The decision to quit alcohol or any type of addictive substance comes at a price. Alcohol slows down brain function and alters the way the nerves sends messages. The problem starts when the central nervous system gets used to having alcohol all the time. The brain adjusts by producing stimulating chemicals like serotonin to compensate for the depressant effect of alcohol. But when you quit, the brain remains on its accelerated state, resulting in a withdrawal symptoms.
Mild signs and symptoms of withdrawal usually manifest only hours after you quit. More serious symptoms appear within 12 to 24 hours. Most of the milder symptoms include anxiety, shaky hands, headaches, nausea, and sweating. The more serious ones may include hallucinations and seizures.
There is a small percentage of people, however, who can experience more severe symptoms called delirium tremens (DTs). DTs are severe symptoms that include vivid hallucinations and delusions that often start within 48 to 72 hours after an alcoholic quits. In addition to hallucinations, one experience DT may experience confusion, a racing heart, hypertension, fever, and heavy sweating.
The Industrial Psychiatry Journal, in a 2013 literature review, described alcohol withdrawal syndrome by severity and syndromes.
Minor withdrawal symptoms can set in as early as six hours after the last alcohol intake. Seizures within this timeframe can hit a person with a long history of heavy drinking.
12 to 24 hours
A smaller percentage of people experience alcohol withdrawal may experience hallucinations within this timeframe.
24 to 48 hours
Minor withdrawal symptoms like headaches continue up to this time and may peak at the 18th to 24th hour. These minor symptoms will start to decrease after four to five days.
48 hours to 72 hours
DTs may be experienced by a small number of individuals and may happen around this time. DTs cause a high heart rate and temperature and seizures.
Moderate symptoms such as rapid heart rate and illusions may happen at this point, and may last for months in some cases. Around this time, withdrawal symptoms are at their worst.
Factors Affecting Withdrawal
A number of factors may affect the length of withdrawal. For DTs, common risk factors include abnormal liver function, history of DTs and seizures, low platelet, potassium, and sodium levels, age, and use of other drugs, among others. Those with these risk factors are advised to withdraw in a rehab facility where they can be assisted by qualified addiction specialists.
The Clinical Institute for Withdrawal Assessment for Alcohol is often used to determine the treatment needed for withdrawal symptoms. Medications are often prescribed for those with moderate to severe symptoms.
Medications may include benzodiazepines like diazepam, alprazolam, and lorazepam, which are prescribed to reduce the likelihood of having a seizure. Doctors may also administer nutritional supplements like folic acid and magnesium to compensate for nutrient deficiencies resulting from prolonged alcohol use.
Medications may continue after the withdrawal symptoms have receded. These medicines are used to prevent the likelihood of falling into addiction again. Medications used in this phase often include disulfiram and naltrexone, which reduce alcohol cravings, and topiramate, a medication that helps reduce alcohol consumption.
Orange County Alcohol Rehab
Our treatment programs in Orange County offer a complete treatment program that integrates mental health, substance abuse, and primary care services. We offer detox, both 12-step and SMART recovery groups, and a comprehensive alcohol treatment program. We are not a one size fits all treatment facility, and this sets us apart from other treatment centers. Our treatment plans in Orange County are customized to each patient’s needs and preferences and are administered by our staff of highly motivated and expert professionals.
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We believe and have proven many times that addictions can be effectively and safely treated. Our Orange County Xanax rehab facility offers inpatient and outpatient care for addiction and our aftercare programs ensure that you have the tools you need to maintain sobriety when the formal treatment is through.
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