Symptoms of alcohol withdrawal do not happen for people who drink occasionally. Instead, it occurs in users who drink for prolonged periods of time, usually alcoholics. The withdrawal process happens because the body has become dependent on alcohol. When you remove the substance, then the body must withdrawal from alcohol and restabilize.
Withdrawal from alcohol can be both physical, in the body, as well as psychological, in the mind.
What Causes the Symptoms?
Alcohol has a depressive effect on your body, meaning that it slows down the central nervous system significantly. It severely reduces brain function and impairs nerve functioning.
With long-term alcohol use, the Central Nervous System (CNS) becomes accustomed to the depressive effects and adjusts for the daily alcohol intake. The brain begins to overstimulate itself so that it can remain at a functioning level, even under the depressive effects.
Heavy drinkers eventually become dependent on alcohol as the CNS learns to expect the depressive effects of alcohol.
When there is a sudden abstinence from alcohol, such as when a person decides to become clean, the brain continues in the over-stimulated state. Without the depressive effects of alcohol, this excited state can be unbearable to experience. These are the experienced symptoms of withdrawal from alcohol.
Signs and Symptoms
The symptoms of alcohol withdrawal can range from mild to severe. The earliest of symptoms can occur after a bout of heavy drinking, such as with binge drinking, and is often referred to as a “hangover”. Severe withdrawal symptoms occur with long-term alcohol use, such as with alcoholics. Sometimes, the alcohol detoxification process can be deadly.
Heavy drinkers or those who partake in binge drinking will all experience mild to moderate withdrawal symptoms, sometimes called alcohol withdrawal syndrome. Mild withdrawal symptoms, like those of a hangover, often include:
- The shakes
- Inability to sleep
- Racing heart
- High blood pressure
More severe withdrawal symptoms can be downright terrifying.
Sometimes, alcoholics will experience hallucinations about 12 to 24 hours after they quit drinking. Some will experience seizures within the first two days after the last drink.
When the onset of symptoms is severe, they may be delirium tremens, or DTs as it is commonly called.
Delirium tremens is a rapid onset of confusion, vivid hallucinations, and possibly withdrawal seizures within 48 to 72 hours after your last drink. DTs can occur in up to 10% of alcoholics that go through the withdrawal process.
Delirium tremens have a mortality rate of nearly 35% when not treated medically, making alcohol one of the most dangerous substances to detox from.
Many alcoholics, up to 20 percent, experience hallucinations but are not at the same risk as those who experience DT. In this instance, it is called alcoholic hallucinosis. In the case of alcoholic hallucinosis, the user will experience auditory, visual, or tactile hallucinations. These hallucinations will begin 12-24 hours after the last drink.