How Dangerous Is Alcohol Withdrawal?

This entry was posted in Alcohol Addiction on January 7, 2016 and modified on April 30, 2019

Making the tough decision to get help to overcome addiction to or dependence on alcohol is a positive step. It is, however, not an easy one to make and you’re probably wondering what’s in store for you. Before any substantive treatment program can begin, you first have to undergo detoxification to clear the alcohol from your body. Perhaps you think you can detox on your own to save time, money, possibly the embarrassment of others knowing you’re quitting drinking and trying to get clean. But this is both foolhardy and dangerous. Just how dangerous is alcohol withdrawal?

The short answer is that the effects of alcohol withdrawal range from mild to moderate to severe to life-threatening. Symptoms begin within two hours of cessation of alcohol use and can persist for weeks.

Detox Can Prove Fatal

The absolute worst outcome from alcohol detox done improperly is that you can die. In order to be safe, detox has to be medically monitored by professionals trained to assist in the event of an emergency and to ensure comfort and ease symptoms during withdrawal.

Why is alcohol withdrawal so dangerous? Here are the facts:

  • An alcoholic relies on alcohol both physically and mentally in order to function. This is a compulsion that becomes an alcoholic’s basic need for survival.
  • Alcohol is physically addicting, so that when your body doesn’t have what it’s used to, you get sick – and this can kill you.

Other Effects of Alcohol Withdrawal

If you try to detox on your own, without medical supervision and assistance, it can be very unsafe. The following symptoms are common:

  • Dehydration
  • Excessive vomiting
  • Anxiety
  • Irritability
  • Agitation
  • Tremors
  • Repeated seizures, called delirium tremens or DT – which can kill you in alcohol withdrawal

Risk factors for DTs increase with multiple detoxification attempts and include a history of seizures, older age, liver abnormalities and functioning and acute medical illness.

Symptoms of DTs usually peak at five days and include:

  • Severe tremors
  • Racing heartbeat
  • High blood pressure
  • Fever of a low grade
  • Excessive sweating
  • Hallucinations
  • Anxiety that’s severe
  • Confusion
  • Disorientation
  • Seizures

Getting Sober the Safe Way

The important thing to keep in mind is that you want to get clean and sober. This does require eliminating the alcohol from your body during detox. But getting sober doesn’t have to be done alone. There are state chemical dependency clinics as well as inpatient and outpatient alcohol treatment facilities with 27/7 medically-monitored detox programs available.  Look here to find one in your area.

If you’re serious about getting sober and have decided now is the time, talk with your doctor. Get referrals and recommendations about your options for medically-monitored, safe detox. If you have insurance coverage or can take advantage of reduced-fee or sliding-scale pay plans, the best choice may be to go into rehab.

Remember, getting rid of the alcohol in your system is just the preliminary step in your overall goal to live clean and sober. You need to learn coping skills, understand the disease of addiction and how you can incorporate healthier behavior patterns into your life. Participating in self-help or 12-step support groups will also help you maintain your commitment to living in sobriety. The encouragement and support you receive in these groups is invaluable in your quest to live free of substances.

Sources: National Institute on Drug Abuse; National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism

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