Withdrawal Symptoms From Alcohol and Other Substances

Alcohol Detox

Whether it is alcohol or other addictive substances, there are many important things to know about the physical and emotional symptoms from withdrawal before taking the appropriate action to help yourself or a loved one.

Let’s start with withdrawal from alcohol.

What many people don’t realise is that heavy drinking and alcohol withdrawal symptoms are often quite common in some cultures and the impacts of these behaviours are not considered as serious as they perhaps should be.

A European guideline defines heavy drinking as more than 8 drinks per week for women and more than 15 drinks per week for men. Binge drinking is defined as 4 or more drinks over a few hours for women and over 5 drinks for men in one sitting.

For more detailed information on the effects of alcohol within European culture please see the following report (PDF):

AWS (Alcohol Withdrawal Syndrome)

AWS is often diagnosed when a heavy drinker suddenly stops drinking or even starts to reduce their consumption of alcohol.

Because the body has built up a massive tolerance for alcohol over time, symptoms can be severe with hallucinations and seizures or less severe symptoms including anxiety, fatigue, and nausea. There is usually a combination of physical and emotional symptoms and they can start as soon as 6 hours after stopping drinking.

Like most other drugs, excessive alcohol consumption suppresses the brains’ production of neurotransmitters. Heavy drinking also irritates the nervous system. When the intake of alcohol stops the brain responds by producing a surge of adrenaline that causes withdrawal symptoms. Medical attention is often advised under these circumstances.

Typical symptoms of Alcohol Withdrawal Syndrome include

  • Headache
  • Anxiety
  • Vomiting
  • Faster heart rate
  • Sweating
  • Insomnia
  • Nightmares
  • High blood pressure
  • Irritability
  • Confusion
  • Loss of memory

The most severe type of withdrawal is known as delirium tremens (the DT´s) and can be dangerous and even life-threatening.

  • Extreme disorientation
  • Aggression
  • Fever
  • Visual hallucinations (that don’t exist)
  • Auditory hallucinations (that don’t exist)
  • Tactile hallucinations (burning sensations, itching sensations, that don’t exist)

Hospitalisation is advised under these circumstances.

Hospitals and doctors will look for clear signs of alcohol withdrawal such as hand tremors, dehydration, fever and an irregular heart rate. They will also do a toxicology screening to see if there are any additional complications or infections.

Treatment will often include medication to help ease symptoms and a lot of liquids to prevent dehydration.

To be brutally honest, after the physical symptoms are under control the really hard work starts.

Almost all alcoholics or substance abusers find it extremely difficult to get clean and sober on their own so seeking the help of professionals is definitely the best thing to do.

Hospitals and doctors will help to put patients on the right track but once they have been discharged their responsibility ends.

Similarly, withdrawal from drugs include all of the above symptoms but can be more severe on the physical body. Withdrawal from opiates like heroin and oxycontin is extremely distressing and dangerous if they are mixed with other drugs.

Alcohol and tranquillisers produce the most dangerous physical withdrawal symptoms. Suddenly stopping can result in strokes or heart attacks, seizures, hallucinations and delirium tremens.

The first stage of drug withdrawal is the acute stage which can last for a few weeks. The post-acute stage may take many weeks or months to fully recover physically.

Mental and emotional withdrawal symptoms include:

  • Anxiety: including irritability, restlessness and panic attacks
  • Different types of depression: including social isolation, fatigue and poor appetite.
  • Sleep: general difficulties including insomnia, falling asleep and oversleeping.
  • Cognitive: Poor memory and poor concentration.

Physical Withdrawal Symptoms

  • Skin: sweating and tingling, dumbness
  • Muscles: tension, twitching, tremors, shakes and aches
  • Stomach: Vomiting, stomach aches, nausea or diarrhoea
  • Heart: palpitations, skipping beats
  • Chest: Chest tightness, breathing difficulties
  • Head: heartaches and dizziness

If you know someone through alcohol or drug withdrawal there is a solution. This is treatment and hope. Many people start with rehabilitation centres that help to recalibrate the body and mind to life without toxic substances.

Here are the best 3 things you can do to help yourself or a loved one suffering with addiction from alcohol or substances abuse.

  1. Educate yourself about alcohol or substances abuse.

It’s complex. It helps to recognise the signs and to speak with others who have been through it before. It’s important to know that you are not alone.

  1. Offer your support.

It can be often difficult to get through to addicts as they simply can’t accept they have a problem.  This might also require that you help them to get help from professionals.

  1. Support Recovery in the long term.

It can be a rocky road but when they finally hit bottom and accept it, it’s extremely beneficial for those starting recovery to know they have support from loved ones.

Finally, if you have any questions please reach out and talk to us.

We are here to help you.

David Scourfield

David Scourfield is a Camino Recovery team member since 2017, focused on facilitating communication with Clinical and other professionals to ensure a comprehensive understanding of Camino's program.

Combining his marketing skills and lived experiences, he joined Camino in 2017, contributing to external publications and the Camino website. With a strong belief in solidarity during the recovery process, David helps clients build support networks by connecting them with others in recovery.

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