Understanding the Symptoms of Alcohol Detox Syndrome
Although many people are able to engage in social drinking without incident or experiencing alcohol detox symptoms, there is no denying that alcohol consumption can lead to addiction and result in serious impairment and disturbances in a person's life. Alcohol addiction is characterized by compulsive drinking despite negative consequences and this chronic condition plagued more than 16 million adults in the United States in 2014 1. If you believe that you or someone you know may drink too much, it is important to seek help.
Denial of problems related to alcohol abuse is quite common, especially with regard to realizing the severity of such problems. As a result, you may not feel as though your drinking is problematic or even that you need to stop drinking. Not only can alcohol abuse cause serious mental and physical health problems, it can also lead to problems in your personal relationships and may affect your productivity in the workplace or school. Examining your drinking habits and looking at the negative effects that drinking causes can sometimes serve as the first step to seeking the help you need.
Common Alcohol Withdrawal Symptoms
According to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition (DSM-5), alcohol detox symptoms can include 2,3:
- Increased anxiety.
- Mood swings.
- Excessive sweating.
- Rapid pulse.
- Repetitive, uncontrollable movements.
- Clammy or pale skin.
Alcohol detox symptoms typically emerge within several hours to a couple days after cessation of or dramatic reduction in alcohol use. Alcohol withdrawal symptoms appear when blood concentrations of alcohol decline sharply, which can be as soon as 4 hours after the last drink, depending on the individual and level of consumption. The symptoms of alcohol withdrawal syndrome usually peak in intensity during the second day and often subside by the fourth or fifth day 2.
In some cases, alcohol withdrawal syndrome can be so severe that a person experiences a condition known as delirium tremens or alcohol withdrawal delirium, which can be life-threatening without supervised detox treatment. Symptoms of this condition can include 2,3:
- Severe confusion.
- Visual, tactile, or auditory hallucinations or illusions.
When delirium tremens develops, it is likely that the person will have a co-occurring and alcohol-related medical condition as well. Common medical conditions seen in patients with delirium tremens include liver failure, electrolyte imbalance, stomach bleeding, low blood sugar, and pneumonia 2.
Following acute alcohol withdrawal, protracted withdrawal symptoms such as anxiety, insomnia, and autonomic dysfunction may last for up to 6 months 2. These post-acute withdrawal symptoms can be distressing and negatively interfere with an individual's life, which is why it is extremely important to seek comprehensive alcoholism treatment and follow-up support that can provide you with the foundation for long-term recovery.
If you or someone close to you has experienced the alcohol withdrawal symptoms listed above, do not wait to get help. It is never too late to get the medical treatment and emotional help required to overcome alcohol abuse. With the right help, you can recover and lead a sober life free from alcohol addiction.
Types of Alcohol Detox Treatment
There are many different types of alcohol detox treatment programs. The goal of all types of alcohol detox treatment is to manage withdrawal symptoms, prevent possible complications, provide medical and mental health care, and foster the patient's transition into an alcohol abuse treatment program following the completion of detox.
"If you or someone close to you has experienced the alcohol withdrawal symptoms listed above, do not wait to get help."One of the most common types of treatment is inpatient detox treatment. Individuals who experience moderate to severe alcohol detox symptoms may require inpatient or residential treatment to help with their withdrawal symptoms. In an inpatient facility, you will be monitored around-the-clock to prevent possible complications. You are required to stay at the facility for the duration of the detox program, which allows you to be separated from triggers and your old using environment while your body eliminates alcohol and any other toxins.
Your age, overall physical and mental health, the amount of alcohol regularly consumed, the length of alcohol abuse, individual physiology, and co-occurring drug use, will all impact the manifestation of alcohol withdrawal syndrome. Depending on your individual needs and severity of withdrawal symptoms, your treatment plan may include the following:
- Monitoring of vital signs, including body temperature, blood pressure, blood levels, and heart rate.
- Fluids through an IV.
- Administration of medications to alleviate withdrawal symptoms and prevent a medical emergency.
- Individual therapy.
There are also outpatient alcohol detoxification programs available for those who choose not to reside in a facility while going through the detoxification process. Outpatient treatment may be beneficial for individuals who experience only mild to moderate alcohol detox symptoms. If you choose the outpatient detox treatment method, it is important to have a strong support system who can encourage and support you during this critical phase of recovery. An outpatient detox program will often require daily visits at a physician's office or at an outpatient facility until the patient is stable.
Treatment in an outpatient detox program may include:
- Sedative medications to ease the symptoms of withdrawal.
- Routine blood tests.
- Family and patient counseling to assist with long-term recovery.
- Testing and treatment for additional medical problems associated with alcohol use.
Choosing the Right Treatment Program
In deciding which alcohol detox program is right for you or your loved one, you will need to consider the severity of the addiction and what is most important to you. Many people find it helpful to have family members or friends assist them in deciding which type of treatment program will best meet their needs. Comprehensive inpatient treatment programs are often able to provide professional detox services as a component of an addiction treatment plan.
Other factors that should be considered in selecting an alcohol detox program may include the types of services offered in the facility. Many detox facilities offer a complete array of programs and services to address codependent issues that may include eating disorders, drug addiction, depression, and anxiety.
If you believe that you or a loved one may be suffering from alcohol detox symptoms, it is important that you do not delay in seeking help. With proper guidance, support, and medical care it is possible to recover fully and lead a healthy and sober life.
1. National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. (2016). Alcohol Facts and Statistics.
2. American Psychiatric Association. (2013). Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (5th ed.). Washington, DC: American Psychiatric Association.
3. U.S. National Library of Medicine. (2015). Alcohol Withdrawal.