Alcohol Withdrawal

The excessive use of alcohol can and often does lead to alcoholism or Alcohol Use Disorder (AUD). Subsequent attempts to quit drinking after alcohol dependence has formed can have devastating impacts on the physical health and wellbeing of the user. Alcohol withdrawal syndrome (AWS), a collection of alcohol withdrawal symptoms that make quitting drinking particularly challenging for the user, often spike with the sudden discontinuation or abrupt reduction in regular alcohol intake. As regular alcohol use is scaled back, treatment for alcohol withdrawal may be required to ensure the safety of the individual. Alcohol detox, the safe, medically monitored method of stabilizing symptoms of alcohol withdrawal is the first step of the recovery and healing process.

At SJRP our Florida alcohol detox center provides compassionate alcohol detox in a medically monitored setting for the safety and comfort of our clients. If you or someone you love is struggling with alcohol addiction, give us a call at 833-397-3422 to learn more about our alcohol detox program.

Alcohol withdrawal can be extremely dangerous, especially if you attempt to quit drinking without proper medical attention. Whether you or your loved one suffers from alcohol addiction, it is important to be aware of the many alcohol withdrawal symptoms, and potential complications that could arise if you attempt to quit drinking after several years of successive use. In the event you come across someone who may need your help, call St. John’s Recovery Place for immediate alcohol detox support and to learn more about alcohol withdrawal treatment options.

If you or your loved one suffers from alcoholism, it is important to familiarize yourself with the alcohol withdrawal process and potential treatment options prior to stopping your alcohol use. This way, you can begin your journey to recovery in the most thorough and safe manner possible.

What Causes Alcohol Withdrawal?

Alcohol withdrawal begins with alcohol dependence. Alcoholism, or alcohol use disorder (AUD), by definition, occurs when an individual cannot control their alcohol use.  Even when they experience severe negative consequences as a result of their alcohol abuse, someone struggling with alcoholism will continue to drink. They simply cannot quit on their own regardless of the struggles they go through as a result of their drinking habits.

But how do you become addicted to alcohol? Alcoholism or alcohol addiction often begins with a pattern of binge drinking, a situation that includes periods of heavy drinking followed by periods of abstinence. When groups of people go out to party and drink heavily one weekend after the other, this is a form of binge drinking which can form into developing a higher tolerance towards alcohol and a need for more alcohol each time you go out.

Once alcohol tolerance forms, if you continue seeking more alcohol to either feel good, or to feel better, you’ll notice that eventually, you begin to drink more frequently, not just on the weekends, but during the week now as well. More problems related to alcohol begin to occur and the more you drink, the less time you spend with friends or family. Soon, your work begins to suffer, and you cannot seem to get yourself to stop drinking, or to stop thinking about drinking. Now you have a drinking problem, but you aren’t sure how to get rid of it, so you decide to try and stop on your own, cold turkey.

This abrupt decision to quit drinking may cause alcohol withdrawal to occur.   The term alcohol withdrawal refers specifically to the changes your body goes through physically when you stop drinking alcohol suddenly after prolonged and heavy use. Alcohol withdrawal, like any other type of withdrawal, can be incredibly uncomfortable, and although oftentimes not highly dangerous, if you decide to try to undergo alcohol withdrawal without proper medical assistance, you may face potentially life-threatening complications. Few instances of withdrawal are as dangerous as alcohol withdrawal.

Alcohol is a depressant which means alcohol slows down the brain’s level of functioning to produce a sedating or depressing effect on the user. This state of brain activity eventually causes the body to compensate for the effects of the alcohol, producing more naturally occurring stimulant chemicals, in larger than average quantities in heavy drinkers. You may feel reassured by this, thinking that the body overcompensates when overconsuming alcohol in order to function normally, but this is not what is happening. The reality is, continued drinking will cause cravings to begin to set in, and soon those who have alcohol dependence become addicted. Eventually looking for any excuse to drink, at any given time.

This constant drinking comes with consequences and symptoms of its own. You may begin to recognize the consequences and decide to quit drinking in hopes of life adjusting back to “normal.” But, if you stop drinking too suddenly you run the risk of your brain is extremely overstimulated in a short period of time. The effects can be extremely difficult to cope with, dangerous, and potentially deadly. Alcohol withdrawal is very uncomfortable unless you receive appropriate medical detox for alcohol withdrawal. Attempting to detox from alcohol without medical care can be disastrous.

What Are The Symptoms of Withdrawal?

Alcohol withdrawal symptoms can range widely in both severity and the range of time in which they may take effect. Some alcohol withdrawal symptoms may occur within 8 hours following your last drink and some may not appear for several days after last consumption. You may be curious as to how and why alcohol has such a large range of time before withdrawal symptoms appear. It may even seem rather strange to you.

Just as the effects of drinking alcohol vary widely, depending on the individual’s body composition, and outlying factors such as how much they had to eat the day before binge drinking, alcohol withdrawal symptoms vary much the same. Given the severity in which some of these symptoms may occur, it is understandable to be anxious about alcohol withdrawal and what it might look like for you. Of course, you want to know what to look for.

Some of the more common symptoms of alcohol withdrawal that you can look out for include:

  • Nervousness
  • Anxiety
  • Fatigue
  • Depression
  • Sweating
  • Jumpiness
  • Shakiness
  • Irritability
  • Mood swings
  • Nightmares
  • Confusion
  • Inability to think clearly
  • Clammy skin
  • Enlarged (dilated) pupils
  • Headaches
  • Insomnia
  • Nausea
  • Loss of appetite
  • Vomiting
  • Difficulty sleeping
  • Pallor
  • Rapid heart rate
  • Tremors
  • Fever
  • Agitation
  • Delirium
  • Hallucinations
  • Seizures

Stages of  Alcohol Withdrawal

As you can see, alcohol withdrawal symptoms can be very serious and scary. This is why we stress the importance of familiarizing yourself with the symptoms of withdrawal and in the case of an emergency for yourself, a loved one, or even a stranger we recommend you call 911 for help.

Having knowledge of a situation can help you to remain calm, and to think about what you should do next, even if your next step involves finding professional help for yourself or someone you love. It is best to go through alcohol withdrawal in a safe, medically controlled environment. This limits the risk of severe complications arising during alcohol withdrawal, and should a complication arise, you are your family member will have access to immediate help as long as you choose the support of a professional alcohol detox center

Your family member may experience alcohol withdrawal in various forms. Typically, these different “types” of alcohol withdrawal describe different symptoms of withdrawal by severity. Alcohol withdrawal symptoms occur at different stages throughout the alcohol detoxification process. These different types of alcohol withdrawal include:

Many do not realize that their initial experience of alcohol withdrawal began with their first hangover, but it’s true. When you feel hungover it’s your body’s way of telling you that you had too much to drink. The upset stomach, headache, and other symptoms that you experience when you have a hangover represent your body attempting to overcompensate for the previous night (or day) of alcohol consumption.

Continued drinking, and many hangovers later, can result in severe alcoholism. Individuals who suffer from severe alcohol addiction are more likely to experience alcohol withdrawal complications during alcohol detox. Delirium Tremens, alcohol withdrawal seizures, and other serious side effects may occur. If you or someone you love has a drinking problem, please call St. John’s Recovery Place at 833-397-3422 to learn more about our Florida alcohol detox program and what we can do to help you recover.

Acute Alcohol Withdrawal

Post-acute withdrawal syndrome (PAWS), refers to a set of impairments, or withdrawal symptoms, that can persist for weeks or even months after abstaining from alcohol abuse. Essentially, PAWS represents symptoms that normally occur within the first few weeks of alcohol withdrawal (initially known as acute withdrawal symptoms), and later subside.PAWS has the potential to re-occur throughout the time of recovery often jeopardizing recovery several years later. These prolonged or recurrent symptoms can have varying degrees of severity and unfortunately are typically rather uncomfortable.

Acute alcohol withdrawal syndrome presents as a well-defined cluster of symptoms which may include complications such as Wernicke-Korsakoff Syndrome, Delirium tremens, seizures, and other serious side effects. Even after acute alcohol withdrawal subsides protracted withdrawal may persist. Alcohol withdrawal, both acute and post-acute,  is seen as a clinical complication that arises as early as the first 6 hours into withdrawal. Complications can have severe repercussions which usually occur in cases of more severe alcohol abuse. However, alcohol withdrawal has been noted to occur in some moderate and low cases of alcohol abuse and, therefore, should not be ruled out except when done so by a medical professional. Initial symptoms of acute alcohol withdrawal syndrome include:

  • Tremors
  • Anxiety
  • Insomnia
  • Restlessness
  • Nausea

More intense acute alcohol withdrawal symptoms include:

  • Low-grade fever
  • Tremors
  • Rapid breathing
  • Profuse sweating
  • Seizures
  • Delirium tremens
  • Hallucinations
  • Mental confusion
  • Disorientation

The symptoms of acute alcohol withdrawal syndrome can have dangerous side effects and are by nature, typically very unpleasant to experience. Fewer than 10% of patients will experience severe side effects.  Should dangerous side effects occur, there are safe ways to treat acute alcohol withdrawal syndrome This is why it is so important for you or your loved one to seek treatment for alcohol withdrawal and to detox in a medically supervised environment.

How is Withdrawal Diagnosed?

Diagnosing an alcohol use disorder can be hard. Those who are struggling with alcohol abuse or alcohol dependence are often secretive and will avoid friends and family to keep their addictive behaviors hidden. If your family member has been trying to hide their addiction and decides to try to quit and undergo withdrawal alone, or even experiences withdrawal accidentally, you may not immediately know what caused the problems. If very adverse withdrawal effects land your loved one in the hospital – like a sudden onset of seizures – you may not initially realize the problem was alcohol-related unless, or until your family member’s physician does a little routine testing. With a little investigation, it does not take long to diagnose the actual cause of the problem – alcohol withdrawal. Remember, withdrawal typically occurs when an individual decides to try and suddenly stop or reduce their alcohol intake.

Alcohol Withdrawal Timeline

Understanding alcohol withdrawal and what to look out for may leave you wondering a bit about the timeline. When are these alcohol withdrawal symptoms most likely to occur? What comes next? How can I prepare? These are all common concerns.

Keep in mind, when it comes to addiction recovery, the process may be a long, hard battle to fight through, and if someone you love is addicted it may take a lot of gentle, long-term coaxing in order to be effective, but the sooner you get yourself, or your loved one started on the path towards recovery, the better.

Alcohol withdrawal symptoms range from mild to severe, and sometimes these effects can occur “out of order” or for longer than they are generally noted to last – like in the case of post-acute withdrawal syndrome where symptoms can reappear several months or years later and persist indefinitely. Generally, though, the more mild signs and symptoms of alcohol withdrawal will occur as soon as 6 hours after cessation of use, or the last drink you consume. Keep in mind that these more “mild” symptoms do not mean they are comfortable symptoms. Mood swings, shaking, headache, sweating, anxiety, and more can occur as “mild” symptoms.

Typically, the alcohol withdrawal timeline looks like this:

  • 6 hours after your last drink, mild symptoms can begin to occur.
  • 24 to 48 hours after your last drink, withdrawal symptoms peak (typically).
  • Normally, moderate symptoms occur within the 12 to 24 hour
  • Alcohol withdrawal symptoms may last, and gradually taper off, in about a week.
  • If your alcohol use is more severe, and your withdrawal symptoms are more intense, withdrawal can last for 20 days or more, with the severity of symptoms ranging in intensity and occurrence throughout the process.

Treatment for Alcohol Withdrawal

Looking over the alcohol withdrawal timeline may have made you feel a mixture of anxious and hopeful. On one hand, the alcohol withdrawal process could potentially only last a week, but depending on your, or your family member’s, personal alcohol use habits, like how much is consumed, and how often alcohol is consumed, the alcohol withdrawal process can potentially be extremely uncomfortable, difficult to overcome, and long-lasting. How are you supposed to feel reassured after reading about how unpredictable withdrawal can be?

As much as alcohol withdrawal can be uncomfortable and scary, with appropriate alcohol withdrawal treatment, you or your loved one’s discomfort during this process can be eased, and more severe symptoms can either be completely avoided or at least prevented from all occurring at once, allowing the best chance to recover, in the safest manner possible. This is why professional medical supervision, in a hospital setting, while undergoing the alcohol withdrawal process is so important.

At St. John’s Recovery Place alcohol detox takes place in our controlled medically supervised unit where nurses and our full medical team are available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week to ensure client safety and comfort. Call our admissions team at 833-397-3422 to learn more about our Florida alcohol detox program and to find out if treatment at St. John’s Recovery Place is the right choice for you or your loved one.

Treatment for alcohol withdrawal includes:

  • The use of benzodiazepine medications such as Librium or Ativan to reduce agitation and to relieve minor withdrawal effects.
  • Nutritional support to restore fluids & vitamins lost during active addiction & withdrawal.
  • Ongoing clinical reassessment including vital signs to ensure client safety.
  • The use of barbiturate medications such as phenobarbital, in very rare cases, to minimize alcohol withdrawal seizures.
  • Short term use of anticonvulsants to minimize withdrawal seizure risk.
  • Clonidine and similar medication protocols to minimize blood pressure, reduce panic attacks, and treat restless leg syndrome, high pulse, and night sweats associated with alcohol withdrawal.
  • Inpatient treatment programs.
  • Outpatient treatment programs.
  • Support groups and supportive care.

Treatment for alcohol withdrawal eventually leads to inpatient alcohol addiction treatment. As you work from managing your initial withdrawal symptoms, cravings, and abstinence, to focusing on your mental, emotional, and physical healing St. John’s Recovery Place is by your side. Call our admissions team at 833-397-3422 to begin your alcohol addiction recovery journey today.

Medical Detox for Alcohol Withdrawal

Medical detox, or alcohol detoxification, can be specifically defined as a period of medical treatment and assistance used to help individuals through the first stages of their separation from alcohol abuse. Medical detox is usually accompanied by counseling and therapy, to help start you or your loved one on the path towards both physical and psychological healing.

Medical detox can be performed with medication and counseling assistance. The goal is to help you or your loved one reach a substance-free state of mind during the withdrawal period, and work towards a long-lasting alcohol-free lifestyle. The immediate goals of a medical detox program such as the inpatient alcohol detox at SJRP, are to help you through your withdrawal symptoms, to relieve the discomfort and cravings associated with mild withdrawal symptoms, and to prevent the recurrence of more dangerous, uncomfortable, and potentially life-threatening effects that may occur with the cessation of alcohol use after prolonged periods of heavy alcohol abuse.

Medical detox may be safely completed in either an inpatient or outpatient setting depending on the severity of your addiction. It is recommended that you undergo a medically monitored alcohol detox for your own safety. With readily available medical attention present, in the case of an emergency, you will know that you or your loved one will remain safe.  Contact our Florida alcohol detox center at 833-397-3422 to learn more about St. John’s detox programs and the next steps you can take towards recovery and healing.

Medication-Assisted Treatment for Alcohol Withdrawal

Medication-assisted treatment (MAT), refers to the use of specific, controlled, types of medications to reduce alcohol withdrawal symptoms and to minimize alcohol cravings long-term. Medication-assisted treatment is used alongside counseling and behavioral therapies, to help you, or your loved one, remain abstinent from alcohol for longer periods of time. St. John’s alcohol detox provides medication-assisted treatment for alcohol withdrawal to help you reach a state of permanent abstinence from this powerfully dangerous substance.

Medication-assisted treatment for alcohol withdrawal requires that medications must first be approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA).  Disulfiram, naltrexone, and acamprosate are the most commonly used FDA approved alcohol detox medications. Before beginning any of these medically-assisted treatment medications or programs, you or your loved one will have to go through a thorough evaluation of your alcohol use, general health, and alcohol withdrawal symptoms.

Medically-assisted or managed withdrawal and detoxification is a very necessary first step in the alcohol recovery journey. It may seem scary, and you may be nervous, but with the right care, counseling, and support, you or your loved one can make it through the withdrawal process and begin working through the next steps of your recovery journey.

Medications used to treat alcohol withdrawal generally focus on the reduction of cravings, minimizing withdrawal symptoms, and making the client as comfortable as possible. Clinically driven medication-assisted treatment at St. John’s Recovery Place alcohol detox includes:

  • Naltrexone (Vivitrol)
  • Disulfiram (Antabuse)
  • Acamprosate Calcium (Campral)

Naltrexone is administered to block any pleasurable effects of alcohol. This medication is commonly used long-term to help clients remain abstinent. Clients who actively take Naltrexone experience greater recovery outcomes as data suggests that the medication reduces total alcohol consumption & limits heavy alcohol consumption days as compared to other medications.

Antabuse is an oral medication that is often prescribed for daily consumption to reduce the risk of alcohol relapse. Oral Antabuse was the first-ever medication to be approved for the treatment of alcohol dependence. When Antabuse is taken regularly, and consumption of alcohol will lead to near-immediate side effects that are extremely uncomfortable and may last up to one hour. Side effects include:

  • Nausea
  • Flushing
  • Breathing troubles
  • Headache
  • Confusion
  • Blurry vision
  • Chest pain

FDA approved Acamprosate Calcium, known by the brand name Campral, can minimize symptoms of alcohol withdrawal that are commonly associated with GABA response. Campral is not administered until alcohol consumption has fully ceased and the client has several days in recovery. Campral will not reduce cravings or initiate an onslaught of negative symptoms if alcohol is used, but it will help to restore GABA and glutamate neurotransmitter systems. Campral is generally prescribed to reduce physical and emotional distress that may present in early alcohol withdrawal.

Alcohol Detox at Home

Although it is recommended that you or your family member complete a medical detox for alcohol withdrawal in a residential treatment facility, there are some situations in which it is possible for you, or your loved one, to complete detoxification at home. Outpatient detox, or detoxing at home, is typically reserved for patients with mild to moderate alcohol withdrawal syndrome and symptoms that are deemed non-life-threatening.

Outpatient alcohol detox may not have the same access to immediate medical attention, and in the case of emergency risks are much greater,  but, studies have shown that those who engage in outpatient detox followed by long-term outpatient treatment programs do experience higher levels of social support, and may have larger, stronger support systems in place by the time they enter their program of choice. Outpatient treatment is great for those who need the comforts of their loved ones, and a little more room to breathe, but it is not recommended for alcohol use disorders that were severe in nature, to begin with. For those experiencing severe alcohol withdrawal symptoms, detoxing at home could be extremely dangerous and is not recommended.

Engaging in outpatient detox does not mean you undergo detox alone. You will still need to have regular check-ins with your doctor, and you must keep in close contact with medical professionals, so they may supervise your progress through this step of your recovery. Typically, even when detox is done at home it takes about one to two weeks to complete.

Finding a Florida Alcohol Detox Center

The concept of getting started on a safe and effective recovery path may be nerve-racking for you or your loved ones. It is a long journey, fraught with difficulty, setbacks, achievements, and triumphs. And it is 100% worth undertaking. Remember, recovery is not a race, and what may work for you, may not work for someone else. Alcohol withdrawal treatment and recovery is not a one-size-fits-all program. You need to be sure you are happy with the program you are entering into.

Remember, finding a detox center or a treatment program that can help you overcome alcohol addiction is up to you. By choosing a program that best fits your needs, you have a greater chance of recovery. There are many ways to find a Florida alcohol detox center that works for you, either by doing a little online research or asking around, there is certainly no shortage of information or people who are willing to help.

Call St. John’s Recovery Place at 833-397-3422 to discuss our Florida alcohol detox programs. Our medical detox center treats alcohol addiction allowing you to rebuild your life and achieve recovery. An admissions specialist will assist you in making the decision that’s best for your recovery needs.

Remember, the first step is always the scariest, but you can do this!

References

National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. Alcohol Use Disorder. (2020, July 1).

Mayo Clinic. Alcohol Use Disorder. (2018. July 11). (2020, July 1).

Harvard Health Publishing: Harvard Medical School: Trusted Advice for a Healthier Life. Alcohol Withdrawal. (2019, April). (2020, July 2).

Medline Plus: Trusted Health Information For You. Alcohol Withdrawal. (2019, January 10). (2020, July 2).

News: Medical: Life Science. Alcohol Withdrawal. (2019, February 26). (2020, July 2).

National Center for Biotechnology Information: U.S. National Library of Medicine: National Institutes of Health. Clinical Management of Alcohol Withdrawal: A Systematic Review. (2013, December). (2020, July 2).

National Center for Biotechnology Information. Delirium Tremens (DT). (2019, December 16). (2020, July 2).

National Center for Biotechnology Information: U.S. National Library of Medicine: National Institutes of Health. Update on the Neurobiology of Alcohol Withdrawal Seizures. (2005, November). (2020, July 2).

Semel Institute for Neuroscience and Human Behavior. Dual Diagnosis Program. Post-Acute Withdrawal Syndrome (PAWS). (2020). (2020, July 2).

Alcohol Health & Research World. Alcohol Hangover: Mechanisms and Mediators. (Accessed 2020, Jule 2).

National Library of Medicine: NIH Medline Plus: Magazine. How Much is Too Much? 5 Things You Needs to Know About Binge Drinking. (2019, August 12). (2020, July 2).

Alcohol Health & Research World. Complications of Alcohol Withdrawal: Pathological Insights. (Accessed 2020, July 3).

National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. Treatment for Alcohol Problems: Finding and Getting Help. (2014). (2020, July 3).

National Center for Biotechnology Information. Withdrawal Symptoms. (2020, May 26). (2020, July 3).

National Center for Biotechnology Information. Alcohol Withdrawal. (2020, March 2). (2020, July 6).

Alcohol Health & Research World. Treatment of Alcohol Withdrawal. (Accessed 2020, July 6).

Alcohol Health & Research World. An Overview of Outpatient and Inpatient Detoxification. (Accessed 2020, July 6).

U.S. Food & Drug Administration (FDA). Information About Medication-Assisted Treatment (MAT). (2019, February 14). (2020, July 6).

National Center for Biotechnology Information: U.S. National Library of Medicine: National Institutes of Health. Use of Pharmacotherapies in the Treatment of Alcohol Use Disorders and Opioid Dependence in Primary Care. (2015). (2020, July 6).

Find Treatment. Treatment Options: What Happens Next? (2019, October). (2020, July 6).

USA. Mental Health and Substance Abuse. (2020, March 13). (2020, July 6).