How to treat alcohol withdrawal
Drinkers who become physically dependent on alcohol will go through a period of withdrawal upon cessation or significantly lowered consumption of beer, wine, or spirits. Typically, most cases of alcohol withdrawal require a watch-and-wait supervision to treat symptoms as they occur. However, in cases of heavy or long-term drinking, medical intervention may be required to prevent very serious conditions: seizures or delirium tremens.
So, how is alcohol withdrawal treated? Read on for details on the basic protocol of how to withdraw from alcohol here. Then, we invite your questions or comments about alcohol withdrawal treatment at the end.
Effects of withdrawal from alcohol
A: A set of symptoms which occur in someone alcohol dependent after they slow down or significantly decrease drinking.
Alcohol withdrawal symptoms usually occur within 8 hours after the last drink, but can last for many days. Symptoms usually peak by 24 – 48 hours and then diminish, but some symptoms persist for weeks. Symptoms that persist beyond acute withdrawal are called “protracted” or “post-acute” withdrawal symptoms, and are usually related to sleeping or mood, disorders.
How well a person does during and after alcohol withdrawal depends on the amount of organ damage, the duration, frequency and amounts of alcohol used in the past, underlying psycho-emotional issues, and whether or not the person can stop drinking completely. Alcohol withdrawal symptoms range from a mild and uncomfortable disorder to serious, life-threatening conditions.
Withdrawal symptoms for alcohol
Some drinkers that consume alcohol in quantities outside healthy limits will experience alcohol withdrawal syndrome when they abruptly stop or substantially reduce their alcohol consumption. Most patients manifest a minor symptom complex or syndrome, which may start as early as six to eight hours after an abrupt reduction in alcohol intake. Signals of alcohol withdrawal may include any combination of generalized hyperactivity, anxiety, tremor, sweating, nausea, retching, tachycardia, hypertension and mild pyrexia.
The most common effects of withdrawal from alcohol include:
- anxiety or nervousness
- difficulty concentrating
- sensitivity to light and sound
- jumpiness or shakiness
- mood swings
- not thinking clearly
Plus, a more serious set of withdrawal symptoms can occur in heavy drinkers or long-term drinkers: hallucinations and
convulsions. While treatable, serious withdrawal episodes may contribute to the development of negative health consequences. Alcohol detox should be followed by psychological and behavioral interventions/treatment to prevent further complications and to end the cycle of harmful drinking.
How to treat alcohol withdrawal symptoms
The primary goals of treating alcoholics during withdrawal are to prevent the occurrence of seizures and delirium tremens and to address discomfort related to both autonomic instability (increased heart rate or blood pressure, sweating, vomiting) and psychological instability (anxiety). The main goals of treatment include:
1. Reducing the intensity or severity of withdrawal symptoms.
2. Preventing complications of alcohol use.
3. Providing therapy to help you stop drinking (abstinence).
Any patients going through alcohol withdrawal should receive a physical examination to detect conditions such as irregular heartbeat, inadequate heart function, liver disease, pancreatic disease, infectious diseases, digestive system bleeding, and/or nervous system impairment. Vital signs should be stabilized and disturbances of water and nutritional balances corrected. Additionally, anyone being being treated for alcohol withdrawal should be given 100 mg of thiamine as soon as treatment begins; a magnesium supplement may help improve general withdrawal symptoms, as can an oral multivitamin formula containing folic acid (for a few weeks).
Moderate cases of alcohol withdrawal and treatment
If you experience mild-to-moderate alcohol withdrawal symptoms, you can often be treated in an outpatient setting. You will need someone to commit to staying with you during this process and who can keep an eye on you. Daily visits to your health care provider are often needed until you are stable. It is important that people who complete alcohol withdrawal can continue care in a living situation that helps support them in staying sober. Some areas have housing options that provide a supportive environment for those trying to stay sober. Nonetheless, the acute treatment for mild cases of alcohol withdrawal usually includes:
- blood tests
- patient and family counseling to discuss the long-term issue of alcoholism
- sedative drugs to help ease withdrawal symptoms
- testing and treatment for other medical problems linked to alcohol use
Serious cases of alcohol withdrawal and treatment
Clinicians have used numerous strategies to manage alcohol withdrawal. People with moderate-to-severe symptoms of alcohol withdrawal may need inpatient treatment at a hospital or other facility that treats alcohol withdrawal. You will be watched closely for hallucinations and other signs of delirium tremens. Treatment may include:
- administration of fluids or medications through a vein (by IV)
- monitoring of blood pressure, body temperature, heart rate, and blood levels of different chemicals in the body
- sedation using medication called benzodiazepines until withdrawal is complete
The best way to withdraw from alcohol
The best way to stop drinking after you develop physical dependence is UNDER MEDICAL SUPERVISION. Neurologists, psychiatrists and general physicians are trained in monitoring alcohol detox and identifying signs of complications…and then treating them. Appropriate treatment of alcohol withdrawal can ease discomfort, prevent the development of more serious symptoms, and put off cumulative effects that might worsen future withdrawals. And because alcohol withdrawal can quickly and unexpectedly take a serious turn for the worse, always seek medical help anytime you need to withdraw from alcohol.
Alcohol withdrawal treatment questions
We hope that you have found this article useful. If you still have questions about alcohol withdrawal treatment, please leave them in the section below. We doour best to respond to all questions with a personal and prompt response.
Reference Sources: NIAAA; Exploring alcohol withdrawal
Photo credit: Kathea Pinto