Can Your Body Go Into Shock When You Stop Drinking?

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Can Your Body Go Into Shock When You Stop Drinking?

Yes, your body can enter a ‘state of shock’ if alcohol intake has been of a dependant nature i.e. the body requires alcohol to function on a day to day basis. Or after an alcohol binge that has lasted many days with high levels of alcohol being consumed.

Shock caused by a rapid physical withdrawal can affect each individual differently however there are some recognisable symptoms.

Signs of physical shock whilst in withdrawal from alcohol:

  • Cold and sweaty skin
  • Sweating
  • Change of skin colour usually pale or grey
  • Irritability
  • Weak but rapid pulse
  • Irregular breathing
  • Less urine contents
  • 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 withdrawal by the implementation of a professionally designed programme of medication.

The detox medication delivered to assist alcohol withdrawal will help reduce the negative side effects as the body is slowly returned to ‘normal.’ Detox can be administered in the community or in a rehab facility. 

Another form of shock post alcohol is known as emotional shock.

Although not diagnosed clinically this form of shock can affect each individual differently.

Also known 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.

Signs of an emotional shock post alcohol include:

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

However these are just examples each individuals 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 very powerful, personal experience that can bring about emotional pain and takes time to recover from.

Can Your Body Go Into Shock When You Stop Drinking

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 detox residential 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?
  • Is a detox being administered?
  • Has the individual accessed residential rehab?
  • Is the individual detoxing at home?
  • Are their underlying health conditions 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 alcohol abstinence will differ and the following is only a guide of some reactions.

  • 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 impact of the negative side effects attached to withdrawal.

 Recommendation is given to professional support as some cases of withdrawal without detox can also:

  • Start hallucinations
  • Place the body in a state of shock
  • Make the person feel extremely sick

If encountering health problems prior to detox from alcohol these symptoms may be exacerbated again another reason for an appropriate alcohol detox to be administered and reviewed.

How long does it take for your body to heal from alcohol?

The length of time taken for the body to heal from alcohol varies as each individual may encounter differing experiences.

Alcohol withdrawal normally 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 overtime not overnight.

The healing process from alcohol can take various stages:

1. Acute withdrawal

Throughout this stage the alcohol is leaving the body and physical and mental withdrawal symptoms are present.

 These can begin as quickly as 6 hours post-alcohol and will vary in intensity from person to person.

This stage is when the body encounters the most physical reactions such as sweating, insomnia, anxiety and the 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 withdraw i.e. abstinence from onset or detox from onset.

2. Post-acute withdrawal

Around day 10 of alcohol withdrawal 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 who are 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-energised 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’ and many may feel the benefits of community support and being part of their community again. Being a better more energised parent or a return to employment with a new frame of mind.

Whatever life that is 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 and this has been shown to take weeks and sometimes months.

After 6 months a full and robust change will be felt by the individual who has ceased their alcohol use.

Recovery from alcohol is possible and with time will bring about many positive changes to the life of somebody once dependent.

About the author

Peter Szczepanski

Pete 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. To read more about Pete visit his LinkedIn profile.