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Alcohol Withdrawal & Detox

Symptoms, side effects and the necessity of medical supervision

1 Your Role
I want to learn about treatment options for:

2 Basic Information
The Person is:
years old

graduated high school

3 Condition Information
Caron Treatment Centers accepts patients aged 13 years or older. For more information on services available to those 12 and under, please learn more about Caron's Student Assistance Program.

Alcohol detox is the process of removing all harmful toxins that alcohol brings into the body. Because detox involves the quitting or reduction of heavy or prolonged alcohol use, it causes alcohol withdrawal.

Common alcohol withdrawal symptoms, or the physical side effects of discontinued substance use, range from mild to potentially life-threatening. They include:

  • Mood swings
  • Fatigue
  • Depression
  • Anxiety
  • Irritability
  • Shakiness
  • Nightmares
  • Difficulty thinking clearly
  • Night sweats
  • Insomnia
  • Mild anxiety
  • Headaches
  • Dilated pupils
  • Insomnia
  • Clammy skin
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Loss of appetite
  • Rapid heart rate
  • Paleness
  • Sweating
  • Tremors (especially hand tremors)

Withdrawal symptoms can be more severe in the elderly and those who have repeated withdrawals that lead to repeated intoxications. Other health issues can also impact symptom severity.

Alcohol withdrawal symptoms typically develop within several hours to a few days of quitting and usually worsen after 48 to 72 hours. Some symptoms—such as insomnia, mild anxiety and tremors—can occur while the individual still has a measurable blood alcohol level, but most occur after alcohol has left the system. Depending on the severity of the level of alcoholism, withdrawal symptoms generally last from several days to several weeks to, in rare cases, months.

While physical withdrawal symptoms may disappear completely within a few weeks, psychological withdrawal can last for years. Many individuals experience the desire to drink (craving alcohol) with every new event or trigger they face.

Delirium Tremens

Delirium tremens (DT) is a condition associated with severe alcohol withdrawal. DT typically occurs 3 to 5 days after cutting out alcohol. DT symptoms include:

  • Fever
  • Agitation
  • Severe confusion
  • Disorientation
  • Seizures or convulsions
  • Tactile
  • Hallucinations (may develop within 6 to 48 hours of not having alcohol and can last from a few hours to a few weeks.)
  • Hyperactivity
  • Extreme cardiovascular disturbances: racing heart, temperature control, dramatic increase in blood pressure, dehydration

Once DT begins, there is no known medical treatment to stop them. Grand mal seizures, heart attacks and strokes can occur during DT and are potentially fatal if not properly treated under medical supervision.

The importance of medically supervised detox.

Suddenly stopping alcohol or tranquilizers can lead to severe alcohol withdrawal symptoms such as seizures, strokes or heart attacks in high-risk patients. Because of this, medically supervised detox—which involves close monitoring, pain management and the use of prescription drugs to treat complications—is highly recommended.

The next steps.

Treating alcohol withdrawal symptoms alone does not address the underlying disease of alcoholism. Thus, some form of treatment for alcohol addiction, including residential programs and support groups, should follow treatment of withdrawal immediately.

Caron is equipped to handle alcohol detoxification and continuing care. Please contact us for more information on how to begin medically supervised detoxification and treatment.