When Should I Seek Treatment for Alcohol Withdrawal?

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Alcoholism can affect everyone in your life, from family members to colleagues. The first step is a supervised detox when you’re ready to get alcoholism treatment. This process helps you handle withdrawal symptoms in a safe, supervised environment. It’s an essential step in managing the physical and mental discomfort as the alcohol leaves your system.

Alcohol withdrawal is different for everyone, but it often comes with severe symptoms. When you go through the process in our comfortable facility in Massachusetts, you can rest easy knowing that our experienced team is always available to provide support and assistance.

How Does Your Body Feel When You Quit Drinking?

Soon after you stop heavy alcohol use, you’ll start to feel the effects. Many people notice the physical effects first. For instance, you might feel it in your head and stomach. Vomiting and dry heaving are possible, and you may find yourself drenched in sweat. In some cases, withdrawal feels like a bad hangover that doesn’t go away as the day progresses.

If you’re dealing with mild withdrawal symptoms it is still advisable to seek medical clearance before you attempt to manage your withdrawals alone. However, there’s always the risk that they intensify enough to more severe symptoms that require medical intervention.

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Alcohol Withdrawal Symptoms

As your alcohol consumption increases over time your body can develop alcohol dependence. In other words, your body becomes accustomed to the effects of alcohol and you will then require more and more to feel “normal.”

When you drastically reduce or stop your alcohol consumption, it’s a shock to your system. As your body adjusts, the physiological changes can lead to a set of painful withdrawal symptoms. Together, this set of effects is called alcohol withdrawal syndrome. Some common symptoms that happen with alcohol withdrawal syndrome are:

  • Fatigue
  • Shakes or tremors
  • Anxiety
  • Headaches
  • Stomach upset
  • Inability to sleep
  • Extreme mood swings
  • Increased heart rate and palpitations
  • Increased blood pressure

Some people experience more severe withdrawal symptoms, such as hallucinations, seizures and delirium tremens. You might also find it difficult to control your breathing and body temperature. These intense symptoms are extremely challenging to manage on your own or even with the help of a family member. In some cases, you may experience death and/or life-threatening symptoms.

Whether you experience severe or mild symptoms depends on your unique biochemistry, how long you’ve struggled with alcoholism and your usual alcohol intake levels. Over time, excessive alcohol use can lead to the development of chronic diseases and other serious problems including: High blood pressure, heart disease, stroke, liver disease, and digestive problems. Cancer of the breast, mouth, throat, esophagus, voice box, liver, colon, and rectum.

Alcohol Withdrawal Timeline

After an extended period of alcohol abuse, it takes time for your body to adjust. As you prepare for the alcohol withdrawal process, it’s helpful to understand what to expect. While everyone handles withdrawal differently, many symptoms follow a similar timeline.

  • 6-12 hours after your last drink: As your body processes the remaining alcohol in your system, you may experience mild to severe symptoms. Common issues include headaches, gastrointestinal distress and nausea. Other physical symptoms include shaking and sweating. You may also find you feel anxious and unable to sleep or eat. During this stage, it’s likely you’ll start to feel cravings.
  • Hours 12-48: At this point, symptoms start to get worse. This is typically when hallucinations or seizures occur. From moderate to severe withdrawal, hallucinations may be visual, auditory or tactile.
  • Hours 48-72: For some people, this can be the most dangerous withdrawal phase as it is usually when severe alcohol withdrawal symptoms appear. Delirium tremens, which causes significant mental distress, are the most considerable risk. You could also experience an increase in your heart rate and blood pressure, along with a high fever.

If you’re dealing with mild alcohol withdrawal, you might experience symptoms for a few days. Acute alcohol withdrawal often lasts longer, with symptoms that persist for a week or more. 

What Is the Safest Way to Stop Drinking?

Because the way you’ll experience alcohol withdrawal can be hard to predict in advance, the safest way to stop drinking is with the help of a professional. A licensed professional can monitor your withdrawal symptoms and provide treatment if you start to show signs of clinically significant distress. This is particularly important after a long history of alcohol misuse if you have an infection or are struggling with mental health.

Supervised withdrawal also eases the burden on your loved ones. It can be emotionally disturbing to watch someone go through withdrawal. What’re more, symptoms of alcohol withdrawal can escalate quickly, creating an emergency. Having medical staff on hand keeps you safe and relieves some of the stress on your family and friends.

Treatment Options

If you’re concerned about withdrawal symptoms, an alcohol detox program is a safe first step to recovery. When you arrive at a treatment facility, you can expect an evaluation from a licensed professional. This initial meeting often includes the Clinical Institute Withdrawal Assessment Alcohol Scale, a tool that helps gauge the severity of your symptoms throughout the process.

Based on the results of your withdrawal assessment for alcohol, your team will make recommendations for individualized treatment and supportive care. When outpatient management of alcohol withdrawal isn’t possible, medical detox is a standard option. You’ll stay at the treatment center until you are medically safe to step down to a lower level of care. Many treatment centers use a symptom-triggered regimen of medications to alleviate your pain without creating additional issues. Commonly used medications include:

  • Benzodiazepines: Withdrawal may disrupt your central nervous system. Benzodiazepines have a calming effect that can help with severe or mild anxiety and insomnia. They’re often used to ease mental distress and allow you to sleep during the first phase of withdrawal.
  • Craving suppressants: Alcohol cravings can be a severe challenge during detox. Your doctor may use medications such as naltrexone or acamprosate as a way of reducing alcohol craving levels.
  • Thiamine: Alcohol misuse can reduce your Vitamin B1 (thiamine) levels, leading to other health conditions. If you have a deficiency, the doctor may prescribe supplements to help your body and brain heal.

During treatment of alcohol withdrawal, your doctor may also direct you to consume beverages high in electrolytes. In some cases, this is to offset the dehydrating effects of withdrawal. In others, it’s because conditions related to alcohol use disorder, such as liver disease or nutritional deficiencies, affect your electrolyte levels.

A medically assisted method of treating alcohol withdrawal can make the process more manageable. 

We go to great lengths to ensure you’re safe and comfortable at East Coast Recovery Center in Cohasset, Massachusetts. You don’t need to worry about other responsibilities or stressors in this supportive environment.

It’s important to note that detox is the first step in substance abuse treatment. Depending on your situation, your therapist will likely recommend continuing treatments such as an intensive outpatient program or a partial hospitalization program. East Coast Recovery is a premier treatment center that offers these levels of care.  ECR is partnered with sober living homes for those that are non-commuters and want to focus on their recovery. Get Treatment for Alcohol Withdrawal in Massachusetts

Due to the potentially high risks of at-home detox, it’s always a good idea to seek professional treatment for alcohol withdrawal. If you’re ready to start the process, East Coast Recovery Center is ready to help you. Contact us today.

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