alcohol withdrawal timeline

Alcohol Withdrawal Timeline, Symptoms and Treatment

Alcohol is a widely-used substance, and may create both psychological and physical dependence. When dependence develops, an individual will experience withdrawal symptoms upon removing alcohol from the body. Withdrawal from alcohol can be severely uncomfortable and even dangerous in some cases. It’s important to understand the risks of cold-turkey alcohol withdrawal and how to find appropriate help to keep yourself safe through the detoxification process.

Alcohol Consumption in the United States

Alcohol is consumed by a little over half of Americans age twelve and over, according to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. Alcohol is the most used substance in the United States, with over 55% of people 26 and over consuming alcohol in a given month. Although many people do not develop a problem with alcohol, an estimated 6.2% of American adults suffer from alcohol use disorder. According the same statistics on alcohol consumption, over a quarter of American adults engage in binge drinking behavior in a given month.

Alcohol Withdrawal Symptoms

The symptoms of alcohol withdrawal vary depending upon the individual’s case. The most common symptoms of alcohol withdrawal are:

  • Tremors and shaking
  • Fevers and sweating
  • Anxiety and irritation
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Headache and muscle soreness
  • Insomnia
  • Appetite changes
  • Cravings for alcohol

Alcohol impacts the GABA receptors in the brain. GABA receptors are the main inhibitors of the central nervous system, the system in your body responsible for calming you and bringing you down. When you go through the detox process, your body essentially responds with agitation in the same system. Instead of calming, the body can become tense, irritated, anxious, and generally functioning poorly. In more severe cases, alcohol withdrawal can lead to seizures and coma, ultimate resulting in death.

alcohol abuse side effects

Detox Timeline

Like the withdrawal from any other substance, alcohol detox happens in stages. the timeline of alcohol withdrawal symptoms may depend on your individual case, but it will follow a general path based on the half-life of alcohol in the body.

  • First 24 Hours

    During the first day after your drink, you’re likely to experience some anxiety, cravings for alcohol, and agitation. You may also experience intestinal discomfort and nausea. These may be symptoms very similar to a hangover, and may be worse than your normal hangover if you continue to not drink. The first day is difficult and a crucial period as many people seek alcohol out in order to manage symptoms of withdrawal.

  • First Couple Days

    After the first 24 hours, symptoms may worsen. During the first few days, additional symptoms may develop. You may experience things like increased blood pressure, sweating and fevering, depression and loss of energy, mood swings, and cognitive problems with memory and attention. During this period, individuals may develop physical symptoms that can be dangerous if unmanaged. It’s important to have trained physicians and clinicians observing you to manage the symptoms you are experiencing.

  • Alcohol Withdrawal Day 3 and 4

    People who go through alcohol detox often cite the third day of alcohol withdrawal as the worst. This is a time in which symptoms are likely to peak in severity, and many people relapse during this period. The good news is that if you can make it through this period, symptoms are likely to diminish.

  • 3 Days – 2 Weeks

    During the next week or so, symptoms will generally decrease. However, this is the period in which life-threatening withdrawal symptoms may arise in more severe cases of alcohol abuse. Users may experience delirium tremens, hallucinations, fever, mental confusion, and periods of intense agitation. Mood disturbances and fits of anger may occur.

Alcohol Addiction Treatment

Many people are able to drink alcohol normally, but those that develop an addiction may put themselves at risk. Alcoholism can be deadly, cause a lot of pain for individuals and their family members, and cause long-lasting effects on the mind and body. After going through the withdrawal process, it’s crucial to continue treatment for alcoholism. Moving on to a residential treatment center like Elevation Behavioral Health increases your chance at staying sober in the long-run.

It’s important to find the right help. You may want to consider if you need dual diagnosis treatment, medically-assisted detox, and/or long-term care. Although the medical and clinical communities have developed standards of care for alcohol addiction treatment, each person has an individual set of experiences and individual needs. As such, it’s crucial to find treatment that fits your specific needs in order to receive the best possible care and get the best chances at building a life in recovery.

4 Effects of Alcohol on Your Heart

When speculating about the damage that alcohol does to the body, the kidneys are usually the first organ that comes to mind. Alcohol does greatly reduce kidney functionality, but there are more than 200 alcohol-induced diseases, and many of them primarily involve the heart. There are also additional ways that alcohol withdrawal can be harmful on the body. Here are just four of the countless ways alcohol can negatively affect the heart.

  1. Alcoholic Cardiomyopathy
  2. Cardiomyopathy is the medical term for disease of the heart muscle. This is a progressive disease with several different causes, but heavy drinking in particular has a toxic effect on the muscle cells of the heart. This is referred to as alcoholic cardiomyopathy.

    When a person develops cardiomyopathy, the heart becomes abnormally large due to the thickening of the muscle tissue. As the walls of the heart stiffen, it becomes difficult for blood to pump effectively. Blood backs up, causing further stress on the pulmonary system, and eventually the heart fails.

  3. Cardiac Arrhythmias
  4. Cardiac arrhythmia means the heart beats abnormally. There are two common forms of arrhythmias associated with alcoholism:

    Supraventricular tachycardia – Rapid heart rate originating from the atrioventricular node
    Atrial fibrillation – Rapid and irregular beating that gets progressively worse, usually associated with binge drinking.

    Both types of arrhythmias are potentially life-threatening and require medical treatment, especially if symptoms are persistent, recur for more than seven days or are permanent.

  5. Hypertension
  6. Alcohol abuse is one of the most common causes of secondary hypertension, or high blood pressure. Secondary hypertension is high blood pressure caused by an underlying medical condition, in this case, drinking alcohol in excess.

  7. High blood pressure has a long-term effect on:
    • Arteries
    • Heart
    • Endocrine System
    • Kidneys

    Left untreated, high blood pressure can lead to kidney failure, heart disease and stroke. High blood pressure is sometimes called the silent killer because there are often no symptoms.
    Secondary high blood pressure will not respond to traditional treatments. The underlying cause, alcoholism, must be managed in order to lower blood pressure and prevent further damage to vital organs.

  8. Stroke
  9. The high blood pressure resulting from alcoholism increases the risk of different types of strokes, including an embolic stoke. The risks are magnified for those who already have an underlying circulatory problem, such as pre-existing heart disease.

    A study conducted by researchers at the Oulu University Central Hospital looked at 212 patients between the ages of 16 and 60 who had ischemic strokes, a stroke caused by a blood clot in the brain. They found that heavy drinking was a contributing factor to clot formation, but those who quit drinking were at a significantly lower risk of developing further health issues.

    These are just four of the potentially life-threatening conditions that affect the heart and circulatory system as a result of long-term alcohol abuse. When you receive the help you need, you are not only helping your kidneys, you’re helping your heart and healing body as a whole.

How Alcohol Affects the Brain

Alcohol has a powerful physical effect on the body. It alters more than just mood, though—alcohol abuse is capable of physically changing how the brain functions. If exposed to alcohol repeatedly, the brain will rewire itself, altering how it produces and utilizes the chemicals responsible for feelings such as pleasure or reward. As a first step to recovery, it is crucial to understand what is happening in the brain when alcohol is introduced to the body and why overcoming alcoholism can be so challenging.

Alcohol and Brain Chemistry

When a person consumes alcohol regularly, it affects the levels of neurotransmitters in the brain. These chemical messengers transmit signals through the body that control behavior, emotion and thought processes. Some parts of the brain that are affected include:

Excitatory Neurotransmitters: These neurotransmitters regulate activity and energy levels. Upon consumption of alcohol, they immediately slow down the connections in the brain—shortening response times, creating cognition issues and slurring speech.

Cerebellum: The cerebellum is the center of movement and balance in the body. Alcohol triggers it to malfunction, causing people to stagger, walk off-balance and even fall down.
Medulla: The medulla controls bodily functions such as body temperature, breathing and consciousness. Alcohol can slow down the medulla’s functions and cause a person to feel sleepy and lethargic.

Dopamine Levels: Dopamine is the “feel good” hormone that rewards pleasurable activities. Because alcohol releases more dopamine, the brain believes that it is being rewarded when alcohol is present. After a while, though, a person will be unable to experience happiness without the help of alcohol—sending them into a deep depression.

Effects of Alcohol Dependency

So there are changes in the brain, but how do they affect a person as a whole? The list of effects of dependency is staggering. Symptoms can come in waves across various periods of time, but here are a few effects to watch out for:

Short-Term: Short-term memory lapses, known as blackouts, as well as problems with balance, speech, cognition and reaction time.

Medium-Term: Decreased effects of dopamine, causing your brain to lose the ability to feel happy without alcohol and causing you to fall into depression.

Long-Term: Permanent brain damage—physical shrinking of the brain, deficiencies in the fibers that carry information between brain cells and a permanent altering of the brain’s chemistry. This can lead to more severe mental illnesses, such as dementia.

The longer the brain is exposed to alcohol, the more intense these symptoms will be and the harder it will be to overcome the dependency. Once the brain is permanently damaged, some of the cognitive problems associated with alcohol exposure may not be reversible.

No One is In This Alone

Millions of people across the country struggle with alcoholism every day, but there is hope in the darkness. There are highly qualified treatment centers that specialize in helping people overcome addiction. It is important to find a facility and a program that matches individual needs and is capable of providing the personalized treatment necessary.