Alcohol withdrawal is similar to most drug withdrawals in the sense that it can cause hallucinations, mental confusion, and disorientation that can lead to destructive, dangerous behavior. Long-term alcohol abuse has been linked to cognitive impairment and alterations in physiology that can last for years after the addict goes sober. What makes alcohol withdrawal particularly threatening, more so than heroin withdrawal, is that the physical aspect alone can cause serious injury, illness, and even death. Going “cold turkey” can quickly lead to seizures, delirium tremens, and organ failure, and is generally a bad idea—unless done under medical supervision.
What Is Alcohol Withdrawal?
Alcohol withdrawal is a set of unpleasant symptoms that occur when a person with tolerance to alcohol suddenly stops drinking. Withdrawal is most common in adults, although it affects teenagers and children as well. The more alcohol you drink, the more likely you are to develop a tolerance and experience withdrawal at some point. A single alcohol binge can result in withdrawal.
Alcohol withdrawal is not an issue of the mind, spirit, or psyche. It’s a real, clinical, medical syndrome that affects millions of people every day and keeps them drinking more and more, sinking further and further into their addiction.
Why Does Alcohol Withdrawal Happen?
Alcohol withdrawal occurs because, over time, the central nervous system (CNS) adjusts to the constant presence of alcohol in the body and achieves a state of homeostasis—of balance—in accordance to those levels. Alcohol has a depressant effect on nerve cells and how they communicate. To compensate, the CNS speeds up. Once an addict is sober, the hyperactive state continues and manifests as a range of negative feelings and emotions.
Addicts in withdrawal may experience anxiety, nervousness, irritability, mood swings, depression, and fatigue. Physical symptoms include clammy skin, headache, nausea, rapid heart rate, trembling, and sweating.
What Kind of Help Can I Get for Alcohol Withdrawal?
Medications and techniques for managing alcohol withdrawal are always improving alongside the field of neurobiology and pharmacotherapy. Qualified medical help is critical during initial withdrawal— the most painful period of days to weeks. Your first step is to commit yourself to a detoxification center and to do so ASAP. There, certified medical staff will monitor you and administer medication and counselor care as needed. Cooperate with the staff, stay driven, and you will get through your withdrawal.