Alcohol is a psychoactive substance that depresses the central nervous system. Despite its legality in most places, it is the cause of a staggering three million deaths every year. Alcohol consumption starts to become alcohol abuse when:
Alcohol use disorder affects over 6% of the USA's adult population but with only less than 10% receiving treatment, it is an ongoing issue. The future health implications that long term heavy drinking can have are:
Alcohol is typically used to gain feelings of relaxation and euphoria. This occurs due to the increase of GABA, a neurotransmitter that promotes the calming feelings when alcohol is consumed. Unfortunately, when you drink alcohol it also decreases the neurotransmitter, glutamate, responsible for creating excitability.
When alcohol use becomes heavier, the increase of GABA becomes more and more difficult to obtain, leaving individuals in a constant battle to get that euphoric, relaxed feeling and remove that excitable feeling that the increase of glutamate is producing.
When you stop drinking alcohol, these two neurotransmitters are not being impacted but your body still overproduces glutamate and underproduces GABA. This neural imbalance leaves those on an alcohol detox with excitatory symptoms like increased heart rates and sleep disturbances. Depending on how much of a heavy drinker you are, these excitatory symptoms may have a more severe form like confusion, seizures, hallucinations. These are symptoms of alcohol withdrawal syndrome.
Dependant on the symptoms and their severity, the treatment process will vary. a medical professional will assess the individual's needs and decide on either a pharmaceutical, psychological or combined therapy approach.
If someone is experiencing milder withdrawal symptoms, they may be okay to withdraw at home. This is not always the case if someone is experiencing moderate to severe alcohol detox symptoms as these can be extremely dangerous. A doctor may prescribe medications to moderate withdrawal symptoms such as:
Once those experiencing withdrawal symptoms have improved, doctors might then prescribe medication that will reduce alcohol cravings. Certain drugs used in alcohol addiction treatment may include:
Alongside pharmaceuticals, additional alcohol addiction treatment is vital to avoid relapses and a healthy recovery. Therapeutic interventions are important to get to the root of the issue and improve the psychological wellbeing of the individual. Some therapies that are used to help overcome substance abuse are:
Detoxing from alcohol can be difficult and potentially unsuccessful if not under medical supervision. Obviously, not everyone can access medical detoxes due to factors like family commitments, it is still recommended to have assisted treatment. The risks of attempting to withdraw from alcohol alone at home are mentioned below.
Due to the body's natural response to maintain balance, when alcohol depresses the nervous system, the brain signals excitatory neurotransmitters to be released. Consequently, the withdrawal symptoms can be over-stimulating.
Symptoms of alcohol withdrawal can range from mild to more severe forms, dependant on multiple factors like when your last drink was and the severity of substance abuse. Quitting alcohol cold turkey can be difficult but the longer it is avoided, the less the chance of experiencing severe, life threatening symptoms.
In severe cases, you may experience delirium tremens (DTs) or alcohol withdrawal delirium, medical professionals associate DTs with the following symptoms:
Severe alcohol withdrawal symptoms can be life-threatening and require immediate medical attention. Medical professionals consider a multitude of factors to determine what symptoms an individual may experience and the severity.
It is very rare to experience DTs, however there are some risk factors that may increase your chance of developing this serious health condition.
How long does it take to withdraw from alcohol? Well, there are typically four stages to alcohol withdrawal, according to a recent study, this is the general consensus for the alcohol detox timeline.
Within 6 to 12 hours after your last drink, minor symptoms like trembling hands and anxiety will usually occur. However, seizures can be apparent in heavy drinkers.
This is where the mild symptoms tend to continue and if you have acute alcohol withdrawal symptoms, they will most likely peak here.
During this period, individuals may experience more severe withdrawal symptoms of alcohol. This is where the delirium tremens may occur, which may present in high heart rate, seizures and other detox symptoms. Severe symptoms are experienced by only around an estimate of 3-5% of individuals, but if they are apparent then medical supervision is advised.
At this stage, symptoms of withdrawal should start to calm down and after a week, symptoms usually disappear. In rare cases, those with moderate to severe withdrawal symptoms (including increased heart rate and hallucinations) can last up to a month.
Although alcohol use disorder is difficult to overcome and potentially life threatening, with the right detox process, you can maintain a healthy life without relapsing. We know that alcohol withdrawal can be mentally and physically demanding but with the professional care at the NP Addiction Clinic, we can provide a person-centred approach that will tailor treatment specific to your needs.
We are aware of the struggle of withdrawing from alcohol, however our alcohol detox process offers a strong network of support alongside your journey. Addiction usually coincides with other mental health disorders, which is why why we offer a dual diagnosis treatment to combat everything that may trigger relapses in the future.
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