When a person drinks for extended periods of time and then stops drinking, their body is going to experience the effects. If it’s been days, months, or years, their central nervous system is going to react to the lack of alcohol in their system. A syndrome or illness develops because the body has become dependent upon alcohol and has developed a tolerance to it. However, once the body is free of alcohol, it will react in certain ways as it readjusts to the absence of the substance.
Six to eight hours after the last drink a person will begin to experience the symptoms of alcohol withdrawal. These can include the symptoms listed below:
- Shaky hands
- Mild anxiety
- Nausea and/or vomiting
- Hallucinations (visual, auditory, or tactile)
- Seizures (can occur either as a single clearing seizure or as a brief episode of multiple seizures)
- Severe confusion
- Irregular heartbeats
- Impaired attention
- Death (not common but can occur in 1-5% of people)
This list of symptoms also includes the more severe effects of alcohol withdrawal that can come after 12 to 24 hours. The longer one goes without having alcohol, the more severe the symptoms get, including confusion, disorientation, high blood pressure, and fever. Furthermore, if a person quits drinking and then goes through a period of withdrawal and then returns to drinking again, the subsequent periods of withdrawal will get worse and worse. For instance, for those who binge drink and then do not consume alcohol at all for a period of time, they may feel more the more severe effects of alcohol withdrawal syndrome each time they go without alcohol. In these cases, however, a person may not be consciously choosing to withdraw from alcohol.
When a person decides to quit drinking, they may experience the difficulties of alcohol withdrawal syndrome. The way to avoid significant complications with detoxing from alcohol is to obtain the support of a medical professional. It’s particularly important to seek medical attention even if symptoms are mild because they can rapidly worsen. Many alcohol detox programs are supervised and facilitated by medical professionals so that they can reduce health risks. In fact, alcohol withdrawal symptoms can create a medical emergency if alcohol detox is not done facilitated by professionals.
If a person decides to quit drinking and gets the professional support they need, it’s best to have the support to stay sober. This might be residing at a sober living home or a halfway house to stay involved in a sober environment. As mentioned above, those who try to quit and then return to drinking and then quit again may experience more severe withdrawal symptoms. For this reason, if you’re going to quit, make sure to get the sober support around you to do it right the first time. And because alcohol withdrawal syndrome comes with certain health risks, be sure to get the professional help you need.