In 21st century society, the narrow lines separating socially accepted drinking and binge drinking have never been more blurred. This society-wide acceptance and encouragement of a binge drinking culture tends to embrace the short-term "positives" of drinking and to ignore the possible negative ramifications of regular heavy alcohol consumption.
Although many adults can drink in moderation, according to the NIAA, “More than 65 million Americans reported binge drinking in the past month.” Of these, more than fifteen million suffer from alcohol use disorder, also known as alcoholism. For such people, their drinking habits can lead to severe consequences to both their health and psyche.
For these reasons, if you or a loved one struggles with alcohol use disorder, it is necessary that you address this issue before it can sink its claws in and wreak even more havoc on your health, relationships, and future. Because the stages of alcohol withdrawal can be quite uncomfortable, and possibly fatal if medically unsupervised, it would be wise to detox at an inpatient facility under the attentive care of experienced medical professionals. If you have begun this path, below we will go over the challenges you can expect and mentally prepare for during the alcohol withdrawal stages.
Humans are some of the most adaptable beings on the planet and our bodies are capable of adjusting to various conditions over time. When it comes to alcohol, your body quickly grows familiarized with the substance and its effects.
Alcohol acts a depressant on the central nervous system (CNS). This means alcohol:
- Distresses signal interpretation
- Inhibits cerebral functioning
- Slows down cerebral signaling
In response to this neural traffic jam and foreign inhibitor, the body sends out offsetting signals. These signals create the following effects:
- Artificially compels the body to work on overdrive to function normally.
- Decreases the potency of alcohol over time.
- Neutralize the depressant effects of alcohol.
Over time, this becomes the new normal. As far as the brain and body are concerned, it is now more used to alcohol’s presence than its absence. This psychological and physiological grasp tightens gradually, turning into cravings, dependence, and an increased desire for alcohol. So, when alcohol is gone, the brain is running at full capacity with nothing to counteract it. This causes it to overheat, preventing it from sending clear commands to the rest of the body. This automatic response is what is known as withdrawals.
When a person suddenly ceases drinking, the body starts to malfunction in the form of withdrawal symptoms. Alcohol withdrawal symptoms can range from mild to moderate to severe, but depend heavily upon the severity of the habit as well as various factors including:
- Alcoholism in your genetics – Alcoholism and the severity of withdrawal stages can be affected by your genetic makeup; if your parents or grandparents also suffered from substance abuse disorder, you are genetically predisposed to do the same and withdrawal symptoms will likely be more intense.
- Co-occurring disorder – There seems to be a common link between addiction and mental health issues. There has been a recent uptick in the cases of people who suffer from both substance abuse disorders and mental health disorders, making the treatment of both of these issues simultaneously immensely harder than handling one or the other.
- Duration of alcohol consumption – The longer a person drinks heavily, the worse symptoms can be.
- Substance addiction – If you are addicted to more than one substance, this could lead to stronger withdrawal symptoms.
- Gender – Men and women will experience withdrawal stages differently. On average, men will deal with more severe symptoms.
- The frequency of habit and quantity of consumption – The more often a person drinks, the sooner the withdrawal symptoms will set in, and the stronger those symptoms will likely be.
Alcohol Withdrawal Symptoms
Before we can discuss the stages of alcohol withdrawal, it is essential to prepare for the uncomfortable symptoms that are typically seen in some, if not all, of the stages. These include:
- Grand Mal Seizures
- Temperature swings
While many think of detox as the part of rehab where you deal with the harsh symptoms of withdrawals, that is really only one part of the detoxification process. This entire process can be done at Manifest Recovery and involves:
- Evaluation – Medical professionals test the client for the presence of alcohol, measure this concentration, and check for underlying mental disorders or physical ailments. After the evaluation, the best plan of action is formulated for a client, which serves as the game plan for treatment.
- Stabilization – This is the medically assisted process of aiding a client through acute alcohol withdrawal. Doctors seek to monitor and control physical symptoms to reach a stable and substance-free state. This may be done with the assistance of other lesser substances and careful monitoring of blood pressure, liquid levels heart rate, respiration, and body temperatures.
- Fostering the client’s entry into treatment – Medical professionals help guide a client into substance abuse treatment and therapy. Such aftercare is an essential
Tool meant to combat cravings and relapse.
Alcohol Withdrawal Stages
There are three distinct stages of alcohol withdrawal, which last roughly a week and take place during the stabilization phase of the detoxification process. Because these stages can be both emotionally and physically trying, it is recommended that people endeavoring to rid him or her of physical dependence do so in a rehab center. Delirium Tremens, a deadly type of seizure and complete body shut down, can occur in a select few people who attempt this journey, so it would be wise to chart this course under the auspices of medical professionals.
Alcohol Withdrawal Stage 1 – Symptoms Set In
Stage 1 occurs in the initial 6-12 hour period following a person’s last drink. By this time, the body will likely begin to crave alcohol’s presence. This is why a significant majority of alcoholics start drinking the moment they rise from bed, to stave off these withdrawal symptoms.
With each hour that passes, the cravings and withdrawal symptoms magnify, and the brain begins sending alarm signals that something is wrong. In stage 1 typical symptoms include:
Alcohol Withdrawal Stage 2 – Symptoms Peak
This stage occurs in the 24 to 48-hour period following your last drink and is the crux of any detoxification attempt, seeing as it may often feel like the lowest point of the journey. At stage 2, withdrawal symptoms are typically in full effect and made all the more powerful by little sleep, dehydration, and malnourishment. Some if not all of the symptoms that were exhibited in stage 1 can ramp up and grow stronger in the second phase.
At this stage, delirium tremens can occur, especially if you are someone who drinks multiple liters of alcohol regularly and have done so for a decade, or someone who has had previous complications from alcohol withdrawal. DT is a severe form of alcohol withdrawal where the brain and nervous system basically meltdown causing the patient to experience a stupor of extreme confusion.
As the body shuts down the body may begin to exhibit the following symptoms, which can continue to worsen:
- Alterations in mental capacity
- Body tremors
- Changes in mental function
- Deep sleep – possibly a coma
- Rapid mood fluxes
- Sensitivity to sound, touch, or light
Although rare, DT can be life threatening, which is why you should strongly consider detoxing at an inpatient facility.
Alcohol Withdrawal Stage 3 – Symptoms Taper Off
In the third and fourth day following your last drink of alcohol, many of the withdrawal symptoms will begin to wane, if not disappear entirely. As symptoms decline, it becomes easier to sleep, drink, and eat. These things help return strength to your body as it continues to fight off dependence. By a week out, they should all be gone.
While you rest and gather strength, you can begin mentally preparing for what lies ahead. Once the body is completely clear of physical dependence, a person can start to treat the root issues underlying their substance abuse. As withdrawals fade away the real contest rapidly approaches.
Alcohol Addiction Treatment
Alcohol addiction treatment is where strides towards sobriety are made and where the battle is truly fought and won. It is a time that allows a client who is dealing with alcohol use disorder to understand how and why their habit formed. It lets them identify triggers and avoid situations that made them want to drink in the past. It gives them a chance to speak with and learn from medical professionals, therapists, and other people dealing with the very same struggles.
If you deal with Alcohol Use Disorder, speak to your loved ones about it and seek help. Here at Manifest recovery, we have a team of experienced professionals, more than capable of aiding you on your path towards sobriety. Reach out right away and we’ll take your hand and safely guide you along the way.
Current Neurology and Neuroscience Reports – “Overview, Essential Concepts, and Definitions in Detoxification,” https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK64119/
National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism – “Alcohol Facts and Statistics,” https://www.niaaa.nih.gov/alcohol-health/overview-alcohol-consumption/alcohol-facts-and-statistics
Medical News Today – “Genetics May Determine Severe Alcohol Withdrawal,”