Alcoholism doesn’t begin with apparent alcohol withdrawal symptoms, they can take years to develop. The process is know by clinicians as “Alcohol Withdrawal Syndrome”. Alcoholism itself begins when drinking starts to adversely effect the physical health and even the mental health of the drinker, though he or she usually has no clue that anything is wrong. It is at this time a person crosses over that imaginary line (you may or may not have heard of it) into alcoholism.
Stage One – The Early Years of Alcohol Addiction
In this, the adaptive stage of alcoholism, the drinker is no longer drinking for the same reasons he or she started drinking for in the first place. It’s no longer peer pressure, curiosity, social events or that they enjoy the taste of alcohol. No, they are drinking and probably more by now, for the effects that the alcohol can produce, though they probably don’t realize it. The effects that they are seeking could be a mood change or possibly stress relief from some problem in their life. The drinker hasn’t gotten sloppy or lost total control of his life or body yet and he, his family and friends still don’t know what personal hell awaits him, should he be a “real alcoholic”.
Stage Two – More Alcohol, More Often, More DUI
By now the alcoholic is drinking more often and for any reason. He may even be fabricating problems to drink over. He is now probably drinking until he exceeds socially acceptable limits or until he losses control of his physical and mental capabilities. He may have even been arrested by now for driving under the influence of alcohol. In this middle stage of alcoholism the family and friends become aware that there may be a problem, but the alcoholic himself, may think his only problem is that his friends and family think he’s got a problem. He is sure that they just don’t understand he could quit anytime he wants to. Not now of course, he just needs everyone to get off his back and he’ll be fine.
Stage Three – Is It Too Late?
The chronic stage of alcoholism is terrifying for the family and any friend that may be left in the alcoholic’s life. They are watching his body and mind slip away due to internal damage to vital organs. Damage that may be irreversible and can result in hepatitis, heart failure, cirrhosis of the liver, etc. They try to talk some sense into him, but it may be too late. All of their talk just gives him more problems to drink over. In many cases it takes a traumatic or very embarrassing event, such as a DUI or drunk driving arrest to get the alcoholics attention to the extent that he really wants to stop drinking. Even if he really wants to stop, he’s about to find out how easy it is not!
Alcohol Detox or Withdrawal Symptoms – Alcohol Withdrawal Syndrome
Alcohol detox or withdrawal symptoms that are experienced by people who have stopped drinking alcohol abruptly (cold turkey) can range from mild to life-threatening if not properly treated. The severity of these alcohol withdrawal symptoms is usually dependent upon how “alcohol dependent” the chronic drinker has become. Those who drink heavily on a daily basis of course have developed a high level of dependency on alcohol and will almost certainly experience at least some severe withdrawal symptoms, but even those who drink alcohol daily, but not heavily and those who drink alcohol heavily but not daily, can also be chemically dependent upon alcohol.
When someone who has become “alcohol dependent” stops drinking abruptly, they will experience some level of physical discomfort. This is why it is extremely difficult for alcoholics to stop drinking “on their own” without the assistance and support of an alcohol rehab center or support group.
The Shakes, Sweats, Nausea, Headache, Rapid Heart Beat and Increased Blood Pressure
For some, who are less chemically dependent, withdrawal symptoms might be as “mild” as merely getting the shakes, the sweats or night sweats – perhaps nausea, headache, anxiety, a rapid heart beat and increased blood pressure.
Although these alcohol withdrawal symptoms are uncomfortable and irritating, they are not necessarily dangerous. But they are often accompanied by the “craving” for more alcohol, making the decision to continue abstinence much more difficult to make without counseling or support.
Even the “morning after hangover” of someone who only occasionally drinks to excess, is actually a mild form of alcohol withdrawal from the excesses of the night before, as the alcohol content of their blood begins to drop. The symptoms can appear within a few hours after not drinking.
More Serious – Hallucinations and Seizures
Within six to 48 hours after not drinking, hallucinations may develop for the more seriously alcohol dependent. These are usually visual hallucinations but they can also involve sounds and smells. They can last for a few hours or up to weeks at a time. Also within this time frame after quitting, convulsions or seizures can occur, which is the point at which alcoholism and alcohol withdrawal becomes dangerous if not medically treated.
I’ll Never Drink Again, Really!!!
After a particularly damaging or embarrassing alcohol binge, a seriously dependent alcohol drinker will make an oath to “never drink again” and really mean it this time.
However, when severe alcohol withdrawal symptoms begin and the “phenomenon of craving” sets in, the body is telling the drinker that it needs more alcohol. When the physical symptoms of alcohol withdrawal begin to intensify, taking another drink simply becomes less painful than not taking one or so it seems at the time. Thus, the vicious, repetitive cycle of binge drinking, sobering up, emerging remorseful and swearing off, only to drink again when the pain gets too bad, begins and repeats over and over again.
Chronic Alcoholism – The DT’s (Delirium Tremens)
Chronic alcoholism and it’s severe withdrawal symptoms may progress to delirium tremens (DT’s) after three to five days without alcohol. The symptoms of DT’s include profound confusion, disorientation, hallucinations, hyperactivity and extreme cardiovascular disturbances. This condition causes shifts in your breathing, your circulation and your temperature control. It can cause your heart to race or can cause your blood pressure to increase dramatically and it can cause serious dehydration.
Once DT’s begin, there is no known medical treatment to stop them. Grand mal seizures, heart attacks and strokes can occur during the DT’s, all of these serious alcohol withdrawal symptoms can be fatal to an alcoholic if not properly treated.
If you or someone you care about is experiencing Alcohol Withdrawal Syndrome, please contact an alcohol detox center before it’s too late!