If you are dealing with withdrawal from alcohol, you need to understand that your condition may be life-threatening. Alcohol withdrawal happens when someone who has been drinking heavily for long period of time completely stops or significantly reduces their consumption of alcohol.
The symptoms of withdrawal from alcohol can start as soon as two hours after your last drink. The symptoms may last for weeks and range from shakiness and mild anxiety to more severe complications such as delirium tremens, or DTs, and seizures. DTs have been estimated to cause a death rate of 1 to 5%. The characteristics of DTs are a rapid heartbeat, confusion, and a fever.
Alcohol withdrawal symptoms can quickly worsen, so it is important to immediately seek medical attention. Getting the right treatments for alcohol withdrawal can greatly reduce your chances of developing DTs or seizures.
Withdrawal from alcohol can create a medical emergency. Anyone dealing with irregular heartbeats, hallucinations, severe confusion, fever, or seizures should be taken to the emergency room immediately.
If your doctor suspects alcohol withdrawal syndrome, he will ask for your medical history and an estimate on how much you drink. He will also need to know how long you have been drinking and the time of the last drink you had. You’ll also need to inform your doctor if you have a history of alcohol withdrawal, if you have any other medical conditions, and if you partake of any other substances.
Your doctor, during your physical exam, will look for any symptoms of alcohol withdrawal as well as other medical conditions such as pancreatitis, nervous system impairment, liver disease, infections, gastrointestinal bleeding, coronary artery disease, congestive heart failure, and irregular heartbeats. Blood tests may also be ordered to measure your alcohol levels and liver function. The results of the physical exam and medical history will help your doctor determine if withdrawal from alcohol is what you have and, if so, how severe it is.
If your alcohol withdrawal is mild to moderate, your doctor may decide to treat you with outpatient detoxification, especially if you have a great support network of friends and family. This method has been proven to be effective, safe, and more affordable than inpatient detoxification which is done in a hospital or other facility.
If you do not have a good support network, or if you are pregnant, you may require inpatient detoxification. Inpatient detoxification is also best for anyone with a history of certain illnesses, several previous detoxifications, withdrawal DTs or seizures, or severe withdrawal symptoms.
With alcohol withdrawal syndrome treatment, the goals are to immediately reduce withdrawal symptoms, prevent complications, and promote alcohol abstinence through long-term therapy.
There are many medications used to help with alcohol withdrawal treatments. Benzodiazepines are typically the prescription drug of choice. The active ingredient in these medications can reduce your risk of DTs and withdrawal seizures and help control the confusion, anxiety, and shakiness associated with alcohol withdrawal. If your alcohol withdrawal syndrome is mild to moderate, your doctor may prescribe a carbamazepine anticonvulsant drug. These drugs are not sedating and have less of a chance for abuse.
Alcohol withdrawal syndrome can be a serious matter. If you or someone you love is dealing with alcohol withdrawal, get help immediately. As always, you can contact us at Coastline Behavioral Health with any questions or concerns you may have.