Alcohol Withdrawal: The Dangers of Suddenly Quitting Alcohol

When a person is physically and psychologically dependent on alcohol, it can have negative effects on every aspect of their life. Alcohol withdrawal symptoms can be very dangerous and are a potential roadblock to recovery.

Someone may have the desire to quit drinking but continue because they’re scared of the hazardous and extremely uncomfortable symptoms of alcohol withdrawal. If you believe you or a loved one is caught in the unhealthy cycle of alcohol use, East Coast Recovery is here to show you the path toward recovery.

Education about alcohol addiction is the first step toward reclaiming your life. In order to better understand whether or not you’re at risk for alcohol withdrawal symptoms, it’s important to have an understanding of what qualifies as alcohol use disorder (AUD) and how alcohol affects the bodies and minds of its users.

What Qualifies as Alcohol Use Disorder (AUD)?

As mentioned above, a person may be diagnosed with AUD if their drinking habits have started to affect aspects of their life in a negative way. From an outside perspective, determining whether or not a person is suffering from AUD is not always an easy task. There are a number of behaviors and patterns to look for that suggest you or a loved one may be suffering from AUD.

The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM) states that anyone who meets 2 of the 11 following criteria within a 12-month period may be diagnosed with an alcohol use disorder. Here are some questions to consider to accurately assess whether you or a loved one may have AUD. In the past year, have you:

  • Had times when you ended up drinking more, or longer, than you intended?
  • More than once wanted to cut down or stop drinking, or tried to, but couldn’t?
  • Spent a lot of time drinking? Or being sick or getting over the aftereffects?
  • Experienced a craving — a strong need or urge — to drink?
  • More than once gotten into situations while or after drinking that increased your chances of getting hurt (such as driving, swimming, using machinery, walking in a dangerous area, or having unsafe sex)?
  • Found that drinking, or being sick from drinking, often interfered with taking care of your home or family? Or caused job troubles? Or school problems?
  • Continued to drink even though it was causing trouble with your family or friends?
  • Given up or cut back on activities that were important or interesting to you, or gave you pleasure, in order to drink?
  • Continued to drink even though it was making you feel depressed or anxious, or adding to another health problem? Or after having had a memory blackout?
  • Had to drink much more than you once did to get the effect you wanted? Or found that your usual number of drinks had much less effect than before?
  • Found that when the effects of alcohol were wearing off, you had withdrawal symptoms, such as trouble sleeping, shakiness, irritability, anxiety, depression, restlessness, nausea, or sweating? Or sensed things that were not actually there?

If you or a loved one has experienced any of these symptoms, your drinking habits may already be cause for concern. The more symptoms you’ve experienced, the more likely it is that you’ve become physically dependent on alcohol.

Frequent Alcohol Use and Its Effect on the Brain

In order to understand why there are such negative side effects when a person stops drinking, it’s important to understand the chemical effects of habitual alcohol use on the brain. Alcohol is classified as a substance that has depressant effects on its users. This means alcohol use initially has a calming and relaxing effect on the user. Over time, this depressant effect starts to have very negative consequences because these desired effects are actually the result of the drug interfering with the way the brain naturally communicates.

Heavy drinking can even interfere with the section of the brain that’s responsible for key bodily functions like breathing. It can make it so a person takes shallow and slow breaths, leading to a dangerously low level of oxygen in the blood. The risk for this slowed breathing is compounded when a person consumes other substances, such as prescription painkillers, with alcohol. This situation is known as polysubstance use and is incredibly dangerous and often fatal.

Alcohol use directly affects the section of the brain responsible for feelings of pleasure. This part of the brain releases a neurotransmitter (signal carrier) called dopamine. Dopamine is a chemical messenger that’s responsible for many positive emotions such as happiness, contentment, pleasure, and even memory. Alcohol tells this section of the brain to release dopamine at unnatural rates, interfering with the way a person naturally feels pleasure.

Over time, the brain begins to adjust to this newfound source of dopamine and stops producing the chemical messenger on its own. When alcohol is suddenly removed from the equation, the brain is left to function abnormally. This lack of natural dopamine leads to many of the psychological symptoms of alcohol withdrawal. Over time, the brain is usually able to return to normal function, but there will be a period of negative mental and emotional symptoms.

If you or a loved one has developed an addiction to alcohol, East Coast Recovery is here to help you find the path toward success in recovery.

Minor Symptoms of Alcohol Withdrawal

If a person fits the criteria for AUD, alcohol withdrawal can start to take effect within 12 to 24 hours after the person’s last drink. For people suffering from long-term or severe AUD, the symptoms of alcohol withdrawal can start to take effect much sooner, after just a few hours in some cases.

If someone has suffered from AUD for a long period of time, they may have structured their lifestyle in a way that allows them to maintain a constantly elevated level of alcohol in their blood. For these people, lowering the blood alcohol content (BAC) even slightly can lead to adverse effects on the brain and body.

Many of the more mild symptoms of alcohol withdrawal can begin to show themselves within 6 hours of a person’s last drink. Some of these symptoms may include:

  • Headache
  • Anxiety
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Intense sweating
  • Insomnia or trouble sleeping

While these initial symptoms can be extremely uncomfortable and potentially severe, they are not believed to be life-threatening.

Dangerous Symptoms of Alcohol Withdrawal

The most dangerous consequences of alcohol withdrawal occur when a person experiences a syndrome known as sudden alcohol cessation (SAC). SAC occurs in the early stages of alcohol detox and is the result of the body being in shock due to a lack of alcohol in the system. The more long-term and severe the person’s addiction to alcohol, the more severe the consequences of SAC can be. The majority of deaths that occur due to alcohol withdrawal happen during this stage of detox.

When a person is experiencing SAC, they can expect to go through all of the mild symptoms mentioned above as well as a whole host of more severe symptoms. Some of these more severe issues include:

  • Heart issues: When alcohol is suddenly removed from the bloodstream, it can cause negative changes to the beat or rhythm of the heart. This occurs because the lack of alcohol affects the ways the muscles of the heart contract and pump. In some cases, these heart effects are severe enough to cause cardiac arrest (heart attack) and even death.

Over time, habitual alcohol use can cause damage to the tissues of the heart. While the severe heart issues mentioned above are typically only experienced by older, long-term drinkers, anyone who attempts to detox from alcohol without medical supervision is at risk to develop heart complications.

  • Delirium tremens (DTs): The symptoms of DTs can begin to show themselves 24 to 48 hours after a person’s last drink. DTs are a form of psychosis, and someone experiencing them may be irrationally agitated, disoriented, and confused. They may also experience intense visual or auditory hallucinations, meaning they may see or hear things that aren’t actually there.

Along with this, they may also develop an extreme sensitivity to light and sound. Extreme cases of DTs can also cause a person to fall into a deep, coma-like state in which they sleep for days on end. During this stage in detox, a person is at a high risk for potentially deadly seizures.

  • Malnutrition: People who have been suffering from AUD for an extended period of time may have also been neglecting proper nutrition. Over time, this can lead to the lack of essential nutrients the body needs to function properly. Even alcohol users who consume the proper amount of nutrients may experience issues with malnutrition.

This is because, over time, alcohol use can begin to damage the lining of the stomach. A damaged stomach lining makes it much more difficult for the body to absorb essential nutrients. People going through medically supervised detox are often given nutritional supplements and medications in an effort to offset some of these nutritional deficiencies.

Why Should I Consider a Detox Program?

When you first start to notice the signs of alcohol use disorder in yourself or a loved one, it’s very important to consider medically supervised alcohol detox as an option. Alcohol detox is not only important because alcohol withdrawal can be extremely dangerous, it’s also very important because it’s often the first step toward a lifetime of success in recovery.

Medically supervised alcohol detox can be incredibly important for the overall health and wellbeing of someone who wants to quit alcohol for good. The withdrawal period can be extremely difficult and even dangerous. Because of this, many insurance providers view detox as necessary care for those suffering from AUD.

Detox is also the first step in identifying any underlying mental health conditions that may have led to alcohol addiction in the first place. This means that starting your recovery journey with detox can not only ease the burden from an insurance and medical standpoint, it can also give your care team a solid foundation for treating your mental health. Being able to address the reasons why a person uses alcohol is key in helping them achieve long-term success in recovery. This is also why choosing a treatment center that offers a full range of services can be critical in achieving lasting sobriety and wellness.

Alcohol Rehab at East Coast Recovery Can Give You The Best Possible Chance at a Positive Outcome in Recovery

Alcohol is the most widely accepted intoxicant across the globe, from both a cultural and legal perspective. It has played an important role in culture since the dawn of humanity, and, in modern times, there are many reasons why someone may drink.

Celebration, socialization, and relaxation are all culturally acceptable reasons for drinking. Despite the cultural acceptance of alcohol use, for many it can be a very slippery slope. What was once a joyous activity can quickly become a source of shame, depression, stress, and any number of mental and physical health issues.

While alcohol may not get the same attention from the media that other substances receive, alcohol use disorder remains an issue in Norfolk County. According to county health rankings, 21% of adults in Norfolk County engage in heavy or binge drinking on a regular basis. The nationwide alcohol use numbers also suggest that AUD is hardly just a local issue.

At East Coast Recovery Center, our community-based approach to treating alcohol use disorder uses evidence-based programs to give you the best foundation for health and sobriety. We strongly believe in the community-fostering principles of Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) and 12-step programs. We also believe the first step in conquering an issue is understanding the issue.

With Us at East Coast Recovery

At East Coast Recovery Center, we realize and celebrate that there are many paths to recovery. That’s why our alcoholism treatment program offers a variety of different therapies and methods to find the approach that works for you. Your journey may differ from the journeys of others, but we’ll be there every step of the way, guiding you toward the path that is most effective in helping you achieve your goals in recovery.

Call us today at (617) 390-8349 to get started on your journey toward success in recovery.


What happens after 4 days of not drinking?

For someone who suffers from alcohol use disorder (AUD), they may be just beginning to experience the most severe symptoms of alcohol withdrawal after 4 days. This is the most dangerous period of alcohol withdrawal as the person is at high risk for heart issues and potentially deadly seizures.

What are the side effects of not drinking?

The side effects of not drinking (for someone who is addicted to alcohol) can range from minor to potentially life-threatening. These can include minor symptoms such as anxiety, depression, insomnia (inability to sleep), nausea, and vomiting. They can also include severe symptoms such as delirium tremens (DTs), heart issues, and potentially fatal seizures.

Can your body go into shock if you stop drinking?

Many people suffering from alcohol use disorder can experience a syndrome known as sudden alcohol cessation (SAC). This occurs when the body goes into shock due to a lack of alcohol in the system. Over time, the body adjusts to an elevated level of alcohol in the bloodstream. When alcohol is suddenly removed from the equation, the brain and body are left to readjust. This leads to SAC and all of the negative effects of alcohol withdrawal.

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