Alcohol withdrawal symptoms

If you are a heavy drinker or have an alcohol dependence, stopping drinking can result in a number of symptoms, known as alcohol withdrawal syndrome or delirium tremens. You may be affected by some or by all of them in varying degrees.

Why do alcoholics and heavy drinkers get withdrawal symptoms?

Alcohol has a sedating effect on the central nervous system. The brain adapts to this by producing chemicals that have a stimulating effect. When a person stops drinking, the brain continues to produce these stimulants and the body goes into a form of shock. Withdrawal symptoms can be mild to extreme, and painful and uncomfortable. Abrupt withdrawal from alcohol can lead to permanent brain damage with short-term memory loss or even death. If the alcohol problem is severe, it is important that the withdrawal (or detox) is carried out in a medically supervised environment where medication from a group of tablets known as benzodiazepines (which includes Librium and Valium) may be prescribed to alleviate the alcohol withdrawal symptoms.

Physical symptoms of alcohol withdrawal

  • Mild fever
  • Tremors (shaking)
  • Cold sweats
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Diarrhoea
  • Loss of consciousness
  • Seizures

Psychological symptoms of alcohol withdrawal

  • Insomnia
  • Anxiety
  • Restlessness
  • Sudden mood changes
  • Nightmares
  • Confusion
  • Hallucinations

Should I get residential help for alcohol withdrawal?

Sudden withdrawal from alcohol can be life-threatening. The symptoms described above can be intense and hard to manage, both physically and psychologically. This can quickly become too difficult for the person in withdrawal. They will not achieve the desired result but feel drawn back to alcohol use. It can also be very difficult to manage for the family member or loved one who is trying to look after the alcohol-addicted person through this process, and who does not have the emotional strength to motivate them nor the medical expertise needed to make sure the symptoms are minimised.

Withdrawal in the physical sense of the addiction can take from seven to ten days – and in extreme cases, even longer. Ask yourself is this really safe or achievable without medical support and monitoring, and without a professional to help you manage the psychological feelings you will be experiencing? Home alcohol detox is available but treatment for withdrawal is usually more effective in a residential detox clinic where alcoholics get support around the clock. Furthermore alcohol is less accessible in a residential treatment centre so there the risk of relapse is reduced.