Alcohol Withdrawal Symptoms
Author: Thomas Roth
Last Updated: 6/04/2023
Alcohol withdrawal is when a person who regularly drinks a lot of alcohol stops drinking suddenly or quits alcohol. When this happens the body is not getting something it is used to getting and will have reactions or symptoms. This is more common in adults but it can happen in teenagers who drink underage as well. In some cases, alcohol withdrawal results in delirium tremens. Delirium tremens occur in 1% of alcohol withdrawal cases and may result in death if not treated.
One of the most common symptoms of alcohol withdrawal is a headache. Headaches will almost always occur after drinking alcohol. Many people will refer to a hangover as a severe headache. The main difference between a hangover headache and a headache from withdrawal is that the headaches from a hangover go away quickly.
The headaches begin as soon as you stop your drinking, although most commonly they begin about six hours later. A single headache will last around 3 days on average. They will continue to come and go as your body gets used to not receiving alcohol daily.
Something that can help with headaches is an over-the-counter headache medication like Aspirin or Advil. You can also go to a doctor and receive an IV of fluids which should help as well. If you don’t want to get an IV, drinking Gatorade for the electrolytes is another great thing you can do.
Anxiety is another common symptom associated with alcohol withdrawal. There are many reasons someone can experience this symptom. Some people have fear of the many withdrawal symptoms which causes anxiety. People may also experience CNS or Excitable Central Nervous System. This is when your brain is expecting to receive alcohol daily and when it doesn’t it creates stress responses within your brain.
One other way you may begin to experience this symptom is that many people who depend on alcohol use it as a coping mechanism. Now they have lost that coping mechanism and may begin to feel anxious over how they will cope. There are many ways to help with this symptom as well. One such way is medication. There are many types of anxiety medication that you can take while withdrawing from alcohol use and even while still drinking alcohol, albeit with a moderate amount of alcohol. You can also go to therapy to work on some of the things that cause you anxiety or even check into an alcohol treatment center where they will walk with you step by step in your recovery process and they will provide help for each symptom as well. Checking into a treatment center can be a big anxiety reliever as well.
3. Tremors or Shakes
Alcohol Shakes, as they are commonly known, is the shaking of the body, typically your hands. People tend to have difficulty writing or drawing. It also includes a shaky voice as well. If you experience tremors you likely suffer from a more severe symptom of alcohol withdrawal called DT, or delirium tremens. This is a rare symptom though as it appears in only 1-5% of people going through alcohol withdrawal.
To help reduce or eliminate the shakes or tremors, and also to help reduce the chance of getting DT, you can take benzodiazepines. You can also take thiamine to help reduce tremors if you experience those. If you don’t experience tremors but are experiencing shaky hands or voice you can take propranolol to reduce or eliminate those shakes.
Insomnia is another symptom often occurring in those experiencing alcohol withdrawal. It’s difficult because you need sleep to be able to function daily, and loss of sleep can affect the rest of your daily activities as well.
A few ways to help reduce your chances of insomnia while withdrawing from alcohol are to eat more Omega-3 as it helps your body replenish. You should also eat more protein to help your body recover during this time. Before your normal bedtime, you should plan a relaxing activity such as meditation or yoga to help clear your mind before bed. This helps because sometimes insomnia can be due to another symptom like anxiety and doing a relaxing activity such as this can help to ease those symptoms as well.
Fatigue can be one of the worst symptoms you can experience during alcohol withdrawal. That’s because when you feel fatigued you don’t want to do anything. You feel like you won’t be ab;e to get anything done and then you don’t do anything. Fatigue makes you stay in bed longer, and not go out and it can even lead to other symptoms such as depression.
There are many ways to help fight fatigue from alcohol withdrawal. You can try to get up and move even if you don’t feel energized. Sometimes once you start moving around it can help to reduce fatigue. If that doesn’t work you can be prescribed medication to help or you can enter an alcohol detox program in a rehabilitation center, where they can help you with all of the symptoms you face.
6. Mood changes
Changes in mood are another symptom you can experience during alcohol withdrawal. This can be a very dangerous symptom because it can lead to depression, irritability, anxiety, and bouts of anger. It’s important to manage this symptom carefully as you want to avoid having too many angry mood swings or entering a depression.
Going to AA groups, checking into a rehabilitation center, or just spending more time with close friends and family and opening up to them can be very helpful.
7. Gastrointestinal Disturbances
This symptom can be very irritating for many people. Gastrointestinal disturbances mean stomach pain, stomach ulcers, diarrhea, acid reflux, nausea, vomiting, bloating, gas, and hemorrhoids. It can be painful and frustrating to deal with. It can also affect events you go to if you need to keep stepping aside to deal with this symptom.
To help with the symptoms you can take antibiotics, you can also take antacids like Tums to help with any reflux you may get. Lastly, probiotics will help to develop more helpful gastro bacteria.
8. Heart Palpitations
Heart Palpitations begin as soon as six hours after your last drink and they can range from minor to very serious. Palpitations are irregular or abnormal heartbeats and are usually not dangerous. Unless they are affecting how you are operating daily there is nothing you need to do to get rid of them.
You can do some things to reduce the effects. If you are experiencing heart palpitations you will want to avoid caffeine, so no tea or coffee. You also want to avoid any physical activities as well.
9. Increased Blood Pressure or Heart Rate
Alcohol withdrawal causes the nervous system to become activated and therefore increases blood pressure and heart rate. This can be very dangerous as the higher the heart rate the harder it becomes for blood to flow through the heart. Some ways to help are of course medication to help reduce it, to begin with.
Once blood pressure is reduced you want to keep it in the normal range. Some ways to do this are to avoid stimulant drinks like coffee, tea, and soda. You also want to avoid stress as much as possible. If you partake in drugs such as cocaine you will want to stop as that is very dangerous for your heart rate.
Hyperthermia is one of the symptoms that almost every person in withdrawal will experience. Freezing turns into hypothermia when your internal temperature is above 101.3 degrees. The main reason Hyperthermia is dangerous is that it can affect the way you think. Some ways to help with hyperthermia are to spray yourself with cold water and use wet cold towels on your neck and wrists to help cool your body temperature.
Trying to stay in air conditioning as much as possible and drinking sports drinks like Gatorade to stay hydrated are also things that can help you.
11. Rapid Abnormal Breathing
When your breaths per minute increase to 40 to 60 per minute you’re experiencing rapid abnormal breathing. If you experience abnormal rapid breathing and it does not go away after a short time you will want to call 911 or go to an emergency room as soon as possible.
Some self-treatment options are to do a deep breathing exercise and avoid triggers such as allergens and physical exertion. If you smoke, stopping also helps, as well as weight control and dieting.
There are two severe symptoms of alcohol withdrawal and hallucinations are one of them. You may hear angry and incoherent voices yelling that aren’t there. Hallucinations also result in a dark or ominous presence that isn’t there. A common case of hallucinations is the feeling of insects or rats biting on your legs.
If you experience any of these symptoms you will want to get to a hospital as soon as you can. They will give you benzodiazepine to help with the hallucinations and they will also watch over you while the medicine works. After leaving the hospital you may want to consider checking into a rehabilitation center.
The other severe symptoms of alcohol withdrawal are seizures. People who will experience these seizures usually appear about 6 to 48 hours after their last drink. It is more common that you will experience this symptom if you have been heavily drinking over several years and then stop. Propranolol and benzodiazepines help reduce the risk of alcohol withdrawal-related seizures. These seizures are sometimes known as delirium tremens.
What is the Cause of Alcohol Withdrawal?
Alcohol withdrawal is caused by suddenly stopping drinking after an extended period of heavy alcohol abuse. About 50% of people who suffer from alcoholism experience withdrawal symptoms. 4% of those people will experience more severe symptoms like hallucinations and seizures. 15% of the people who experience severe symptoms end up dying. Alcohol withdrawal is noted in history as far back as 400 B.C. by Hippocrates.