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If you are thinking of finally seeking help for alcohol addiction, you have already taken the most difficult step on your road to recovery. However, you might have heard about some of the withdrawal symptoms that heavy drinkers experience while detoxing.
It is important to know what you have to face as part of your rehab treatment before it happens so you know what to expect. That way, you can make sure you have taken the necessary precautions. This will help you manage the worst of the alcohol withdrawal symptoms so you get through it smoothly.
That’s why we wrote this guide to run you through all of the 10 alcohol withdrawal symptoms you may experience.
Table of Contents
- What is Alcohol Withdrawal Syndrome (AWS)?
- What are the symptoms of alcohol withdrawal?
- How Are Alcohol Withdrawal Symptoms Treated?
What Is Alcohol Withdrawal Syndrome (AWS)?
When we talk about people experiencing physical and mental effects of withdrawal as they detox from alcohol abuse, we are referring to Alcohol Withdrawal Syndrome (AWS). It is the clinical name given to the set of 9 symptoms that a heavy drinker may deal with after they suddenly stop or significantly cut down on their alcohol consumption.
The symptoms can range from being more of a mild annoyance to something that can actually be fatal if not treated properly by professionals. The latter only exists in extreme cases where someone has been a very heavy drinker for a long period of time and is very rare.
However, there are many other factors that affect the types and severity of symptoms each individual might experience. We strongly advise anyone thinking of cutting off their alcohol abuse to consult with a medical or rehab professional to plan their detox.
Who is most at risk for alcohol withdrawal symptoms?
The golden rule for predicting whether or not you will experience alcohol withdrawal symptoms, including the most dangerous, is how long and how heavily you have abused alcohol? The longer you have been a heavy drinker, the worse your symptoms will generally be.
What Are the Symptoms of Alcohol Withdrawal?
Here is a list of the 10 types of alcohol withdrawal symptoms you may experience as you recover from alcohol addiction.
#1 Anxiety and agitation
One of the mildest and most immediate symptoms you may experience is a feeling of anxiety and agitation. This is usually tied to a feeling that if you just have another drink, you will feel better. It is one of the fastest symptoms to fade away.
#2 Headache and disorientation
Another early symptom is experiencing headaches and feeling disoriented. How severe these symptoms are will depend on how heavily you drank and for how long — the headaches can feel like migraines, and the disorientation can turn into hallucinations (see below).
#3 Nausea and vomiting
The headaches, disorientation and general addiction withdrawal can also lead you to feel nauseous to the point that you may experience vomiting.
#4 Fever and sweating
As your brain still strains itself to overcome the depressing effects of alcohol that you aren’t consuming anymore, it will literally overheat. You may feel feverish to the point that you experience excessive sweating.
It is very common for people detoxing from their alcohol addiction to have temporary insomnia during their withdrawal. This may be due simply to the other symptoms making it too difficult to fall asleep, or because your central nervous system is still going haywire.
#6 Shaking and tremors
You may find that you physically shake, especially in your hands, for most of your withdrawal period. It may be severe enough to be full tremors that are accompanied by heavier breathing and an increased heart rate.
#7 High blood pressure
That increased heart rate is likely due to an increased blood pressure you experience during your withdrawal. It can rise and drop very dramatically, putting you at risk of suffering a fatal heart attack and stroke.
The milder feeling of disorientation may turn into more serious hallucinations, where you think that you are seeing, smelling or feeling things that aren’t real. A common type of hallucination is the feeling of bugs crawling on your skin.
Another extreme symptom of withdrawal is the seizures, a more extreme version of the tremors you might experience. It is not uncommon for someone to experience multiple small seizures over the first day or two. They may be severe enough that you lose consciousness as well.
#10 Delirium Tremens (DT)
Delirium tremens is the most extreme state of an alcohol withdrawal syndrome that only 5% of recovering alcohol abusers will experience. It involves the most severe form of confusion, agitation, fever, seizures, hallucinations, and blood pressure fluctuations. The combination of the severity and number of symptoms makes it a medical emergency, where you could die without immediate medical supervision.
How Are Alcohol Withdrawal Symptoms Treated?
Depending on your situation and how likely you are to face the more severe symptoms, you may be told to seek different types of help or supervision as you detox. It is always advisable to consult a medical practitioner or rehab professional ahead of time so they can recommend the best course of action for you to take.
In general, there are a few different levels of medical supervision or intervention to help you manage and treat the withdrawal symptoms. Think of them as a safety net to prevent them from doing harm or even costing you your life. Here are the different levels of care:
- Home care with supervision
- Outpatient treatment
- Medication-assisted therapy
- Hospitalization / inpatient treatment
One of the benefits of seeking addiction recovery treatment from a rehab center is that they have the facilities and medical staff to help you through the worst of your symptoms. They can prescribe medications to lessen the severity of the symptoms, they can supervise you to make sure you don’t hurt yourself during a hallucination or seizure, and they can monitor your situation in case you need medical intervention.