Alcohol withdrawal is a result of physical dependence caused by routine and excessive drinking, with a physical-somatic withdrawal syndrome likely upon cessation of use. Withdrawal is largely due to a hyper excitable response in the central nervous system as it responds to lack of alcohol, with symptoms a direct result of discontinuation.
Alcohol withdrawal requires careful management, with patients often needing to go through a specialized detox program prior to rehab treatment. Benzodiazepines and other drugs are often used to alleviate and manage withdrawal symptoms, with some medications only available through residential detox programs.
To learn more about treatments for this and other addiction-related conditions, call Plano Drug Treatment Centers at (972) 805-5950.
Alcohol withdrawal syndrome (AWS) can be severe and dangerous in some situations, with medications and support required to manage symptoms and encourage recovery. The intensity of AWS differs widely depending on the extent and length of dependence. Symptoms range from mild physical disturbances through to life-threatening complications, with early symptoms occurring just a few hours after the last drink.
Common early symptoms include agitation, headaches, sweating, nausea, vomiting, shaking and anxiety. Additional symptoms are likely beyond the 12 hour period, including mental confusion, hallucinations, tremors and similar ailments. Seizures should be anticipated beyond the 24 hour period, with delirium tremens also possible beyond the 48 hour mark in extreme cases.
Delirium tremens is a condition marked by the most severe symptoms possible, with hallucinations, confusion, seizures and high blood pressure sometimes lasting up to 12 days. Also known as "the horrors," "shaking frenzy," or "the shakes," delirium tremens is a very serious condition that can lead to serious neurological insult, epileptogenesis and even death.
A protracted or post-acute withdrawal period is also possible in some cases, with insomnia and other symptoms sometimes lasting for months or even years after alcohol discontinuation. In order to avoid the potential complications of withdrawal, around-the-clock medical support and prescription medications may be required.
Kindling can be experienced by long-term alcoholics, with this phenomenon associated with people who have been through multiple detoxifications.
In a typical kindling scenario, each withdrawal syndrome is more severe than the last. For example, people with binge drinking or alcohol abuse problems may enter treatment to deal with their drinking problems, yet not experience physical-somatic withdrawal symptoms. If they start to drink again following treatment and develop an alcohol dependence problem, their next attempt at detoxification is likely to be more severe.
A physical withdrawal syndrome may be experienced at this stage, with more extensive symptoms that require medication support. If this process continues for a few iterations, the patient may end up experiencing full-blown delirium tremens, with convulsive seizures and hallucinations possible.
Kindling can end up causing brain damage and cognitive deficits, with each withdrawal syndrome more extreme and dangerous than the last.
AWS is typically treated with benzodiazepines, with drugs like Valium and Serax used to suppress withdrawal symptoms and enable a safe recovery. While long half-life drugs are generally preferred to short half-life drugs, intermediate half-live drugs like lorazepam may be safer in people with existing liver problems.
Anticonvulsants such as topiramate and carbamazepine have also proved effective in treating AWS, with antipsychotics such as haloperidol sometimes prescribed with benzodiazepines to control agitation and psychosis. Nitrous oxide has also been used to help manage the withdrawal process, with the prophylactic administration of thiamine, folate and pyridoxine also recommended in many cases.