if you drink alcohol heavily for weeks, months, or years, you may have both mental and physical problems when you stop or seriously cut back on how much you drink. This is called alcohol withdrawal and symptoms can range from mild to serious.
If you drink only once in a while, it’s unlikely that you’ll have withdrawal symptoms when you stop. But if you’ve gone through alcohol withdrawal once, you’re more likely to go through it again the next time you call it quits.
What Effects Does Alcohol Have on Your Body?
Alcohol has what doctors call a depressive effect on your system. It slows down brain function and changes the way your nerves send messages back and forth. Excessive drinking excites and irritates the nervous system. If you drink daily, your body becomes dependent on alcohol over time. When this happens, your central nervous system can no longer adapt easily to the lack of alcohol.
Alcohol can impact your brain’s neurotransmitters. These are chemicals that act as your brain’s messengers to other parts of your brain and nervous system.
When you drink, the alcohol suppresses certain neurotransmitters in your brain. This is what can cause you to feel relaxed when drinking.
When the neurotransmitters are no longer suppressed but are used to working harder to overcome the suppression, they go into a state of overexcitement. If you suddenly stop drinking or significantly reduce the amount of alcohol you drink, it can cause alcohol withdrawal.
Alcohol withdrawal refers to symptoms that may occur when a person who has been drinking too much alcohol on a regular basis suddenly stops drinking alcohol. They can range from mild to serious. What yours depend on how much you drank and for how long.
What Are the Symptoms of Alcohol Withdrawal
U.S. National Library of Medicine states: Alcohol withdrawal symptoms usually occur within 8 hours after the last drink, but can occur days later. Symptoms usually peak by 24 to 72 hours but may go on for weeks.
Common symptoms include:
- Anxiety or nervousness
- Jumpiness or shakiness
- Mood swings
- Not thinking clearly
Other symptoms may include:
- Sweating, clammy skin
- Enlarged (dilated) pupils
- Insomnia (sleeping difficulty)
- Loss of appetite
- Nausea and vomiting
- Rapid heart rate
- Tremor of the hands or other body parts
A severe form of alcohol withdrawal called delirium tremens can cause:
- Seeing or feeling things that aren’t there (hallucinations)
- Severe confusion
Delirium tremens (DTs) is the most severe form of alcohol withdrawal. Observations show that clinical manifestations include agitation, confusion, disorientation, hallucinations, fever, hypertension, diaphoresis, and autonomic hyperactivity. Profound global confusion is the hallmark of delirium tremens. DTs is a medical emergency with a high mortality rate, making early recognition and treatment essential.
Why Do Alcoholics Get the DT’s?
According to the National Library of Medicine, delirium tremens can occur when you stop drinking alcohol after a period of heavy, long-term drinking, especially if you haven’t been eating enough food.
Delirium tremens may also be caused by head injury, infection, or illness in people with a history of heavy alcohol use.
It occurs most often in people who have a history of alcohol withdrawal. It is especially common in those who drink 4 to 5 pints (1.8 to 2.4 liters) of wine, 7 to 8 pints (3.3 to 3.8 liters) of beer, or 1 pint (1/2 liter) of “hard” alcohol every day for several months. Delirium tremens also commonly affects people who have used alcohol for more than 10 years.
Treatments for DTs may include:
- intravenous fluids
- anticonvulsants to prevent or stop seizures
- sedatives to calm agitation and treat anxiety
- antipsychotic medications to prevent hallucinations
- medication to reduce fever and body aches
- treatment for other alcohol-related conditions
- rehabilitation to help you stop drinking
Delirium Tremens can be fatal. Your doctor may suggest that you receive treatment in a hospital so your healthcare team can monitor your condition and manage any complications. It may take up to a week for you to feel better.
Rehabilitation is a long-term treatment plan intended to help treat alcohol addiction.
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