You can buy alcohol at liquor stores, grocery stores, and even convenience stores. Anyone over the age of 21 can show their ID and order alcoholic beverages at their favorite corner bar. So, it’s easy to forget that alcohol is classified as a drug. To get even more specific, it’s a depressant. If you or…
When a person comes to a doctor’s office, two things will point toward a diagnosis of alcohol withdrawal: the first is long-term alcohol use with sudden cessation, and the second being symptoms typical of withdrawal (these will be explained in the following paragraphs). For the symptoms, physicians use a largely accepted algorithm known as the CIWA-Ar (Clinical Institute Withdrawal Assessment) protocol. This survey takes a snapshot of a patient to determine how severe their withdrawal is at a point in time during their visit.
What doctors look for when determining severity of alcohol withdrawal: The categories assessed by the patient include nausea and vomiting, tremor (often in the hands), auditory, tactile or visual hallucinations, sweats, anxiety, headache, agitation, and disorientation. Additionally, the doctor will measure heart rate, blood pressure, and do a physical exam. Each category is measured out of 7 points, with 7 being the worst (the exception to this is disorientation, which is measured out of 4 points). The maximum score in the assessment is a 67, with patients under 10 usually being safe without medication, and with any number over 20 being considered severe withdrawal. However, this scale is meant to determine the severity of withdrawal, and is not as helpful in laying out a timeline of when these symptoms will present. For that, it is more helpful to understand the body’s reaction to the cessation of alcohol use.
When you make the decision to stop drinking, either gradually or suddenly, you may experience symptoms of withdrawal. While the exact symptoms of withdrawal will be different depending on the severity and longevity of addiction, there are some commonalities for withdrawal. Understanding the symptoms of withdrawal can help you prepare for the journey ahead. Keep reading to learn more about alcohol withdrawals and what to expect during the process.
What causes alcohol withdrawal?
Prolonged use of alcohol or alcohol abuse alters the brain’s chemistry. When copious amounts of alcohol are present or alcohol is used in high volumes, the body has to adapt. The mind adjusts to a new “normal” state with alcohol present. Once alcohol is removed, the body has to readjust to a new state of normal.
It makes a lot of sense to start this talk by defining the sympathetic nervous system. The sympathetic nervous system (known in laymen’s terms as the “fight-or-flight” response) is the body’s activation of processes that prepare itself for demonstrative physical response. This is largely a reflexive response to new and foreign stimuli, and is in constant contact with the bloodstream to monitor the balance of needs. The actions of the sympathetic nervous system are counteracted by the body’s parasympathetic nervous system, or its resting response. A good way to think of this is as a gas (sympathetic) and brake (parasympathetic) in a motor vehicle.
Since alcohol withdrawal can be rough on your body, it is best to have an idea of things to do to keep your heart rate and blood pressure down. Make a list before even going to alcohol detox or rehab, if you can.
Anyone who has struggled with the idea of giving up alcohol, often says they struggled due to fear. What most people fear is not knowing what their alcohol withdrawal experience will be like. The truth is, each person going through alcohol withdrawals have a unique experience. It depends on how long they drank, how much they drank, and several other factors. Those who drank for a long time or drank a lot of alcohol regularly seem to have the most severe alcohol withdrawal symptoms. These symptoms can sometimes include hallucinations. To find out more, read on.
The Types of Hallucinations Caused By Alcohol Withdrawals
Let us start by making sure that you know that alcohol withdrawals is something you do not want to go through alone. Ideally, everyone who gives up drinking alcohol after even a slight addiction should do so under medical supervision. Typically, the hallucinations that some people experience are part of the reason why this is so necessary.
When alcohol intake becomes an addiction, it can be a trying task to let go of the urge to have the next drink. Not only does your body go through emotional changes during your detoxification process, but the physiology of your body changes as well. If one has been dependant on alcohol for a longer period of time, the body begins to adapt (while still having a negative impact). So, what happens when you decide to remove alcohol from your system?
A breakdown of alcohol withdrawal
Withdrawal can occur within eight hours of the last drink. The first few days tend to be the most difficult to deal with, as your body is experiencing a drastic change from its previous routine. During this time, you may experience:
When it comes to the potential effects of drug and alcohol withdrawal, there is a great deal of variation based on many factors. The symptoms that patients may experience range, including nausea, vomiting, headaches, insomnia, and anxiety. Opioid withdrawal may cause diarrhea, dehydration, vomiting and other effects. Severe cases of alcohol withdrawal have been known to sometimes cause life-threatening conditions. Effects range from physical symptoms to social consequences. In order to provide a better overview of what to expect, we need to look at the effects based on the substance(s) used.
See the charts below for the full breakdown of the symptoms and side effects of drug and alcohol withdrawal.