Can Your Body Go Into Shock When You Stop Drinking?

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Yes, your body can enter a ‘state of shock’ if alcohol addiction has been of a dependant nature, i.e., the body requires alcohol to function on a day-to-day basis. Or after alcohol abuse that has lasted many days of heavy drinking. Since alcohol is a central nervous system depressant, when an addict suddenly stop drinking, their body doesn’t function properly.

Since everyone’s bodies are different. A lot of people deal with their own alcohol addiction differently. So each case of alcohol abuse is different. This also means that the shock caused by a rapid alcohol withdrawal can affect each individual differently.

What are the common signs of physical shock while going through alcohol withdrawal?

There are two types of alcohol withdrawal symptoms people might deal with. The first one would be the physical symptoms of alcohol withdrawal as the immune system starts to get used to not having alcohol’s effect as it usually would. While these withdrawal symptoms will vary from person to person, here are some of the most common ones.

Signs of physical shock after quitting alcohol:
  • Cold and sweaty skin
  • Sweating
  • Change of skin colour usually pale or grey
  • Irritability and central nervous system complications
  • Weak but rapid heartbeat
  • Fluctuating blood pressure
  • Delirium tremens
  • Irregular breathing
  • Fewer urine contents
  • High blood pressure
  • Thirsty
  • Exhaustion
  • Dilated pupils
  • Confusion
  • Nausea
  • Anxiety
  • List Element
  • Withdrawal from alcohol may bring about many unpleasant side effects.

A medically assisted detox can reduce the intensity of alcohol withdrawal by implementing a professionally designed medication program.

The detox medication delivered to assist alcohol withdrawal will help reduce the alcohol withdrawal symptoms as the body slowly returns to ‘normal’ after the addict has quit drinking. Medical detox can aid addiction recovery in a way that can’t really happen at home. Medical professionals will be able able to provide medical advice to the patient throughout, which can help them get over the alcohol use disorder with a treatment program that is going to be safe for them.

Safe detox can be administered in the community or a rehab facility. Where medical assistance is present throughout the addiction treatment.

Is alcohol withdrawal shock always physical?

Another form of shock post alcohol is known as emotional shock. Although not diagnosed clinically, this form of shock can affect each individual differently. Since substance abuse affects everyone differently, the effects of alcohol withdrawal can hit the emotional side of a person as well.

A lot of people drink heavily as an emotional crutch. Alcohol may be consumed as a protective factor, i.e., used to cope with life on life’s terms. The removal of this coping mechanism to life (alcohol) can bring about an intense emotional reaction. This is one of the withdrawal symptoms people usually don’t expect, with can make it hard for them to stop drinking alcohol altogether.

However, if you do into it with all the information, quitting alcohol becomes that much easier.

Signs of an emotional shock post alcohol include:

  • I can’t think straight
  • Teary-eyed
  • Forgetful
  • A sense of fear or impending doom is present
  • Dissociation

However, these are just examples. Each individual’s response can be different. Such is the emotional shock of parting with alcohol ‘a reliable comfort blanket’.

It has, in some cases, been likened to grief. Grief is a compelling, personal experience that can bring emotional pain and take time to recover from.

How Does Your Body React When you Stop Drinking?

The body goes through a manner of different physical and psychological processes when you stop drinking that usually last 7-10 days and are known to peak around day 3 of alcohol abstinence

There are options in place to reduce the intensity of bodily reactions post-alcohol, which include residential detox rehab, community rehab, and psychosocial interventions, to name a few.

The processes the body will go through will depend on a few factors such as:

  • Was alcohol consumption gradually tapered off pre-withdrawal? Or did the person quit cold turkey?
  • Is a medical detox being administered?
  • Has the individual accessed residential rehab or any other treatment centers?
  • Is the individual detoxing at home?
  • Are there underlying or life threatening health issues to consider?
  • What if any support mechanisms are in place? (Loved Ones, AA, etc.)
  • As the alcohol leaves the body, a state of withdrawal will begin.

Each person’s reaction to substance abuse abstinence will differ, as one person’s drinking habit will not be the same as another. The following is only a guide to some reactions.

Here are some more of the symptoms a person can experience when going through alcohol withdrawal:

  • Temperature hot and cold
  • Sweating
  • Shivering
  • Emotional
  • Irritable
  • Irrational
  • Aches and Pains
  • Upset stomach
  • Sore head
  • Anxiety
  • Reduced appetite
  • Disturbed sleep pattern leading to exhaustion

If dependent upon alcohol, a detox may be recommended to reduce the adverse side effects or symptoms attached to withdrawal. This may happen easily for someone who was a heavy drinker, but it can also happen to someone that had just started drinking heavily. The symptoms may appear for both.

The recommendation is given to professional support as the professional intervention will be key to ensuring that you have access to professional medical advice and access to emergency medical attention if needed.

If an addict tries to go through withdrawal without Detox they can also:

  • Start having visual hallucinations or delirium tremens
  • Have heightened risk of Heart disease or heart failure
  • Have their body in a state of shock
  • Feel highly sick
  • If encountering health problems before Detox from alcohol, these symptoms may be exacerbated again, another reason for an appropriate alcohol detox to be administered and reviewed.

How Long it Takes the Body to Heal from Alcohol Abuse?

The length of time taken for the body to heal from alcohol varies as each individual may encounter differing experiences. Alcohol withdrawal typically lasts 7-10 days.

However, for the body to return to a state of homeostasis can sometimes take weeks or months. This is due in part to:
  • The length of time an individual has been drinking for
  • The amount of alcohol being consumed
  • If there are any underlying health conditions present
  • The type of support being given to the individual
  • The holistic nature of care (chance to talk through issues, ability to relax the mind and body)

In some cases, an individual may have been drinking for many years and have become dependent on alcohol. The body will require an opportunity to heal from the impact of alcohol use, and this will happen over time, not overnight.

The healing process from alcohol can take various stages:

1. Acute Alcohol Withdrawal

The alcohol is leaving the body throughout this stage, and physical and mental alcohol withdrawal syndrome is present. These can begin as quickly as 6 hours from their last drink and will vary in intensity from person to person. Heavy drinkers may experience more withdrawal symptoms compared to someone whose alcohol addiction was fairly new. However, the beginning is difficult for almost everyone.

This stage is when the body encounters the most physical reactions such as sweating, insomnia, anxiety, and shakes.

However, this stage will pass around 7-10 days post alcohol consumption. The severity of the withdrawal will depend on how the individual chooses to opt for treat alcohol withdrawal, i.e., abstinence from onset or Detox from the onset.

2. Post-Acute Alcohol Withdrawal Symptoms

Around day 10 of stopping drinking alcohol, the side effects attributed to this part of post-alcohol consumption will begin to taper off. The individual can be left feeling:

  • Lethargic
  • Teary
  • Detached
  • Foggy headed
  • Angry
  • Anxious

These feelings are all normal, and a trained professional can guide those in this stage through. Support is of benefit at this stage as the rehabilitation may appear abnormal or incorrect.

Those experienced in the symptoms associated with Post-Acute withdrawal can help their patients make sense of how they are feeling.

For those unable to access rehab, community resources are available such as:
  • Community rehab
  • Alcoholics Anonymous
  • Psychosocial Counselling
  • Or locally-based recovery communities

Community resources help with Post-Acute withdrawal due to their supportive nature and provide an opportunity to discuss feelings with like-minded people or professionals trained in this area.

Post-Acute withdrawal can occur for weeks or months.

3. The Return to the New Normal

Returning to a ‘new normal,’ as mentioned, takes time; it may seem like ‘normal’ or ‘good’ will never return; however, it does, and it will.

An instructive saying in Alcoholics Anonymous is ‘give time, time,’ meaning that through time sleep patterns will return, energy levels will rise, and a new sense of purpose and motivation will replace a once de-energized pessimistic self.

In essence, this is the ‘end goal’ many who have been dependent upon or have had issues with alcohol seek. Filing life with meaningful activities will help this return to ‘normal .’

Many may feel the benefits of community support groups and being part of their community again and being a better, more energized parent or returning to employment with a new frame of mind.

Whatever life led post-alcohol, the absence of alcohol and the need for alcohol once lifted may bring about a robust change of thinking and lifestyle. And many have remarked on how they now see life through a different lens. Stopping alcohol may be a life-changing event for some.

The process of physical withdrawal may take between 7-10 days as the effects slowly taper off.

However, it is the assumption that after withdrawal is over, then everything will return to normal.

The body requires time to return to normal, which has been shown to take weeks and sometimes months. After six months, the individual who has ceased their alcohol use will feel a complete and robust change.

Alcohol recovery is possible and, with time, will bring about many positive changes to the life of somebody once dependent and they can go on to live a perfectly happy life!

About the author

Peter Szczepanski

Peter has been on the GPhC register for 29 years. He holds a Clinical Diploma in Advanced Clinical Practice and he is a Clinical Lead in Alcohol and Substance Misuse for Abbeycare Gloucester and works as the Clinical Lead in Alcohol and Substance Use in Worcestershire. Find Peter on Respiratory Academy, Aston University graduates, University of Birmingham, Q, Pharmaceutical Journal, the Dudley Pharmaceutical Committee, Dudley Council, Twitter, and LinkedIn.

Peter has been on the GPhC register for 29 years. He holds a Clinical Diploma in Advanced Clinical Practice and he is a Clinical Lead in Alcohol and Substance Misuse for Abbeycare Gloucester and works as the Clinical Lead in Alcohol and Substance Use in Worcestershire. Find Peter on Respiratory Academy, Aston University graduates, University of Birmingham, Q, Pharmaceutical Journal, the Dudley Pharmaceutical Committee, Dudley Council, Twitter, and LinkedIn.