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Home Blog Alcohol Withdrawals: The Dangers of Physical Dependence on Alcohol

Alcohol Withdrawals: The Dangers of Physical Dependence on Alcohol

Alcohol Withdrawals

Alcohol addiction can have a negative effect on every aspect of a person’s life. There are many cases where a person may want to quit drinking but they’re afraid of the very real and dangerous symptoms of alcohol withdrawal. If you feel as though you or a loved one is caught in this harmful cycle of alcohol use, Serenity Lane is here to help.

In order to better understand if you are at risk for alcohol withdrawal symptoms, it’s important to understand what qualifies as alcohol use disorder (AUD).

Criteria for Alcohol Use Disorder (AUD)

A person may be diagnosed with AUD if their drinking has started to negatively affect every aspect of their life. Addiction is not always an easy condition to determine, especially from the outside. That said, there are a number of certain behavioral patterns to look out for when determining if you or a loved one is suffering from AUD.

The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM) states that anyone who meets 2 of the 11 following criteria within a 12-month period may be diagnosed with an alcohol use disorder.

Here are some questions to consider to accurately assess whether you or a loved one may be suffering from a problem with alcohol.

In the past year, have you:

  • Had times when you ended up drinking more, or longer, than you intended?
  • More than once wanted to cut down or stop drinking, or tried to, but couldn’t?
  • Spent a lot of time drinking? Or being sick or getting over the aftereffects?
  • Experienced a craving — a strong need or urge — to drink?
  • More than once gotten into situations while or after drinking that increased your chances of getting hurt (such as driving, swimming, using machinery, walking in a dangerous area, or having unsafe sex)?
  • Found that drinking, or being sick from drinking, often interfered with taking care of your home or family? Or caused job troubles? Or school problems?
  • Continued to drink even though it was causing trouble with your family or friends?
  • Given up or cut back on activities that were important or interesting to you, or gave you pleasure, in order to drink?
  • Continued to drink even though it was making you feel depressed or anxious or adding to another health problem? Or after having had a memory blackout?
  • Had to drink much more than you once did to get the effect you wanted? Or found that your usual number of drinks had much less effect than before?
  • Found that when the effects of alcohol were wearing off, you had withdrawal symptoms, such as trouble sleeping, shakiness, irritability, anxiety, depression, restlessness, nausea, or sweating? Or sensed things that were not actually there?

If any of these symptoms are things you or a loved one has experienced, your drinking habits may already be cause for concern. The more symptoms you’ve experienced, the more likely it is that you’ve become physically dependent on alcohol.

Habitual Alcohol Use and Its Effect on the Brain

It’s important to understand the chemical effects of habitual alcohol use on the brain in order to understand what happens when a person suddenly stops drinking alcohol. Alcohol is what is known as a depressant, and in the beginning, it has a calming and relaxing effect on the user. These desired effects of alcohol use are actually the result of the drug interfering with the way the brain naturally communicates. 

Heavy alcohol use can even interfere with the part of the brain responsible for breathing, leading to dangerously slow and shallow breaths. This risk is compounded when other substances, such as prescription painkillers, are consumed with alcohol. This is known as polysubstance use and can be incredibly dangerous and even deadly. 

Alcohol also affects the pleasure centers of the brain, telling them to create a neurotransmitter (signal carrier) called dopamine. Dopamine is the chemical messenger that’s responsible for many feelings of happiness, contentment, pleasure, and even memory. The more habitual the alcohol use becomes, the more the brain gets used to having this new source of dopamine. When the drinking is suddenly stopped, the brain’s natural systems keep functioning abnormally. This leads to a lack of dopamine and other effects that cause negative issues related to alcohol withdrawal.

If you or a loved one has developed an addiction to alcohol, Serenity Lane is here to help you regain control of your life.

Symptoms of Alcohol Withdrawal

Serenity Lane Alcohol Withdrawals

The signs and symptoms of alcohol withdrawal can start to take effect within 12 to 24 hours after the person’s last drink. For long-term or severe alcohol users, the effects of alcohol withdrawal can begin to take effect much sooner, even after just a few hours. Someone deep in the grips of alcohol addiction may have developed a lifestyle that lets them keep an increased blood alcohol level at all times. Lowering this alcohol content in the blood, even slightly, can trigger a series of negative reactions and symptoms in the brain and body.

Some of the more mild symptoms of alcohol withdrawal can begin to show up within 6 hours of someone stopping alcohol consumption. These symptoms can include:

  • Anxiety
  • Headache
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Insomnia (trouble sleeping)
  • Sweating

While these symptoms are very uncomfortable and potentially serious, they are not the most dangerous symptoms of alcohol withdrawal. Sudden alcohol cessation (SAC) is a syndrome that begins to develop in the early stages of alcohol detox and occurs when the body is shocked by the lack of alcohol. The longer and more severe the addiction to alcohol, the more severe the consequences of SAC can be. The majority of deaths that happen due to alcohol withdrawal occur during this stage of detox.

When someone is going through SAC, they can expect to have a whole host of serious problems and symptoms. Some of these serious conditions include:

  • Delirium tremens (DTs): Symptoms of DTs can begin to show up within 48 to 96 hours after a person quits drinking. Someone who is experiencing the effects of DTs may become extremely agitated, confused, and disoriented. They may also have visual and auditory hallucinations. This means they may see or hear things that aren’t actually happening as well as other delusions.

They can also develop an extreme sensitivity to light and sounds. Extreme cases of DTs may also cause a person to fall into a deep, coma-like state, sleeping for days at a time. In this stage of detox, a person is at the highest risk for seizures that can potentially be deadly.

  • Heart issues: The sudden lack of alcohol in the bloodstream can cause disturbances or changes in the rhythm of the heart. This can affect the contractions of the heart, or how the heart beats normally. Sometimes these effects are serious enough to potentially cause heart stoppage and death.

Although heart failure is typically only seen in older, long-term alcohol users who have already started to experience alcohol-related damage to the heart, heart problems can occur in anyone who tries to quit alcohol without proper medical help.

  • Malnutrition: People suffering from an addiction to alcohol often neglect the nutritional needs of their bodies. Over time, this can lead to a lack of essential vitamins and minerals the body needs to function properly. Even alcohol users who consume proper amounts of nutrients may have trouble with malnutrition. This is because, over time, alcohol begins to damage the lining of the stomach. This makes it much more difficult for the stomach to absorb essential nutrients

People who are going through alcohol detox are often given nutritional supplements and medications to help offset these nutritional shortages.

Why Should I Consider an Alcohol Detox Program?

It’s very important to consider checking into a medically supervised detox program when you first start to notice the signs of alcohol use disorder in yourself or a loved one. This first step is so important because it’s often the first true step a person can take toward a lifetime of success in recovery.

Medically supervised detox can be incredibly important for the overall health and wellbeing of a person facing addiction because the alcohol withdrawal period can be very difficult and even dangerous. Because of this, many insurance programs view detox as necessary care for those with alcohol use disorder. 

Detox can also be the first step toward addressing any underlying medical conditions that may have led to addiction in the first place. This means starting at detox as the first step can not only ease the burden from a medical and insurance standpoint, but it can also give the care team a solid basis for mental health treatment for the person struggling with addiction. This is also why a full range of care is so critical when seeking addiction treatment services.

Detox and the Treatment of Alcohol Withdrawal

Alcohol Withdrawal

Here at Serenity Lane, we provide a cutting-edge, medically supported withdrawal program, also known as alcohol detoxification, at our inpatient treatment facility in Coburg, Oregon. The first step in your recovery from alcohol use disorder is detox.

Our team of medical professionals uses a standardized protocol that’s designed to be the most effective way to help someone achieve long-term recovery from dependence on alcohol. They are prepared and qualified to handle all aspects of detox, including withdrawal symptoms and mental health issues that may occur.

In order to be sure that safety is the top priority of medical detox, Serenity Lane focuses on the benefits of having qualified, compassionate professionals who can handle the withdrawal process with ease. The discomfort and pain that can be associated with alcohol and drug withdrawal can make it crucial that those going through detox get medical care that addresses both their emotional and medical needs. Alongside the physical risks of quitting alcohol on your own, this focus on treating the whole person is why a medical detox program is so important.

At Serenity Lane, our processes are developed with the goal of giving you the best chance of turning alcohol addiction into lasting recovery.

Alcohol Withdrawal Program Offerings at Serenity Lane

In addition to detox services, we offer a personalized assessment that gets to the root cause of substance use. Our programs offer medical staff who are able, and eager, to support you 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. We also feature comfortable, home-like environments that can make withdrawal symptoms easier to deal with.

But our program offerings don’t stop there. We also provide additional assessments as needed for care that can help you process the underlying issues that may be driving your alcohol use disorder.  We are also proud to boast treatment plans that are created for you, with your input, by professionals with years of experience.

Medical treatment is customized, so the length of stay in the hospital will vary. The nursing staff, physician, psychiatrist, and assigned counselors work together to develop a specific treatment plan. When the client’s medical condition has stabilized, the physician will arrange for transfer to the residential treatment program.

Medications Used in Detox

While there are no medications that will instantly and completely resolve the withdrawal symptoms of AUD, some medications may be used to manage individual symptoms. Craving-management medications, such as Vivitrol, may also be used to help in your recovery. A doctor will monitor your condition and help you cope with symptoms in a compassionate, caring environment. Your health is our No. 1 priority.

Serenity Lane is Here To Help You Quit Alcohol for Good.

When choosing a treatment center for alcohol use disorder, it’s important to choose one that understands addiction and the best ways to help promote strong, lasting change. Under the care of our compassionate team of healthcare professionals, we will guide you through the first steps of living a life free of alcohol dependence. We’re the oldest nonprofit treatment program in the state of Oregon.

With centers all around Oregon, Serenity Lane makes your physical and mental health our No. 1 priority.

You’re stronger than you may think, and we’re here to help.

Call us today at 800-543-9905 for a no-cost consultation with one of our mental health professionals.

Serenity Lane


What happens if you give up alcohol?

If a person is physically addicted to alcohol, they will experience alcohol withdrawal when they give up alcohol. Alcohol withdrawal comes with many negative effects that potentially can be deadly. The effects of withdrawal can include anxiety, headache, nausea, vomiting, sweating, and insomnia (trouble sleeping). These effects can also be potentially deadly and include heart failure and seizures.

Can your body go into shock when you stop drinking?

Yes, the body can go into shock when a person quits drinking. Sudden alcohol cessation (SAC) is a syndrome that develops in the early stages of alcohol detox and occurs when the body is shocked by the lack of alcohol. The longer and more severe the addiction, the more severe the results of SAC can be. Most deaths from alcohol withdrawal occur within this phase.

What are the side effects of not drinking?

If a person is physically addicted to alcohol, the side effects of not drinking can range from mild to severe and potentially deadly. Mild symptoms include anxiety, sweating, nausea, insomnia (trouble sleeping), and headache. Potentially deadly symptoms can include seizures and heart failure.

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