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Recognizing Alcohol Withdrawal Symptoms

a person sits on a couch in a blanket sipping tea possibly dealing with alcohol withdrawal symptoms

For some people, the decision to stop drinking can come as a last resort. If you have been drinking heavily for a long time, the sobriety process can be incredibly challenging. A common issue is alcohol withdrawal, wherein reducing the amount of alcohol consumed often feels physically and emotionally taxing to the point where you may relapse and resume drinking.

Symptoms of alcohol withdrawal can range from mild to severe. While there are no specific tests to diagnose alcohol withdrawal, some typical symptoms become clear after someone stops heavy, habitual drinking. With the help of professional oversight at an alcohol detox center, those seeking treatment for alcohol use disorder can receive treatment and know what to expect as they navigate their recovery process.

Identifying Alcohol Withdrawal Symptoms

Acute withdrawal symptoms begin within a few hours or days after the last drink and can extend for weeks. Often the brain has adjusted to heavy alcohol consumption and isn’t able to smoothly readjust its chemistry after reducing alcohol in the body. This alteration creates dangerous changes in how the brain regulates a person’s circulation and breathing, dramatically increasing the risk of stroke, heart attack, and even death.

While not all people experience all symptoms, alcohol withdrawal occurs in a predictable pattern after your last alcohol drink. Within five to 10 hours, and typically peaking at 24 to 48 hours, an individual may experience any of the following withdrawal symptoms:

  • Tremors or shakes
  • Confusion or disorientation
  • Rapid pulse and rapid breathing
  • Increased blood pressure
  • Cravings for more alcohol
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Sweating
  • Irritability
  • Anxiety
  • Depression
  • Nightmares or insomnia

These normal symptoms can be controlled and usually pass with time, treatment, and supervision.

What Is Post-Acute Withdrawal Syndrome?

Beyond acute withdrawal is another set of symptoms. The most dangerous form of alcohol withdrawal may occur in nearly one in 20 people who experience withdrawal symptoms. Certain symptoms can emerge after the typical withdrawal period has ended, known as post-acute withdrawal syndrome (PAWS). These include:

  • Alcohol withdrawal seizures with involuntary symptoms such as shaking or loss of consciousness
  • Alcohol withdrawal hallucinations, which involve seeing and feeling things that are not real
  • Delirium tremens (DTs)

DTs commonly begin two to three days after stopping drinking but may be delayed more than a week for some individuals. Its peak intensity is usually four to five days after the last drink. This condition causes dangerous shifts in breathing, circulation, and the body’s temperature control. However, the full scope of post-acute withdrawal symptoms typically appear on the heels of acute withdrawal and can last up to a year or longer. This duration can significantly affect an individual’s recovery, increasing the risk of relapse, especially when the person is unprepared for these symptoms.

PAWS can cause significant discomfort, but there is hope. Medication-assisted treatment for alcohol withdrawal significantly reduces withdrawal symptoms and can prevent fatal outcomes like seizures and DTs. Northpoint Washington specializes in addiction treatment with a holistic approach by combining behavioral or psychological therapy with prescribed medications.

Get the Help and Support You Need at Northpoint Washington

Entering into addiction treatment for any substance use issue is a brave and difficult thing to do. Uncomfortable physical and mental health changes are part of the recovery process, but having the care and support of an experienced treatment center can ease or mitigate the discomfort. Our professional staff supports those efforts with a medical detox plan customized for each individual, giving help and hope to those suffering from substance use.

Our comprehensive addiction services offer holistic support, ensuring that you receive treatment options that best fit your needs and can help you on your path to recovery. If you or someone you care about needs help, contact Northpoint Washington today by calling 888.450.2153 to learn more about how our addiction treatment can make a difference in your life.