning and recommended reducing how much he drank alcohol. When Paul did this, he experienced intense cravings. He felt like his body needed alcohol. Paul had always believed he could stop at any time but was now beginning to doubt his strength. Depression and anxiety were starting to play a part in his life, and he began to have tremors in his hands. When he called his doctor about his symptoms, the doctor told him he was experiencing alcohol withdrawal.
In 2020, 14.7% of people in Kentucky participated in binge drinkers. As Paul did, regular binge drinking can increase the risk of experiencing alcohol withdrawal. Sometimes, this decision to stop drinking does not always happen when it is convenient. SUN Behavioral Health Kentucky offers 24/7 crisis care to help you start your recovery journey. Often, that step can be the hardest, especially as alcohol withdrawal symptoms begin. So, why do people experience alcohol withdrawals, anyway?
Alcohol withdrawal is a normal part of alcohol use disorder recovery. It is typically one of the side effects of an alcohol use disorder. When you have been drinking alcohol regularly, your body has become dependent. When you stop drinking alcohol, your body wants more alcohol to satisfy its needs. During withdrawal, the amygdala becomes hyperactive when drinking stops, creating negative symptoms. These uncomfortable symptoms are not necessarily life-threatening. Still, you should seek treatment under a medical professional's observation in case of complications. If you only drink once in a while, you will probably not experience alcohol withdrawal when you stop drinking. However, experiencing alcohol withdrawals once will put you at a higher risk of experiencing them again if you return to use.
There is no set number of exactly how many drinks you need to get withdrawals, as it is often an individual experience. However, some factors can indicate if you are more likely to experience withdrawal symptoms. One of those ways is if you regularly engage in binge drinking. Binge drinking is determined by how much you drink for your gender in 2 hours. This number is 5 for men, and for women, it is 4. Using other substances alongside your alcohol use can also result in alcohol withdrawal. The stage of alcoholism that you are in can also indicate if you will experience alcohol withdrawal. Someone who drinks occasionally will not experience withdrawal like someone who drinks alcohol consumes every thought and behavior.
There are several symptoms that someone might experience while undergoing alcohol withdrawal. These symptoms can range in intensity, and not everyone will experience the same symptoms as someone else. Just because a friend experienced one symptom doesn't mean you will experience the same symptom. Some common symptoms that people might experience include feelings of anxiety or depression. People might also experience fatigue and nightmares. Others become irritable or jumpy. Cravings for alcohol are also common among those who are experiencing alcohol withdrawal.
Some other symptoms are not as common but still possible to experience. They might include dilated pupils or sweaty skin. Headaches and insomnia are also potential. People can also experience a loss of appetite or vomiting. There might also be a rapid heart rate or a tremor in their hands. There are some more severe symptoms of alcohol withdrawal. These are often rare, but a medical professional must be able to monitor you to ensure that you remain safe. These symptoms can include a fever, hallucinations, seizures, and delirium.
For most people, alcohol withdrawal symptoms will start to exist within 6-8 hours of stopping alcohol use. Typically, these symptoms will peak around 24-72 hours. The first 6-8 hours will typically include mild symptoms. After 12-24 hours, moderate symptoms might occur. 24-72 hours in, people will usually have the more severe symptoms. However, symptoms typically last 4-5 days and become less intense after 72 hours. Still, they can last longer for those who have been drinking more and longer.
Alcohol withdrawal occurs because drinking alcohol can change how your brain works. It begins to control your ability to feel pleasure, control your behavior, and your sense of judgment. The brain becomes dependent on the control that alcohol has. So, it wants you to continue to drink alcohol through cravings to restore the pleasure it gets from alcohol. The cravings can lead to several symptoms that make it challenging to recover. During this period, the brain must readjust to life without alcohol. The symptoms will not last forever.
When you are diagnosed with alcohol withdrawal, your doctor might perform a physical exam. This exam might check for abnormal health rhythms, dehydration, rapid breathing, or shaky hands. They might also conduct blood and urine tests to see if other substances are involved in your symptoms.
Often, the first step in alcohol use disorder treatment is alcohol detox. During this time, you will stop drinking alcohol and experience withdrawal symptoms. Medical professionals will help keep you safe and comfortable through this natural process. You will also meet with therapists and counselors who will help you learn skills and techniques, such as cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), to prevent a return to use. These techniques can help you cope when life urges you to reach for alcohol.
If you have experienced alcohol withdrawal once, you are more likely to experience it whenever you decide to stop drinking alcohol. Returning to use can become more dangerous after you withdraw from alcohol. Many people who return to alcohol after recovery will return to the amount they drank before treatment, which puts them at risk of experiencing alcohol poisoning. Your body will have adjusted to being less tolerant of alcohol during recovery. Remember, experiencing alcohol withdrawal can be one of the signs of alcoholism. Seeking treatment is one of the best ways to prevent experiencing alcohol withdrawal symptoms.
Achieving recovery can look different in different age groups. Someone over the age of 65 is going to have different needs in their recovery process than someone who is 35. This unmet need is why SUN Behavioral Health Kentucky offers a geriatric program for adults over 65. It is never too late to get treatment for an alcohol use disorder. For more information or to get started on your treatment, call us today at 859-429-5188.
People who are experiencing withdrawal symptoms might experience depression. Most people will experience intense cravings for alcohol. Some people might experience irritability, while others will experience nightmares.
Before you stopped drinking, your brain had become dependent on alcohol. It has received pleasure from drinking alcohol and does not want that pleasure to stop. When you stop drinking, withdrawal symptoms will encourage you to drink again. You will experience intense cravings, which can come with other symptoms such as nausea, depression, anxiety, and headaches.