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How Dangerous is Alcohol Withdrawal?

Are you or somebody you love addicted to alcohol? You’re not alone. Millions of people across the world have an alcohol use disorder. Whether it’s binge drinking or daily drinking, it’s easy to cross the line into alcoholism if you drink regularly. About one in twelve Americans use alcohol dangerously. Red flags for dependence include drinking daily, blackouts, injuries caused while drinking, violence, and poor decision-making like drunk driving. Anyone can have an alcohol use disorder, but when it crosses over to addiction, the body becomes dependent. This means that a person will experience alcohol withdrawal symptoms when they quit drinking.

What Makes Alcohol Addictive?

Alcohol is a substance that can cause feel-good chemicals to release into the brain. From the moment a person lifts an alcoholic drink to their mouth and swallows, the body begins to process it.

As a person drinks, alcohol causes levels of dopamine and GABA (gamma-aminobutyric acid) to rise in the brain, making a person giddy or “buzzed”. These chemical messengers instruct the rest of your body to “feel good”. This message is a result of the dopamine that’s released. Dopamine causes  a feeling of pleasure and reward. GABA is a chemical that helps the brain and body fight stress, creating a calming effect when its levels are elevated.

This chemical process explains why alcohol makes people feel “good” while they’re drinking. Addiction, however, explains why people continue to drink even if they experience negative consequences. Alcohol dependence is an addiction. They’re the same thing. People don’t need alcohol for living or nutrients. For many people who identify as recovering alcoholics, the only choice is to stop drinking entirely or suffer grave health and social consequences.

What is Alcohol Dependence?

A dependence on alcohol means that a person’s body needs it to feel good. Thinking is impaired and actions may be irrational. All that matters when a person is addicted is that they can get their next “dose” of their drug of choice. With alcohol, dependence also means there is an increased tolerance. A person who drinks heavily for years will drink as much as possible to get their fix. The body and brain don’t tell them when to stop, and they can cause real harm to their brain, kidneys and liver while they’re drinking, especially over a long period of time.

Addiction describes the behaviors a person engages in to continue drinking and feeling “good.” When a body is dependent on a substance, the brain follows. It does whatever it convince you to replenish yourself with feel-good chemicals. This is why people who are addicted to alcohol have so much trouble quitting on their own. They may continue to drink despite arrests, alcohol-related injuries, and damaged relationships.

Alcohol Withdrawal Symptoms

Withdrawal is the first step to leaving addiction behind.  It can be dangerous for somebody who is a chronic alcohol user to get sober without the assistance of trained detox professionals. Not only can withdrawal symptoms be severe, they can also be health and life-threatening. Nearly 40% of alcoholics experience withdrawal symptoms when they cease using alcohol.

Common withdrawal symptoms include:

  • Shaking, anxiety, and sweating.
  • Mood swings, anger, easily becoming irritated or frustrated.
  • Nausea or vomiting. Sometimes an alcoholic will crave sweets, too.
  • Tachycardia (quickening heart rate) or high blood pressure.
  • Headaches, insomnia, or fatigue.

Some people who are withdrawing from long-term alcohol abuse will have the above symptoms for the first 48 hours, but after the second or third day, more dangerous symptoms can arise:

  • Fevers, hallucinations, and delusions.
  • Delirium tremens, which is very similar to psychosis but also has physical symptoms.
  • Both high blood pressure and high heart rate.
  • Seizures and fevers.
  • Wet brain, a kind of brain damage caused by alcohol abuse.
  • “The shakes” – a type of trembling that does not cease until withdrawal is over.

The more severe withdrawal symptoms require medical attention or monitoring because they can evolve and become life-threatening, especially if a person is alone while experiencing them. If you or somebody you love has an addiction to alcohol, detoxing is so very important when you’re ready to get sober. Doing it alone can be difficult and dangerous, but there are many programs that can help you begin the process of getting sober.

Getting Help for Addiction

Addiction is an insidious disease that changes the way a person thinks and acts. Many people with addiction want to get sober, but aren’t quite sure where to start. Recovery can start with a phone call to get help. We offer a sane, safe, calm environment to help people get through detox and begin to regain control of their lives. You deserve the chance to finally get sober.

Las Olas is a beautiful, inspiring home away from home that offers hope, peace and help for people struggling with addiction. Please give us a call at US (949) 279-1376 • MX (612) 153-5726 to learn more about our programs.



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Hi! I’m Melissa Stailey, a freelance writer that loves to cook. I live and work in Washington, DC.