How Do You Withdraw From Alcohol?

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Alcohol use disorder is one of the leading health problems in the United States. Whether you’ve seen it in the media or have experienced it in your own life, it’s important to know the deeper risks of drinking.

If you only drink alcohol in moderation, you likely won’t ever have major health issues. However, those who abuse alcohol will face psychological and psychological problems. Sooner or later, you’ll have to withdraw from alcohol and get sober. However, alcohol withdrawal itself can be a frightening and dangerous experience.

In this article, we’ll cover all you need to know about alcohol abuse and what happens when you withdraw from alcohol.

What is Alcohol Abuse?

Alcohol, which is derived from ethanol, is a substance that can induce feelings of relaxation, euphoria, and decreased inhibition when consumed. It acts as a central nervous system depressant (though paradoxically can have stimulative effects) and affects various parts of the brain.

Aspects of the mind alcohol can influence include mood and reasoning. It also has a big impact on fine motor skills. Blood alcohol level is how we measure someone’s level of intoxication. 

Because of its euphoric effects, alcohol is commonly abused. Alcohol abuse refers to a pattern of dysfunctional behavior, such as chronic drinking and binge drinking. The more alcohol abuse someone engages in, the harder it is to withdraw from alcohol down the line.

The reasons people abuse alcohol include:

  • Peer pressure
  • Coping mechanism
  • Self-medication
  • Physical dependence

Globally, around 283 million people suffered from an alcohol use disorder in 2016, which represents 3.8% of the global population. In the US alone, thirty million people suffer from the disorder. Issues like liver disease are a real possibility for those who abuse alcohol. 

If you or a loved one suffer from alcohol use disorder, know there is help available. Qualified professionals can help you safely withdraw from alcohol.

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What Are the Dangers of Alcohol Abuse?

For people who suffer from alcohol use disorder, a host of problems can easily emerge, including:

  • Mood swings
  • Damaged relationships
  • Problems at work
  • Financial issues
  • Trouble with the law
  • Higher likelihood of car accidents
  • Physical issues such as liver, heart, or brain damage
  • Creation or exacerbation of preexisting mental health issues such as depression or anxiety
  • Increased chances of developmental abnormalities (if consumed during pregnancy)
  • Alcohol poisoning
  • Addiction

One of the biggest dangers of alcohol abuse is alcohol withdrawal syndrome. For those who’ve developed a dependence, abrupt cessation can lead to withdrawal symptoms such as tremors, hallucinations, and, in extreme cases, life-threatening complications. People with severe addictions can die while trying to withdraw from alcohol.

It’s crucial to recognize these dangers not just for individual safety, but also for the well-being of broader society. Early intervention, support systems, and professional treatment can make a significant difference in addressing and mitigating the consequences of alcohol abuse.

What Is Alcohol Withdrawal?

When you withdraw from alcohol, you may experience various symptoms. This is especially true if you’ve been drinking regularly and suddenly stop drinking alcohol.

Alcohol withdrawal syndrome happens because chronic alcohol consumption can lead the body to become physically dependent on alcohol. Over time, the brain adapts to the continuous presence of alcohol.

When the alcohol is suddenly removed, the brain remains in this hyper-excitable state, leading to withdrawal symptoms.

The severity and presentation of alcohol withdrawal symptoms can vary based on how much and how long someone has been drinking, their general physical condition, and how quickly they reduce their alcohol consumption.

Mild Withdrawal Symptoms (Six hours after last drink):

  • Tremors (shakes)
  • Anxiety or nervousness
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Insomnia or sleeping difficulties
  • Sweating
  • Rapid heartbeat

More Serious Alcohol Withdrawal Symptoms (Between 48 to 72 hours after the last drink):

  • Delirium Tremens
  • Intense confusion
  • Fever
  • Seizures
  • Severe agitation or feeling very agitated
  • Tremors
  • Hallucinations

It can be dangerous to suddenly stop drinking alcohol on your own. Some of the risks of unsupervised withdrawal include seizures, dehydration, choking on one’s own vomit, injuries from falls during seizures or hallucinations, and the development of delirium tremens. Death can occur in severe cases.

Can You Die From Alcohol Withdrawal?

Yes, alcohol withdrawal can be dangerous and sometimes deadly. There are two primary aspects of the withdrawal process that can kill you:

  • Seizures — Those who have been drinking for years can experience seizures when they withdraw from alcohol. These seizures are violent and uncontrollable, and can lead to choking, aspiration, or physical injury.
  • Delirium Tremens — Also known as “DT’s,” this is a serious condition that causes a variety of dangerous withdrawal symptoms, including confusion, disorientation, hyperactivity, seizures, heart attack, and stroke. Without appropriate treatment, DT’s has a mortality rate of up to 75%.

Because of these risks, anyone considering stopping alcohol after prolonged and heavy use should seek medical advice.

A medically supervised detoxification is often the safest route, as medications and interventions can be provided to mitigate the symptoms and potential complications of withdrawal. Only after a proper medical detox is it safe to withdraw from alcohol – and then, under professional supervision.

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How Do You Withdraw From Alcohol?

Withdrawal from alcohol, particularly for a heavy drinker over an extended period, can be difficult and dangerous. Symptoms range from mild to moderate to severe in some cases. 

Here’s a breakdown of what to expect from the detox and withdrawal process.

First, you’ll go through a medical assessment that will include your medical history, a physical exam, a mental health assessment, and blood tests to assess liver function. 

Then, under the supervision of medical professionals, your body will completely rid itself of alcohol. Medications can be used to help manage symptoms as you withdraw from alcohol. You may begin to have a craving for alcohol at this time.

After detox is complete you may receive supportive care, depending on your needs. This can include intravenous fluids and nutritional supplements to address dehydration. Professionals may also check your mental state.

If everything looks good, you’ll then proceed to the next phase: alcohol addiction treatment.

Alcohol Addiction Treatment at South Coast Behavioral Health

If you or a loved one are struggling with alcohol addiction, South Coast Behavioral Health is here to help. The first step in treating alcohol addiction is a medical detox. This means using drugs to help you safely withdraw from alcohol.

Our medical detox program in California is staffed by caring and compassionate professionals who can provide you with medications to manage your alcohol withdrawal symptoms. This may include things like anti-seizure medication and antidepressants.

After detoxing, treatment should involve therapy to treat the drivers of addiction.

Treatment for substance abuse takes place along an entire spectrum of care. Along that entire spectrum are various behavioral therapies, support groups, and the use of medically-assisted treatment (MAT).

These levels of treatment are, in order, as follows:

Residential Treatment in California

After completing medical detox, you’ll receive inpatient treatment in Orange County California. There, you’ll receive medically-assisted treatment and dual diagnosis treatment to deal with any cravings or co-occurring mental health issues you may be battling.

We also offer residential treatment facilities in Costa Mesa, Irvine, and Huntington Beach for those who desire gender-specific treatment. There, patients get round-the-clock medical attention and monitoring while living at the institution full-time.

In addition to individual and group counseling and medication management, you’ll also have access to leisure activities and family support services.

Partial Hospitalization in California

Most clients start substance abuse treatment with South Coast in our residential treatment program. After completing that, many desire something that still provides structure and support, but with extra space and time to oneself. For that, we offer Partial Hospitalization in Newport Beach.

A step down from inpatient care but with more structure than conventional outpatient programs, partial hospitalization offers a good balance for those looking to ease back into normal life. Clients can receive care five to seven days a week for several hours each day, returning to their homes in the evening.

This way, they can recover without putting their daily lives completely on hold, receiving intense therapeutic interventions like group and individual therapy, skill development, and medication management as necessary.

Intensive Outpatient Treatment in California

For those leaving inpatient residential treatment or partial hospitalization, intensive outpatient programs (IOP) are yet another gradual step forward on the road to recovery.

With a focus on group therapy, individual counseling, and education, clients undergoing Intensive Outpatient Treatment in Newport Beach can meet three to five days a week. Each session lasts three hours.

This level of care requires the least amount of attendance at a facility.

Get Started Today

Alcohol addiction is a serious disease but can be overcome with proper treatment. If you or a loved one want to safely withdraw from alcohol but wonder how long addiction treatment takes or have other questions, call us at 866-881-1184. Our highly qualified staff will be happy to help give you an idea of what to expect from your addiction recovery timeline, verify your insurance, and assist with any other questions you may have.

Reach out today to speak with a representative who can help you determine your treatment options and get you started on the road to recovery.

Pierce Willans
Kelly McIntyre
Medically Reviewed by Kelly McIntyre, MS, LMFT
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