All About Alcohol Withdrawal

An essential first step toward sobriety

Alcohol withdrawal includes the symptoms following a reduction or abrupt cessation in the amount of alcohol drunk by a person who has been drinking large amounts for weeks, months, or years. These symptoms may range from mild to life-threatening ones; these may include anxiety, shakiness, sweating, nausea, vomiting, headache, increased pulse, fever, hallucinations, convulsions, and even confusion. The onset of the said symptoms can be expected two hours after the last drink, which can last weeks.

Alcohol withdrawal results from the central nervous system adapting to the effects of alcohol being in the system for a long time. In case a person suddenly or gradually reduces their consumption of alcohol, or even if one stops taking it completely, the body will take time to reconcile itself to that situation and, in the process, bring about withdrawal symptoms.

Why get professional medical help?

When considering quitting alcohol consumption, individuals struggling with alcohol addiction should consult with a medical professional:

Alcohol withdrawal can be dangerous and, in some cases, fatal. Medical professionals can prescribe medications and interventions to safely manage withdrawal symptoms, lowering the risk of severe complications like seizures and delirium tremens.

Medical professionals can create a treatment plan that is tailored to the individual’s unique needs, such as underlying mental health issues, the severity of the addiction, and physical health concerns. This tailored approach increases the likelihood of a successful recovery.

Medical professionals can connect individuals with the necessary backing and resources, such as therapy, support groups, and rehabilitation services, allowing for a more comprehensive approach to recovery.

Overall, seeking medical advice is an essential step for anyone struggling with alcoholism, as it ensures they receive the necessary support, care, and guidance for a safe and effective recovery.

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How symptoms and severity of withdrawal differ between individuals

The symptoms and severity of alcohol withdrawal can differ significantly between individuals due to a variety of factors, resulting in a wide range of withdrawal experiences. The key factors influencing these variations in withdrawal symptoms between individuals include:

Duration and Quantity of Alcohol Use: People who have been drinking heavily for a long time are more likely to experience severe withdrawal symptoms than those with a shorter history of alcohol use.

Physical Health: Physical health significantly impacts how the body copes with the cessation of alcohol consumption. Pre-existing health conditions may exacerbate withdrawal symptoms.

Genetic Factors: Genetic predispositions can influence the body’s response to alcohol withdrawal, affecting the severity and type of symptoms.

Psychological and Emotional Health: Mental health conditions such as anxiety or depression can have an impact on the severity of withdrawal symptoms, complicating the process.

Previous Withdrawal Experiences: People who have previously gone through alcohol withdrawal may experience the Kindling Effect, in which subsequent withdrawals become more severe.

Because of these differences, withdrawal symptoms can range from mild (anxiety, sweating, tremors) to moderate (high blood pressure, rapid heart rate, irritability) to severe (hallucinations, seizures, delirium tremens). This variability emphasises the importance of medical supervision during the withdrawal period to manage symptoms safely and effectively.

How pre-existing health conditions affect alcohol withdrawal

The presence of pre-existing health conditions requires a more cautious and closely monitored approach to alcohol withdrawal. Medical professionals must tailor detoxification and treatment plans to address both withdrawal symptoms and underlying health conditions, ensuring a safe withdrawal and reducing the risk of complications.

Symptoms may worsen during alcohol withdrawal, including anxiety, depression, and bipolar disorder. The stress of withdrawal can exacerbate these mental health problems, making the process more difficult.

Alcohol withdrawal can be more dangerous if you have liver disease, cardiovascular problems, or diabetes. For example, liver disease can impair the body’s ability to metabolise withdrawal medications, while stress and high blood pressure can exacerbate cardiovascular problems.

People who have a history of seizures or epilepsy are more likely to experience seizures during withdrawal, mainly if alcohol use has previously treated or made their condition worse.

People with pre-existing conditions frequently take medications that can interact with withdrawal management drugs. Medical professionals will carefully monitor and adjust the dosage to avoid negative consequences.

Do mental health conditions affect alcohol withdrawal? 

People with mental illnesses must receive integrated care during alcohol withdrawal, which addresses both the withdrawal process and the underlying mental health problems. To ensure a safe and effective withdrawal process, doctors frequently combine medical supervision, medication management, and psychological support.

People with pre-existing mental health conditions like anxiety, depression, bipolar disorder, or post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) may experience worsening symptoms during alcohol withdrawal. Alcohol is usually used as a coping mechanism for these conditions, and removing it can exacerbate symptoms.

The withdrawal process can be highly stressful, and people with mental health issues may have a more challenging time dealing with it, resulting in increased anxiety, panic attacks, or depressive episodes.

Withdrawal can increase emotional sensitivity, making people more vulnerable to mood swings and emotional instability. This can be especially difficult for those who are already dealing with mental health issues, as they may experience increased feelings of sadness, anger, or despair.

Typical mental health symptoms of withdrawal, such as insomnia, irritability, and difficulty concentrating, can exacerbate withdrawal symptoms, making the process more difficult and uncomfortable.

The stress of withdrawal, combined with exacerbated mental health conditions, can increase the likelihood of relapse. Individuals may become overwhelmed by the worsening symptoms and return to alcohol as a form of self-medication.

How does medical supervision help during withdrawal? 

Medical supervision offers a comprehensive support system for people suffering from mental health issues during withdrawal, addressing both the physical and psychological aspects of the process and significantly increasing the likelihood of a successful and safe recovery.

Medical professionals can prescribe and administer medications to treat withdrawal symptoms and underlying mental health issues. This could include antidepressants, anti-anxiety drugs, or medications designed to alleviate cravings and withdrawal symptoms.

Doctors closely monitor patients for any signs of severe withdrawal symptoms or complications, such as seizures or delirium tremens, and can intervene quickly to provide treatment. This monitoring is crucial for people who have mental health issues that can worsen withdrawal symptoms.

Medical supervision frequently includes access to mental health professionals who can offer psychological support during withdrawal. This can help manage the worsening of mental health symptoms while also providing strategies for dealing with stress, anxiety, and other emotions that may arise during the process.

AddictionsUK enables the integration of care for addiction and mental health conditions, ensuring that treatment is comprehensive and addresses all aspects of an individual’s health.

Image by Jason Goodman from Unsplash

Managing withdrawal at home

There are a lot of people who would rather receive treatment for any illness in the comfort of their own homes, and we are aware that this is especially true for those who are struggling with addictions.

AddictionsUK, a pioneer in home detox services, can provide Independent, medically qualified practitioners for home detoxification programmes in the United Kingdom. Together, we can offer services that are both therapeutic and medical. By doing so, we can provide treatment in the comfort of your homes rather than in a clinical or hospital environment. The service is prompt, safe and convenient.

The independent medical practitioners will conduct a risk assessment before beginning any detoxification process. To determine the therapeutic benefits of such treatment, they will maintain close communication with therapists working for AddictionsUK. There is typically no place superior to home regarding comfort and security. Independent medical practitioners will always require the presence of a responsible adult to hold and administer the medication safely. 

After successful completion of detox, AddictionsUK offers therapeutic support for ongoing recovery and relapse prevention.

If you or your loved one is struggling with alcohol addiction, call Freephone at 0800 140 4044

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