One of the primary symptoms of having an alcohol use disorder (*: see below for definition) is it tells us we don’t have a problem. Even when we reach for a bottle to “take the edge off.” Even when we lie to a loved one, employer or co-worker about our drinking. Even when we find ourselves doing things that could endanger our lives or others’ lives. Even when we break the law or our commitments or our company’s policies. Regardless of the risks, damage and consequences to one’s health and well-being (as well as that of others), the voice in the head of someone who is dependent on alcohol will deny there’s a problem sufficient enough to warrant quitting.
[*: ‘Alcohol Use Disorder’ is a chronic relapsing brain disease characterized by an impaired ability to stop or control alcohol use, despite adverse social, occupational or health consequences. AUD can range from mild to severe, and recovery is possible regardless of severity.”]
And if you’re feeling “alone” or “unique” in any way regarding your alcohol dependence, think again. According to the 2019 National Survey on Drug Use and Health, 14.1 million adults ages 18 and older (5.6 percent of this age group) had AUD. This includes 8.9 million men (7.3 percent of men in this age group) and 5.2 million women2 (4.0 percent of women in this age group).
Indeed, earlier this year (4/3/20), an article in Medical News Today pointed out “anyone can develop alcohol use disorder. A person can sometimes become dependent on alcohol within a few weeks, but in other cases, it can take several years. It is important that people seek help if they suspect that they are becoming dependent on alcohol.”
So, if you’re finding not drinking is a challenge, or you can’t seem to “stay stopped,” even when you tell yourself (or others) you’re going to, you may have developed an alcohol use disorder. The “good news” is there is plenty of help available to assist you in detoxing from alcohol and establishing a recovery program you can use to stay sober and restore the quality of your life, relationships and work, one day at a time.
“‘Detoxing from alcohol’? What’s that go to do with my quitting drinking?” An alcohol detox occurs once a person stops drinking, and alcohol starts to leave the person’s system. While a person goes through alcohol detox, they can develop several symptoms of withdrawal. In some cases, symptoms can become life-threatening.
When a person is ready to quit drinking, they should consider seeking professional help to reduce the intensity of the symptoms. According to the American Addiction Centers, initial detox takes about a week. However, a person may find that their symptoms continue for longer.
Alcohol withdrawal symptoms commonly occur in 3 stages:
- Stage 1: The first symptoms, which include nausea, anxiety, insomnia and abdominal pain, tend to begin within 8 hours of the last drink.
- Stage 2: Symptoms can include high blood pressure, increased body temperature, abnormal heart rate, and confusion. These symptoms typically begin 24–72 hours after the last drink.
- Stage 3: Symptoms typically begin about 2–4 days after the final drink and can include fever, seizures, hallucinations, and agitation.
Typically, a person will start to notice their symptoms decreasing as the alcohol leaves the system. The majority of people begin noticing a reduction in symptoms within 5–7 days.
It should be noted that a person with an alcohol use disorder who has stopped drinking will likely experience some psychological side effects, as well. These often include anxiety or cravings for alcohol.
Again, it should be emphasized that withdrawal from alcohol can bring about life-threatening symptoms, especially after heavy and prolonged use. Such symptoms, typically called ‘withdrawal syndrome,’ can include severe hallucinations or seizures. For this reason, it is highly suggested to go to an addictions treatment center, where specially trained medical staff can help you manage whatever arises in the process of your alcohol detox.
As Jenna Fletcher, the author of the article in Medical News Today, states, “When detox occurs in a treatment center, healthcare professionals often use medication to treat the symptoms of withdrawal. Doctors may prescribe benzodiazepines to manage seizures and other alcohol withdrawal symptoms. The healthcare team will monitor the person’s body temperature, blood pressure, and breathing. A doctor might also recommend certain dietary changes or supplements, such as vitamins B-1 and B-9, to help the body cope with the decreasing alcohol intake.”
The bottom line is having a specially trained medical staff supporting you as you go through alcohol detox can help you smooth the way forward, and potentially save your life, as you step into the new life awaiting you in recovery.