Alcohol Addiction Withdrawal
Alcohol withdrawal may occur in those who have developed a physical dependence to the substance. Alcohol is believed to cause its effects on the brain and body by enhancing the activity of the inhibitory neurotransmitter GABA. With chronic alcohol use, the central nervous system adjusts to the drug’s presence, and GABA receptors become less responsive to alcohol. The user needs higher amounts to achieve the same effect (this phenomenon is known as tolerance). 1
When a person who is dependent on alcohol cuts back or quits drinking completely, the central nervous system rebounds and goes into a hyper-aroused state, which leads to withdrawal symptoms. 1
Because some aspects of withdrawal can be dangerous, especially for severe alcoholics, medical intervention may be necessary. A combination of treatment methods is essential in safeguarding against relapse.
The more a person drinks, the greater the odds that he or she will suffer alcohol withdrawal symptoms.
People who drink daily and consume large amounts (more than 8 drinks a day) for multiple days are at high risk for withdrawal as a result. People who drink regularly and have co-occurring medical conditions, family members with alcoholism, have gone through withdrawal before, and use alcohol with other sedative drugs are also at risk. 3
The most common alcohol withdrawal symptoms include:
Learn more about alcohol withdrawal symptoms.
The most profound type of alcohol withdrawal is called delirium tremens (DTs). This can result in hallucinations, severe mental confusion, fever and increased heart rate2 Another serious symptom of alcohol withdrawal is seizures. Seizures may occur with or without symptoms of delirium tremens.
Seizures are most common within the first 12 to 48 hours after the last drink and are more likely to occur in people who have had complications from alcohol withdrawal in the past. 4
Alcohol Withdrawal Treatment Methods and Options for Help
The safest method for alcohol withdrawal is to detox under the care of medical professionals. A physician or other healthcare provider can treat any mental or psychological symptoms and prescribe any necessary medications. They can minimize the risk of serious complications, such as seizure, and otherwise make the process as comfortable as possible.
Supervision and support can be provided in a professional detoxification program staffed by doctors, nurses, and addiction counselors. Many recovering alcoholics benefit from such close medical attention and experience better outcomes following the initial treatment.
Common alcohol withdrawal treatment options include detox centers, inpatient rehabilitation centers, hospitals, and outpatient rehab programs.
. Saitz, R. (1998). Introduction to Alcohol Withdrawal. Alcohol Health and Research World 22(1).
. Herron, A. and Brennan, T.K. (2015). The ASAM Essentials of Addiction Medicine: Second Edition. Wolters Kluwer.
. Diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders: DSM-5. (2013). Washington, D.C.: American Psychiatric Association.
. U.S. National Library of Medicine: Medline Plus. (2015). Delirium Tremens.