Alcohol Withdrawal; What to Expect

For many, the decision to discontinue consumption of alcohol is the easiest part of the anticipated long journey through alcohol recovery. For those seeking to discontinue alcohol consumption, whether voluntarily or involuntarily, understanding the path to recovery, understanding the alcohol withdrawal symptom processes and seeking the appropriate medical support team will be vital in the success of eliminating alcohol from daily consumption.

Whether a chronic drinker, consuming alcohol everyday, or a social drinker, consuming high levels of alcohol on occasion, alcohol withdrawal symptoms are inevitable. The degree to which one suffers from symptoms are implicated by varying factors including level of chemical dependency, nutritional status, age, gender and the use of a medical support team. For those seeking to discontinue the use of alcohol, completely, understanding the anticipated alcohol withdrawal symptoms, and the available treatment options, will ensure a more pleasant experience.

In the first few hours and days of alcohol withdrawal, 95% of all alcohol consumers will experience the very basic withdrawal symptoms including fatigue, anxiety, unusual perspiration, headaches and irregular heart beat. Continuing with these symptoms, over several days, can often been emotionally stressful and may lead to resumption of drinking. However, understanding these are mild symptoms, which will dissipate over a few days, is an encouraging motivator to the person attempting to cease alcohol consumption as it is an indicator the body is working to naturally recover from chronic alcohol usage. For these individuals, medical attention is often not needed however, it can be sought. As a general guide, most physicians will recommend an increase in B vitamin supplements, including Thiamin, in addition to prescribing a small dose of Valium to control the anxiety and emotional distress. Within a few days, the symptoms should pass.

In approximately 20% of the alcohol withdrawal cases, the symptoms may be moderately more severe and, thus, require attention from a physician. Symptoms of a moderate alcohol withdrawal may include severe agitation, trembling, loss of appetite and mild hallucinations. For these patients, a medical consultation is necessary and most will find the physician will begin an intravenous dose of anti-anxiety medications, with a four day, outpatient, and treatment of medications to be used at home. The theory is that most of these moderate alcohol symptoms will dissipate over the next four days. Unfortunately, the side effects of medications may result in symptoms not well received by the patient either. For this reason, understanding what to expect, prior to withdrawal, is imperative in the success of any alcohol cessation program. Side effects may include drowsiness, an urge to overeat and a loss of affect. Additionally, pregnant women, or women who are breast feeding, should not utilize these medications and, therefore, will suffer through the moderate alcohol withdrawal with little medical intervention, other than emotional support.

In the rare event severe withdrawal symptoms present, immediate consultation with a physician is mandated. Severe symptoms are rare and include delirium, psychosis and seizures. Although treatment is limited for these symptoms, the monitor and care provided by a health professional will ensure the patient does not harm himself or anyone else. In rare occasions, medical practitioners may supply a temporary remedy for symptoms such as epileptic medications and higher doses of anti-anxiety medications. Again, because these symptoms are temporary, the use of the medications, to treat the alcohol withdrawal symptoms, must be monitored closely.

As with any alcohol cessation program, the key to success is educating the patient and providing the appropriate support team. For many individuals seeking alcohol cessation, the support of family, friends and medical practitioners are vitally important in the days, weeks and months following discontinuation of alcohol use. Once symptoms have passed, the individual should then seek the guidance and support, from an emotional perspective, with an alcohol support group such as Alcoholics Anonymous as the decision to discontinue the use of alcohol is a lifelong battle lying within the confines of the emotional and intellectual frame and no longer the result of physical dependence.

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