Alcohol withdrawal is a serious medical condition that can be fatal, if not properly treated.
The severity of alcohol withdrawal syndrome varies, depending upon the individual’s alcohol consumption and any other underlying medical conditions.
Identifying alcohol withdrawal symptoms in an individual is important so that he or she can receive appropriate medical attention and recovery support.
Alcohol Withdrawal Symptoms and Timeline
Alcohol withdrawal symptoms usually peak around 24-72 hours, although they can present approximately 8 hours after the last drink. Symptoms can occur even if a person still has alcohol in their system. Alcohol withdrawal symptoms can include insomnia, anxiety, depression, sweating, shaking or tremors (especially of the hands), headache, confusion, hallucinations, nausea/ vomiting, and increased heart rate. Some of these symptoms can persist for weeks or months.
Delirium tremens, or DTs, is a more dangerous form of alcohol withdrawal. The symptoms of delirium tremens include seizures, hallucinations, fever, extreme disorientation and anxiety. The hallucinations experienced during DTs can be visual, auditory or tactile. Additionally, the hallucinations brought on by delirium tremens differ from those experienced during typical alcohol withdrawal because the sufferer is unaware that they are hallucinating.
It is more likely for delirium tremens to develop in a person who has undergone alcohol withdrawals before or in someone who has been alcoholic for several years. The U.S. National Library of Medicine (2013) states that if a person drinks 1 pint of hard liquor or 4-8 pints of wine/ beer on a daily basis, they are likely to experience DTs.
Alcohol Withdrawal: Additional Considerations
Other medical conditions may contribute to the symptoms of alcohol withdrawal, making them worse or causing complications. Some of these conditions are schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, pancreatitis, and liver disease. A complete medical examination, blood work and thorough medical history are important when assessing a person for treatment of alcohol withdrawal symptoms.
Deciding how to approach an individual with concerns about their alcoholism or alcohol withdrawal can be difficult. Often concerns may be met with denial and a myriad of excuses as to why that person is showing alcohol withdrawal symptoms. But getting proper medical treatment is crucial as withdrawals can turn from mild to life-threatening very quickly. Medications, hospitalizations, medical detoxifications, treatment centers and recovery support groups (such as Alcoholics Anonymous) are all useful and/ or necessary means for a safe and effective alcohol detox.
Alcohol Withdrawal: MedlinePlus Medical Encyclopedia. (2013). Retrieved June 15, 2015 http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/ency/article/000764.htm.