Alcohol is an almost universal legally obtained intoxicant inextricably linked with widespread substance abuse and several adverse short- and long-term health effects. It is a central nervous system depressant—drinking can lead to a loss of coordination, poor judgment, slower thought process, and loosening of inhibitions.
According to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA), over 15 million adults in the United States had an alcohol abuse disorder in 2015, yet only 1.3 million of them received formal alcohol addiction treatment.1
Alcohol is the most commonly abused of any substance. The following are some reasons why2:
As tolerance builds, it is likely that physical dependence will develop as well. Once you are dependent on alcohol, unpleasant and potentially fatal withdrawal symptoms will emerge if you suddenly cut back on alcohol or quit drinking altogether. Professional detoxification services are available to help you through distressing withdrawal symptoms, ensuring comfort and safety throughout the process.
Moderate drinking is defined as up to two drinks a day for men and one drink a day for women.3 One drink is considered a 1.5-ounce shot of a distilled spirit or liquor, a 12-ounce serving of beer, an 8-ounce serving of malt liquor, or a 5-ounce glass of wine.4 Though moderate alcohol consumption has been linked with certain health benefits—such as providing some cardiovascular benefits and certain other protective effects—it’s potential drawbacks are impossible to ignore.
Excessive drinking can lead to intoxication, which may have some pleasant or desirable effects but can also be problematic. Some short-term effects of alcohol abuse may include:5
Intoxication may be intensified when alcohol is combined with other psychoactive substances, such as marijuana, cocaine, opioids, or benzodiazepines. Mixing alcohol with other drugs can be extremely dangerous and lead to overdose or other harmful consequences.
Long-term alcohol consumption can have a devastating impact on a person’s mental and physical health. Chronic drinking may result in lasting disruptions of certain neural pathways and can lead to drastic changes in behavior and mood, as well as impaired cognitive functioning.4 Some potential long-term effects of alcohol abuse include:4,6
As previously mentioned, chronic alcohol consumption causes a person’s tolerance to increase, which means that they require more alcohol to achieve intoxication.7 Tolerance to some of alcohol’s intoxicating effects does not mean protection from adverse health effects, however. In fact, the high amount of alcohol required to overcome tolerance can lead to alcohol poisoning, which could require emergent medical attention.
Long-term drinking can also lead to significant physiological alcohol dependence, which means that withdrawal symptoms are likely to emerge if you try to cut back or quit drinking. Alcohol withdrawal symptoms can be life-threatening and often require professional detox treatment.
The acute alcohol withdrawal syndrome manifests itself differently depending on various individual factors such as age, physiology, mental and physical health, the abuse of other drugs, the length of alcohol consumption, the frequency of alcohol consumption, and average amount consumed. After prolonged bouts of drinking, some people will experience at least a few of the following alcohol withdrawal symptoms; in more significant cases of alcohol dependence, others may encounter most or all of them:8
You can receive drug detox and/or alcohol addiction treatment in a safe and comfortable environment supervised by medical professionals.
If you or someone you love has experienced symptoms of this nature when attempting to quit or cut back on alcohol use, it is time to reach out for help. You can receive drug detox and/or alcohol addiction treatment in a safe and comfortable environment supervised by medical professionals.
The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition (DSM-5) indicates that alcohol withdrawal symptoms tend to emerge within 4-12 hours of the last drink. As alcohol is metabolized and cleared from the body fairly rapidly, the onset of withdrawal symptoms is often abrupt, but symptoms then resolve relatively quickly. Symptoms tend to peak around the second day and subside by the fourth or fifth day.7
Because many issues factor into the withdrawal process, any general withdrawal timeline is going to be a mere estimate of what ultimately transpires. Factors that may predict a more intense or complicated alcohol detox experience include the following:7
As mentioned, the effects of withdrawing from alcohol are quite complex and sometimes present some serious health risks. Physical risks include cardiac complications related to blood pressure spikes, dehydration and electrolyte imbalance due to vomiting, accidents related to hallucinations or delusions, and seizures. These symptoms are best monitored and managed with medical supervision.
There are some potential long-term effects related to alcohol withdrawal, referred to as protracted or post-acute withdrawal. These symptoms can persist for weeks, months, or years once acute withdrawal symptoms have been resolved.9 They can be particularly distressing and can interfere with the recovery process. Some examples of common protracted withdrawal symptoms associated with chronic alcohol abuse include:3,8,9
Transitioning into a comprehensive alcohol abuse treatment program once you complete detox can help to mitigate some of these protracted withdrawal symptoms and can provide you with the foundation you need to begin on the road to sobriety.
You may be apprehensive or scared about entering a detox program, particularly if you aren’t acquainted with the detoxification process. A professional alcohol detox provides the medical supervision and support needed for you to safely clear alcohol and other substances from your system.5,8 Trained medical and psychiatric staff members provide around-the-clock support and are available to intervene if the patient experiences medical complications related to withdrawal.8
Detox is a safe, medically supervised method designed to clear your system of alcohol and other substances.
The objective of an alcohol detox program is to help patients withdraw from alcohol comfortably and safely and prepare them to transition into an alcohol abuse recovery program. Detoxification typically has 3 key components, including:8
If you are already experiencing withdrawal when you enter the detox program or hospital, the doctor or mental health professional will likely use the Clinical Institute Withdrawal Assessment for Alcohol, Revised (CIWA-Ar) to evaluate the severity of your alcohol withdrawal symptoms, which can be categorized into 3 stages. These stages increase in severity and include:10
Without appropriate treatment, an individual can progress from the first stage to the second and third rather quickly, which is why alcohol detox is so vital.10 Alcohol detox programs provide a structured environment for those detoxing from alcohol while addiction treatment programs provide an intensive and thorough approach to recovery by addressing the underlying issues driving substance abuse.
Withdrawing from alcohol can be uncomfortable and, in some cases, presents serious health risks, but programs are available to help you get though the process safely with minimal emotional or physical trauma. A thorough evaluation of your risks for withdrawal complications will help to determine the most appropriate level of care. Medical detox options include:
Detoxification is only the first step in treating alcoholism. Many have failed to maintain sobriety because they tried to return to their old lives once they detoxed from alcohol. Relapse is a very real possibility unless one is armed with the tools to stay on the path of recovery. Alcohol and drug detox are step one; additional treatment helps provide these relapse prevention tools.