Symptoms of Alcohol Withdrawal

You withdraw from alcohol only after you have become dependent on alcohol. In other words, once your body and mind have become used to the presence of alcohol in your system, you are liable to suffer physical and emotional distress when the alcohol is removed.

Typical symptoms of alcohol withdrawal include:

  • » exaggerated trembling
  • » sweating
  • » shivering
  • » blurred vision
  • » short-term confusion
  • » hyperventilation and panic

 

However, the clearest indication of alcohol withdrawal is that the other symptoms are quickly eliminated when you take another drink. Putting alcohol back into your system makes you stop panicking, restores your composure, and soon the trembling and sweating passes.

Having experienced withdrawal a first time, you may become anxious just at the thought of being without alcohol. As a result, the need to obtain more alcohol is likely to be in your mind throughout the day. Likewise, your first thought after waking up (because you’ve had a few hours without alcohol) is likely to be about drink.

Alcohol withdrawal is NOT a bad hangover, although it shares symptoms in common with a hangover. A hangover is a sign that you have drunk too much, and the effects soon pass. Withdrawal is a sign that you need more alcohol in order just to function, and the symptoms will get worse and worse as the hour’s pass.

If you are alcohol dependent, then withdrawal may be a devastating – and potentially fatal – experience. Neither you nor anybody with you should underestimate the impact of withdrawal. When you suddenly remove alcohol from your system, then you run many risks, including the possibility of a seizure, as well as becoming unable to negotiate stairs, or use cars, kitchens or bathrooms safely. You are also liable to panic, and eventually will probably be driven to obtain more alcohol ‘at any cost’.

If you suffer alcohol withdrawal, the clear advice is that you should not suddenly stop drinking alcohol except under medical supervision. Instead, you must moderate your alcohol intake, then seek help and support immediately to enable you to quit safely and effectively.

What is Alcohol Withdrawal?


Simply put, alcohol withdrawal is the stopping and reduction in the level and/or quantity of regular alcohol intake.

When you have consumed a rather high amount of alcohol than your body can carry consistently for a period of time let’s say a week, a month, a year or even more, and you decide to stop or reduce regular alcohol intake over this period of time, that is the definition of alcohol withdrawal.

Symptoms of Alcohol Withdrawal


There are a number of symptoms to look out for when you are withdrawing from alcohol.

Typical symptoms of alcohol withdrawal may include:

  1. Exaggerated trembling
  2. Sweating
  3. Shivering
  4. Blurred vision
  5. Short-term confusion
  6. Hyperventilation and panic

 

Let’s look at the above-mentioned symptoms in detail.

 

1.) Exaggerated trembling


The occurrence of exaggerated trembling as a symptom of alcohol withdrawal is mostly dependent on the severity of  withdrawal syndrome.

Another name for exaggerated trembling is tremors and this can be caused by several factors. But as it relates to alcohol withdrawal the most common forms of tremors or exaggerated trembling are cerebellar tremor and enhanced physiologic tremor.

Exaggerated trembling can begin from about 6 hours after you has his or her last drink or may begin sooner. The signs for exaggerated trembling include trouble drawing or writing with the hands, a shaky voice and rhythmic shaking of the hands or the body.

 

2.) Sweating


Sweating as a symptom of alcohol withdrawal is dependent on the severity of the condition. That is for how the person has been dependent or addicted to alcohol. Severe sweating as a symptom can occur up to 10 days after the person had his or her last drink.

 

3.)  Shivering


Another symptom of alcohol withdrawal is shivering. Shivering as a result of withdrawal from alcohol is a sign of a severe case of withdrawal.

Shivering can start to occur 2 to 4 days after the person had his or her last drink.

In a case of severe shivering, the patient can be recommended for treatment immediately.

 

4.) Blurred vision


We all know how important our eyes and sight is to us in our daily commute and affairs. Alcohol for its part has different side effects and effects on the human body including our sight.

One of the symptoms is blurred vision and most people who have had symptoms of alcohol withdrawal have suffered from blurry vision at one time or the other when trying to give up alcohol.

Double vision or blurry vision after drinking alcohol can be temporary effects of intoxication or a hangover. This effect is not long lasting as it is just due to hangover and its effects clears after you are sobered thereby clearing your sight in 24 hours.

Apart from the blurry vision withdrawal symptoms which is just a symptom on its own, you can also experience blurred vision during detox.

Hangover blurred vision is an indication of high level of binge drinking.

It is important that the dangers of drinking, especially to your eyes is understood clearly. This is because alcohol addiction and problem drinking can cause long term damages to the eyes.

In a severe case, excess alcohol consumption can lead to blindness after the human brain’s ability to process visual input has been impaired.

 

5.) Short-term confusion


Short-term confusion is also part of the symptoms. For someone going through alcohol withdrawal to suffer the short-term confusion symptom depends on the severity of the person’s withdrawal symptoms.

Short-term confusion symptoms can be noticed during the withdrawal stage. The symptoms could be mild to the moderate and even severe. Short-term confusion is mostly a symptom of a case of moderate alcohol withdrawal.

In a situation where the confusion being experienced by the patient goes beyond short-term confusion, it has then crossed the moderate stage to the severe stage. Which can then be ascribed as Delirium Tremens.

What is Delirium Tremens (DTs)?

Delirium Tremens is a situation whereby the symptoms of alcohol withdrawal have become severe. At this stage, the symptoms have gone beyond mild and moderate, and has become severe.

The condition is characterised by changes in the nervous system.

Which also changes the mental status of the person. The condition is commonly present in people who have abused alcohol for a long period of time usually for more than 10 years. At this stage, the alcohol withdrawal short-term confusion symptom becomes a case of severe confusion. Delirium Tremens, however, are present in only about 5% of patients who are going through withdrawal from alcohol.

 

6.) Hyperventilation and panic

Hyperventilation happens to almost everyone experiencing alcohol withdrawal. This symptom is often noticed in people who have lived a long alcohol dependent live.

In this case, hyperventilation does not come alone. It works with panic. Hyperventilation and panic as symptoms of alcohol withdrawal are evidence of a life of long dependence on alcohol use.

The longer you have lived a life of alcohol dependence, the more severe the hyperventilation and panic can get.

The clearest indication of alcohol withdrawal is that the other symptoms are quickly eliminated when you take another drink. Putting alcohol back into your body makes you stop panicking, restores your composure, and soon the trembling and sweating passes.

Having experienced withdrawal for the time, you may become anxious just at the thought of being without alcohol. As a result, the need to drink more alcohol is likely to be in your mind throughout the day. Likewise, your first thought after waking up (because you’ve had a few hours without alcohol) is likely to be about a drink.

Alcohol withdrawal is not a bad hangover, although it shares symptoms in common with a hangover. A hangover is a sign that you have drank too much, and the effects soon passes.

Withdrawal is a sign that you need more alcohol in order just to function, and the symptoms will get worse and worse as the hour’s pass.

If you are alcohol dependent, then withdrawal may be a devastating experience. Neither you nor anybody with you should underestimate the impact of withdrawal. When you suddenly remove alcohol from your system, then you run several risks, including the possibility of a seizure, as well as becoming unable to negotiate stairs, or use cars, kitchens or bathrooms safely. You are also liable to panic, and eventually will probably be driven to obtain more alcohol ‘at any cost’.

 

Other Symptoms of Alcohol Withdrawal


Apart from the symptoms which we have mentioned and discussed, there are other symptoms that you could expect.

 

A.) Headache


Headache is a symptom of so many health conditions.

Usually people who are going through alcohol withdrawal do experience some levels of headache with varying levels of severity. Some people can also experience a foggy head as part of their headache. While on alcohol withdrawal, you may also experience headache and dizziness at the same time.

 

B.) Insomnia


Insomnia may probably be the most challenging symptom of alcohol withdrawal. You will find it difficult to sleep.

Insomnia usually occurs in the early stages and could also last long after the effects of other symptoms have subsided.

Alcohol withdrawal symptoms and dizziness caused by insomnia will also affect the person’s health. It is also a threat to the person’s mental health and wellness.

Should you experience insomnia, it is important to seek help from a medical doctor.

 

Conclusion


If you suffer any of the symptoms of alcohol withdrawal, the clear advice is that you should not suddenly stop drinking alcohol except under medical supervision. Instead, you must moderate your alcohol intake, then seek help and support immediately to enable you to quit safely and effectively.

While you are on alcohol withdrawal, you should bear in mind and expect any or a combination of the alcohol withdrawal symptoms described and understand that blurred vision after quitting drinking is different from the blurred vision being experienced as the effect of a hangover.

Author: Dr Khan

Consultant, General and Forensic Psychiatrist and Clinical Lead, Abbeycare Scotland Dr Khan is Abbeycare Scotland’s clinical lead, and oversees the delivery of the medical and detox elements of the Abbeycare program at our Scottish clinic. Read more about Dr Khan on LinkedIn

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