Alcohol is a legal and widely available substance, so it might be surprising for you to hear that alcohol withdrawals can be quite serious—even fatal—for some people. While the withdrawal symptoms largely depend on how much you consumed, the duration of your use, and your body’s overall reactions, many people report that the withdrawal symptoms are very difficult to get through.
Tapering is a common strategy used to avoid withdrawal from medications and other substances. You might be wondering if this is a viable strategy for easing alcohol withdrawal symptoms. We will discuss this along with the withdrawal symptoms in general, what to expect when you stop using alcohol, and typical recovery steps for getting better.
Reasons for Alcohol Withdrawal
Most people think about pills or drugs when they hear about withdrawal, so you might be wondering if alcohol withdrawal is real and why it happens. This is a real phenonium that primarily occurs in those who drink large quantities of alcohol and for a sustained amount of time.
The reason alcohol causes withdrawals is due to how it affects your central nervous system. Alcohol has a depressive effect on your brain and nervous system. Many people are already aware of this. It makes your body slow down, which results in a more relaxed feeling.
The problem is that your body doesn’t like this. Your brain will alter its neuron firing patterns in order to counteract the effects of alcohol. Your brain will fire faster than normal. This doesn’t mean that you’re thinking faster; it simply means that more effort and energy are going into keeping your nervous system as normal as possible.
Normally your body recovers after you stop drinking, and your nervous system will return to a normal firing pattern. If you drink large quantities consistently, then your nervous system might need much longer to recover. This means that your nervous system might continue firing like this for days, which is what results in the uncomfortable or even fatal withdrawal symptoms associated with alcohol. Your body needs time to adjust to functioning at a normal level without alcohol.
Amount and Duration
Alcohol withdrawals most commonly occur in those who drink large amounts and for a sustained amount of time. You might be wondering what exactly constitutes too much and too long. If you drink once or twice a week, then will you have to worry about withdrawals?
There is no specific quantity or duration that causes alcohol withdrawal—it all depends on how your body reacts to it. That being said, those who drink once or twice a week usually don’t have to worry about withdrawal symptoms. At the same time, consuming a very large quantity in a single day might result in withdrawal symptoms. The truth is that the withdrawal symptoms tend to occur quickly. You will usually feel them around six hours after your last drink.
While the exact amount and duration are currently unknown, those who drink occasionally and have control of their drinking very rarely have to deal with withdrawal symptoms. Just keep an eye out for the symptoms and take the appropriate steps if they occur.
Alcohol Withdrawal Symptoms
Every substance that causes withdrawals will have different symptoms. Some will be fairly mild while others are gravely serious. Alcohol withdrawals have a mix of both, but it’s important to get medical services involved as some of the withdrawal symptoms are fatal.
The more severe withdrawal symptoms typically happen about 48-72 hours after your last drink. You may not experience all of these symptoms as it depends on how your body processes the alcohol and how difficult it is for your body to return to normal functioning.
Mild alcohol withdrawal symptoms start about six hours after your last drink. These symptoms include:
These are the most common withdrawal symptoms. If you drank more than you expected, then you might feel like this when you wake up the next day. Sometimes the withdrawal symptoms will clear up on their own, but those who consume alcohol very frequently will continue to have withdrawal symptoms.
The more serious withdrawal symptoms begin about 12 to 48 hours after your last drink. These symptoms include:
- Audio hallucinations
- Visual hallucinations
The hallucinations typically start around 12 to 24 hours after your last drink. Seizures most commonly occur about 24 to 48 hours after your last drink. While these are the most common times, keep in mind that your body might react differently.
New withdrawal symptoms can appear 48 to 72 hours after your final drink. These symptoms include:
- Delirium and very vivid hallucinations
- Racing heart
- High blood pressure
- Extreme sweating
If you feel any of these withdrawal symptoms, then you may want to seek medical attention. It’s best to get medical attention before experiencing seizures or any of the other severe withdrawal symptoms.
You might be curious about tapering alcohol use to avoid or ease withdrawal symptoms. This logically makes sense because you are still giving your body the substance it is craving, but you are doing it in smaller amounts. This should logically allow your body to get back to a healthy state of functioning with no or minimal withdrawal symptoms.
Not only that, but this is a common strategy used with other substances. Many medication withdrawal symptoms are eased by properly tapering the dosage. While a doctor is the best person to determine the tapering schedule, you can see how this is used with other substances.
While tapering might be useful in a behavioral sense because you will get used to using less and less alcohol, there isn’t enough research to say if this is useful for avoiding withdrawals. Some people report that it helps, others find that it does nothing, and some even find that it prolongs the addiction.
It is best to seek medical detox to ensure that you are being monitored by a medical professional. Granite Recovery Centers provides medical detoxification for people who do not need immediate medical intervention, are not a danger to themselves, and are capable of self-evacuation in the event of an emergency.
Tapering at home might sound attractive because it costs less and can be done without making appointments or seeing a doctor, but there currently isn’t enough research to suggest whether this is feasible or not.
If you have faced alcohol withdrawals in the past or are concerned about stopping your drinking and facing withdrawal symptoms, then our medical detox service might be exactly what you need. We have a fully-trained medical staff who will monitor your progress as you discontinue alcohol and any other substances.
As we said above, alcohol withdrawal symptoms can be fatal. This will ensure that a doctor is watching over you and is ready to deal with these symptoms if they occur. Not only that, but our doctors will be able to prescribe medications as needed to make the process as comfortable as possible.
Detoxing can be a vulnerable period. Many people never get through it because the symptoms are uncomfortable, which leads to using the substance again. Medical detox will ensure that you completely remove alcohol from your body in the safest way possible.
This is only part of the plan, though. A medical detox clears alcohol from your body, but many people still have thoughts, cravings, and behaviors associated with drinking. We provide many other services that can help reduce your cravings even further.
One of the best ways to stop alcohol use is to be connected to appropriate services, groups, and social contacts. We embrace the 12-Step philosophy and connect many of our clients to local Alcoholics Anonymous meetings. These self-help groups have helped people for decades to reduce alcohol use and meet people who are also seeking recovery.
While these meetings may not be for everyone, we hope you will give them a chance to see if they fit into your recovery. Another benefit is that these groups are free, which can be very helpful to those who want to recover but are having difficulty affording other services. Having a strong support group is critical in early sobriety, and one way to establish that is through meetings.
If your alcohol use is very severe and you’re having a hard time controlling it, then inpatient treatment might be right for you. This level of care means that you live at the facility for either part of the day or for an extended period of time. This is also helpful if your withdrawal symptoms are on the more severe side because counselors, doctors, and other staff will be around you 24 hours a day.
There are several levels of inpatient care that we offer. Partial hospitalization means that you stay with us for half the day and then go home for the other half. This ensures that you have a supportive environment that will help you recover, but you can still sleep in your own bed and speak with friends and family members.
If your environment is highly unsupportive of recovery or your cravings are severe, then you may want to take advantage of our sober houses and other inpatient services. This is similar to partial hospitalization, but you will stay at our facility for the whole day.
Outpatient treatment is available to those who need it. This is helpful if your cravings are on the moderate side or if you recently completed inpatient and are transitioning back to normal life. Outpatient services include individual and group therapy.
Individual therapy allows you to meet with your counselor, and you can talk about your specific concerns. While this is considered the lowest level of care, many people find it useful because you can talk about deeply personal issues without worrying about other people judging you.
Group therapy, also known as intensive outpatient or IOP, ensures that you have adequate time to discuss your concerns while meeting with peers who are also in recovery. This lasts for three hours and occurs three times a week, which means that you’ll have lots of time to talk, learn about yourself, and understand new coping strategies for stress.
While there isn’t enough research about whether alcohol tapering can reduce alcohol withdrawals, we can say that we offer medical detox and therapy services to help you recover. We at Granite Recovery Centers have helped people with alcohol and substance use disorder for over 10 years.
Not only are we highly experienced in this area, but we also offer many different levels of care. Whether you are looking for medical detox, inpatient care, outpatient treatment, or nearly anything else, we are here to help with your needs. Contact us today, and we can create a treatment plan that treats you with respect.