Alcohol Withdrawal

Alcohol Withdrawal

Definition

Alcohol withdrawal is a reaction that happens after alcohol is stopped. It can be deadly.

Causes

Alcohol misuse changes how the body works. The body needs a chance to get back to normal when alcohol is stopped. The body cannot work as well during this time. This leads to withdrawal.

Risk Factors

Sudden stopping of alcohol raises the risk of this problem. This risk is increased in older adults.

Symptoms

Withdrawal will start after use is stopped. This can be in a few hours to a few days. The types of problems a person has depends on the length of misuse. Common problems are:

  • Irritability
  • Tremors or shaking
  • Fast heartbeat
  • Problems thinking or understanding
  • Sweating
  • Fever
  • Feeling weak
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Lack of hunger
  • Sleeping problems
  • Seizures
  • Cravings for alcohol
  • Seeing or hearing things that are not there

Anxiety

Physical reaction anxiety
Anxiety is a symptom of withdrawal from alcohol.
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Diagnosis

The doctor will ask about your symptoms and health history. You will also be asked about your alcohol use. A physical exam may be done.

Blood and urine tests will be done.

Treatment

The goal of treatment is to manage symptoms. The treatment used will depend on a person's symptoms. This can be done with:

  • Specialized care in a detoxification center where progress can be monitored closely
  • Supportive care, such as vitamins and fluids
  • Lifestyle changes, such as exercising regularly and getting enough sleep
  • Medicines to ease cravings and other withdrawal symptoms
  • Counseling or group therapy to learn ways to stay away from harmful habits

Prevention

There are no known guidelines to prevent withdrawal when alcohol misuse has started.

RESOURCES:

Alcoholics Anonymous
https://www.aa.org
Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration
https://www.samhsa.gov

CANADIAN RESOURCES:

Canadian Centre on Substance Use and Addiction
http://www.ccsa.ca

References:

Alcohol withdrawal syndrome. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at: https://www.dynamed.com/condition/alcohol-withdrawal-syndrome. Accessed March 25, 2021.
Gortney JS, Raub JN, et al. Alcohol withdrawal syndrome in medical patients. Cleve Clin J Med. 2016 Jan;83(1):67-79.
Last reviewed September 2020 by EBSCO Medical Review Board Daniel A. Ostrovsky, MD

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This content is reviewed regularly and is updated when new and relevant evidence is made available. This information is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with questions regarding a medical condition.

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