The consequences of alcohol withdrawal can be quite severe. Alcohol is among a group of a few substances that can actually have fatal withdrawal symptoms. The others are tranquilizer-like medications. Benzodiazepines such as Xanax and Klonopin and barbiturates such as Seconal. While physical withdrawal from any drug of abuse can be quite uncomfortable, with alcohol, benzodiazepines, and barbiturates there can be a risk of a fatal seizure. This is only one of several reasons why a supervised medical detox is strongly advised in order to get off of any substance of abuse as safely as possible.
With the prevalence of alcohol abuse in the United States, it is vital that parents and loved ones of people with alcohol problems are aware of the dangers. According to The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA), more than a quarter of the adult population (age 18 and older) report binge drinking within the past month. (1) Some who engage in binge drinking may stop on their own before a physical dependence on alcohol takes root. Binge drinking on its’ own entails serious risks and what can seem like a little careless youthful decadence can develop into alcohol dependence more easily than most suspect.
Physical dependence on alcohol can begin to manifest after as little as a few weeks of moderate to heavy drinking on a daily basis. Physiology differs from person to person, but no one is immune to the risk of developing an alcohol use disorder. Studies have shown that the younger a person is when they begin regular alcohol consumption, the more likely they are to become alcohol dependent. (2) Science has found that genetics can also play a role in the propensity to develop alcohol dependence. Some people hold the mistaken belief that if they follow some “drinking etiquette” such as never drinking alone, or drinking only after 5 pm, that they reduce the risk of dependence. It is crucial that myths and misunderstandings like this are smashed. The reality is that physical dependence on alcohol is just that. Physical. It is the result of chemical changes in the body that absolutely no one is immune to. The fact is the only rule one can follow to ensure no chance of developing an alcohol use disorder is to abstain from alcohol entirely.
Alcohol withdrawal can begin in as few as 6 hours after the last drink depending on the circumstances. It usually begins with nervousness or anxiety. Clammy hands, cold sweats, and trembling may follow. Insomnia is a common side effect too. Someone undergoing more serious alcohol withdrawal can experience hallucinations and seizures. The seizures are among the most dangerous side effect and the likelihood of seizures depends on more than just the amount of alcohol consumed. They can be unpredictable as certain people’s physiology makes them much more prone to seizure than others. About 5% of people who go through alcohol withdrawal will experience delirium tremens (DT’s). DT’s generally begin after 2 days from the last drink and can include disorientation and confused thinking along with hallucinations, fever, high blood pressure, and profuse sweating. Even if a patient isn’t among the 5% prone to delirium tremens, physical withdrawal symptoms from alcohol must always be taken seriously. Any type of alcohol withdrawal should be treated with an abundance of caution and medical oversight. If you suspect you or someone else is experiencing alcohol withdrawal, seek immediate medical attention.
If you or someone you care about is struggling with alcohol dependence, help is available. Call us to discuss options for treatment, intervention, and more. Millions of people have recovered from alcoholism with professional help and support.