Alcohol withdrawal syndrome can be a fatal condition that affects individuals who have consumed alcohol in excess for prolonged period of time and have decided to quit this habit or decrease the amount they were taking.
The symptoms can kick in within hours of the last drink and can go on for weeks and vary from being anxious to serious complications like seizures and delirium tremens (DT).
It is important to seek medical attention as soon as possible because the withdrawal symptoms can deteriorate and more so if you have a known medical conditions like infections, lung and heart disease and seizures.
Alcohol withdrawal symptoms causes
Excessive alcohol intake over a long period of time interferes with the brain neurotransmitters, a chemical in the brain that conveys information.
At the beginning, the chemical released makes the user feel relaxed and cool. But over time, excessive intake of alcohol destroys the production of this chemical and makes the brain require more and more amounts of alcohol to get the anticipated feeling, a condition called tolerance.
Too much alcohol also destroys the ability of the brain to produce glutamate, the chemical that makes one feel excited. The balance this out, the glutamate system operates at very high levels making one take excess alcohol.
Alcohol withdrawal syndrome symptoms
The severity of the symptoms highly depends on how deep one is in the addiction and for how long they have been addicted.
Mild symptoms are experienced within 6- 12 hours of not taking alcohol. Some of the symptoms include sweating, shaky hands, nausea, headache, insomnia and mild anxiety.
There are some who will get more symptoms like hallucinations between 12 – 24 hours of not having any alcohol and within 48 hours, these symptoms vanish.
Between 24 -48 hours of being sober, a patient may have their first seizure and the risk is much higher for those patients who may have relapsed.
Delirium tremens (DT) kick in between 48-72 hours of not consuming alcohol. Some of the symptoms for DT include heavy sweating, high blood pressure, seizures, body chills, irregular and racing heartbeat and serious shivers.
Assessing alcohol withdrawal syndrome
When you show symptoms of alcohol withdrawal syndrome, a thorough medical history is necessary to establish the amount of alcohol consumed, the duration of addiction and the last time you had your last drink. The medical practitioner should also find out if this is a relapse, if you use any other substances if you suffer from known psychiatric or medical disorders. A physical exam will also be done to establish any other illnesses present.
The outcome of both medical history and physical exam will help the doctor know how serious the syndrome is.
Treating alcohol withdrawal syndrome
An outpatient program is ideal for those with symptoms that are not serious and this works best if you have a good support network. If you have had a case of relapsing, if you are pregnant or if you do not have a good support network, an inpatient program is ideal.
The purpose of treatment is to lessen the symptoms, avoid complications and start a life time journey of sobriety.
How to avoid falling back into alcohol withdrawal incidents.
Treating the syndrome does not treat addiction and thus alcohol abuse should be treated separately. An inpatient therapy program will help in treating alcohol dependency while an outpatient therapy program will work best with alcohol abuse. You may also be advised to check into a 12 step group like Alcoholic Anonymous or Narcotic Anonymous for support and therapy.