Has there ever been a time when you felt like you maybe drank too much alcohol? The headache and nausea the next day make work or school difficult. These symptoms typically go away as the day goes on and you hydrate. But what does it mean when these symptoms become more severe? The nausea and dizziness are not going away and you can’t stop shaking. Is this what withdrawal feels like?
In Harris County, Texas, 18.6% of adults reported binge drinking at least once a month in 2020. The average for the state of Texas was 16.4%. SUN Behavioral Health Houston has been working to educate the community about the dangers of binge drinking and alcohol use disorder. So, what is alcohol withdrawal? When the body becomes dependent on alcohol and does not get any for a certain amount of time, withdrawal symptoms will appear. Continue on to learn about these symptoms and what to do if you or someone you love is experiencing them.
For those who partake in binge drinking for prolonged periods of time, withdrawal symptoms are more likely to occur. For men, this means 5 or more drinks in one sitting, usually all consumed within about 2 hours. For women, this equals 4 or more drinks per sitting in 2 hours.
Heavy drinking refers to binge drinking on more than 5 occasions in a month. Men who consume 15 or more drinks per week and women who consume more than 8 drinks per week are also classified as having heavy or excessive drinking patterns.
The longer the drinking pattern continues, the more the likelihood of withdrawal symptoms and the increase in severity will occur. Even if you have only been excessively drinking for 30 days, withdrawal symptoms can still present themselves when you stop.
The most common symptoms of alcohol withdrawal include:
These symptoms are not always present in every case of alcohol withdrawal. The longer you have been excessively drinking, the more likely severe symptoms will occur. Let’s look at the timeline of withdrawal symptoms.
Stage one: the first stage of alcohol withdrawal is comparable to a hangover. It usually begins 6 to 12 hours after the last drink. For those who have not been drinking too excessively, this stage may be the only stage they experience. Symptoms are headache, nausea, vomiting, and shakiness. The difference between withdrawal and a hangover is that there is an increase in anxiety and restlessness as well as cravings for alcohol.
Stage two: 12 to 48 hours after the last drink, symptoms will become more severe and alcohol withdrawal will be the noticeable cause. Irregular heartbeat and blood pressure are common during this time and seizures can present as well.
Stage three: the peak of symptoms occurs after 48 to 72 hours. Fever, restlessness, and delirium tremens (DTs) are serious alcohol withdrawal symptoms and can be life-threatening. It is best to seek medical attention if you are experiencing any of these. DTs refer to the most severe withdrawal symptoms such as seizures, tachycardia, hallucinations, and severe tremors. Only about 5% of patients hospitalized for alcohol withdrawal experience DTs; however, they have been fatal up to 15% of the time.
The withdrawal timeline is not set in stone and every person is different. If you suspect your hangover is more than just that, seek medical advice.
Alcohol works by depressing the central nervous system. It does this by inhibiting the excitatory responses (caused by glutamate receptors) and enhancing the inhibitory responses (caused by gamma-aminobutyric acid receptors). Over time, the chronic use of alcohol causes the brain to have a constant depressive effect. Alcohol also binds with glutamate, increasing the depressive effect on the brain.
The GABA and glutamate receptors will adjust the number of neurotransmitters they produce to compensate for alcohol in the body. Because of this, it will take more alcohol to achieve the desired effect the longer it is used. The neurotransmitters will continue to attempt balance with the increasing amounts of alcohol.
This is why withdrawal symptoms can become dangerous. The neurotransmitters continue to be out of balance, causing high blood pressure, seizures, and hallucinations. GABA and glutamate receptors can become restored to a normal balance with time and abstinence from alcohol.
Diagnosing alcohol withdrawal requires a full examination and accurate medical history. Medical staff may also do a toxicology screen to see if any alcohol is present in your system. If hangover-like symptoms do not start resolving within 12 hours, it is time to seek medical attention. Be completely open about the amounts of alcohol you have been drinking and for how long. In certain instances, medication is needed to manage alcohol withdrawal symptoms.
Not everyone who needs alcohol withdrawal treatment has alcohol use disorder. At SUN Behavioral Health Houston, our program not only has a medical detox but inpatient and outpatient services as well. Our facility also has a 24-hour crisis care unit that is capable of treating alcohol withdrawal symptoms.
Alcohol Detox: Detoxing helps the body readjust to not having alcohol in the system. When alcohol is consumed on a regular basis, the brain and other organs become used to it. When alcohol is taken away, it can take time for the body to recover, but this process is very important to healing and long-term recovery. The detox program is medically supervised and our staff is trained in medication management as well. Our team meets with each individual patient to decide what treatment plan is right for them after detox.
Inpatient: our patients stay at our facility 24/7 and participate in group and individual therapy. We create an individualized course of treatment that can include dual diagnosis with mental health conditions as well as wellness techniques to create healthy habits.
Outpatient: for our patients transitioning out of inpatient care or for those who do not need as much support as an inpatient stay. The patients come to our facility to receive therapy, medication management, and support throughout the day, 5 days per week. They do not stay onsite overnight; they are free to go home and then come back the next day.
Alcohol withdrawal is serious and life-threatening. If you or someone you love suspect alcohol withdrawal is occurring, do not hesitate to seek help. SUN Behavioral Health Houston has a 24-hour crisis care unit that can stabilize patients experiencing alcohol withdrawal. Call us today at 713-796-2273 to find out more about our treatment program.
Withdrawal symptoms begin in as little as 6 hours after the last drink.
Withdrawal symptoms include irritability, anxiety, shakiness, restlessness, headaches, nausea or gastrointestinal issues, tremors, hallucinations, and seizures.
Withdrawal will have a different timeline for everyone but generally, it lasts up to 72 hours.