Alcohol Withdrawal Guide: Causes, Symptoms and Treatment Options

If you do not have insurance, your doctor can help put you in touch with a facility or treatment program that offers financial aid, financing, or a sliding scale payment system, in which you pay what you can. On average, an alcoholic who doesn’t stop drinking can expect to decrease his or her life expectancy by at least 15 years. The following list of medications are related to or used in the treatment of this condition. Behavioral therapies can help those struggling with alcohol abuse focus on avoiding old patterns and identify the root causes of addiction. Heavy alcohol use also depletes the body of vital electrolytes and vitamins, such as folate, magnesium, and thiamine. So, treatment may also include electrolyte corrections and multivitamin fluids.

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AWS is often accompanied by intense cravings to drink and may affect your emotional, cognitive, and physical well-being. Symptoms of AWS are often treated with sedatives called benzodiazepines. The most prescribed benzodiazepine is chlordiazepoxide, which is only available as a generic in the United States. It’s important to be honest about your alcohol use — and any other substance use — so your provider can give you the best care. It slows down brain function and changes the way your nerves send messages back and forth.

Benzodiazepines

Consequently, these agents should be used only in combination with benzodiazepines. In general, the use of beta-blockers for treating withdrawal should be considered primarily for patients with coexisting coronary artery disease. Antipsychotic medications such as haloperidol can treat hallucinations and agitation that are unresponsive to adequate doses of benzodiazepines. Because antipsychotic medications can increase the risk of seizures, however, these agents should be used only in combination with benzodiazepines.

History and exam

Cross-tolerance also implies that when a person experiences a deficiency of one agent (e.g., alcohol during withdrawal), the other agent (e.g., a benzodiazepine) can serve as a substitute, thereby easing the withdrawal symptoms. Patients with mild withdrawal symptoms (i.e., CIWA–Ar scores of 8 or less) and no increased risk for seizures can be managed without specific pharmacotherapy (Mayo-Smith 1997; Saitz and O’Malley 1997). Successful nonpharmacological treatments include frequent reassurance and monitoring by treatment staff in a quiet, calm environment. Most patients with mild withdrawal symptoms, whether they are treated or not, do not develop complications. Based on the patient’s score on the CIWA–Ar, the physician determines the appropriate treatment (see table). For all patients, especially those experiencing severe withdrawal symptoms, proven benefits of treatment include amelioration of symptoms, prevention of both seizures and DT’s, and treatment of DT’s.

  • Symptoms of alcohol withdrawal can occur after a person suddenly stops drinking or suddenly strongly reduces drinking after prolonged and heavy exposure to alcohol.
  • People with alcohol use disorder or those who come to the ER intoxicated face higher odds of death within a year than the general population.
  • Your doctor’s treatment goal is helping you stop drinking as quickly and safely as possible.
  • Symptoms of alcohol withdrawal are caused by stopping or strongly reducing alcohol consumption in a person living with a chronic alcohol use disorder.
  • Thus, a diagnosis of DT’s and AW seizures should be made only after other reasonable causes for these complications have been excluded.

alcohol withdrawal

However, controlled studies have not provided sufficient data to demonstrate that these agents can prevent seizures or DT’s. Furthermore, barbiturates have a narrow therapeutic index—that is, the difference between the minimum dose required for a therapeutic effect and the dose at which the agents become toxic is small. DT’s, which last up to 3 or 4 days, are characterized by disorientation and are usually accompanied by autonomic signs resulting from the activation of the nerves responsible for the body’s response to stress). Those signs include severe agitation, rapid heartbeat (i.e., tachycardia), high blood pressure, and fever. About five percent of the patients who experience DT’s die from metabolic or cardiovascular complications, trauma, or infections (Victor and Adams 1953; Cutshall 1964). A doctor may also prescribe a sedative drug, such as a benzodiazepine, to help reduce withdrawal symptoms such as restlessness or agitation.

alcohol withdrawal

How Much Do I Have to Drink to Experience Withdrawal?

  • Alcohol (ethanol) depresses (slows down) your central nervous system (CNS).
  • Avoid people who may encourage you to drink alcohol or may not support your decision to stop.
  • For all patients, especially those experiencing severe withdrawal symptoms, proven benefits of treatment include amelioration of symptoms, prevention of both seizures and DT’s, and treatment of DT’s.
  • Alcohol, a CNS depressant, stimulates the GABAergic system and, in acute intoxication, causes a range of clinical manifestations such as disinhibition, euphoria, and sedation.
  • Generally, you may need treatment for alcohol misuse when you can no longer control the amount you drink or how long you drink.

It’s also important to note that delirium tremens can be life-threatening. The experience of withdrawing from alcohol alcohol withdrawal can be uncomfortable and difficult. Some people may relapse, or drink alcohol again, to relieve the symptoms.

Alcohol Withdrawal Syndrome: Symptoms, Causes, Treatment, and More

When a person ceases their consumption of alcohol, their CNS becomes overexcited, causing symptoms that have associations with alcohol withdrawal. By Sarah Bence, OTR/LBence is an occupational therapist with a range of work experience in mental healthcare settings. Millions of people join support groups to help stop drinking and stay stopped. Studies show support groups play an instrumental role in helping people develop healthy social networks that result in continued sobriety. However, medical complications can occur during the acute phase of withdrawal.

Timeline of Alcohol Withdrawal Symptoms

alcohol withdrawal