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Effects of Alcohol Withdrawal

Alcohol withdrawals can appear within hours of stopping or reducing the intake of alcohol. The severity and the symptoms vary by individual and with each withdrawal occurrence. They can range from mild tremors and pain to massive convulsions that are life-threatening and result in significant illness or death.

Alcohol Dependency

Alcohol dependency or alcoholism is a progressive disease that affects multiple systems in the brain and central nervous system. Sometimes it stimulates neurotransmissions between nerve cells and other times, it inhibits them. In the normal sense, these neurotransmissions are what keeps the person physically and psychologically balanced.

Alcohol changes all of that. With repeat exposure to alcohol, the brain’s neurochemistry adapts to having the alcohol in the system in order to compensate for its depressing effects on the central nervous system (CNS). When the alcohol content in the blood is reduced, the brain becomes unbalanced again although it remains in a hyperactive state causing withdrawal syndrome.

Alcohol Withdrawals

alcohol withdrawal

If one stops drinking suddenly after having a dependency on alcohol, withdrawal can occur.

The constant disruptions to the CNS can damage organs and their vital functioning and many alcoholics have impaired physical and psychological health from their alcoholism. These conditions along with patterns of alcohol use, genetic variations, and a variety of other factors contribute to the differing symptoms and severity of alcohol withdrawal syndrome.

The most common alcohol withdrawal symptoms include:

  • Craving for alcohol
  • Tremors
  • Insomnia
  • Fatigue
  • Anxiety
  • Agitation
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Loss of Appetite
  • Vivid Dreams
  • Headache

More severe withdrawals include:

  • Seizures
  • Hallucinations
  • Delirium Tremons (DTs) characterized by disorientation, shakes, severe agitation, rapid heartbeat, fever, high blood pressure, irregular breathing, and other autonomic nervous system (ANS) stress responses.

Effects of Alcohol Withdrawal

According to a publication of the National Institute of Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, “Although multiple seizures are not common, AW is one of the most common causes in the United States of status epilepticus—a medical emergency characterized by continuous, unrelenting seizures.”

Psychological effects such as anxiety and depression can lead to manifestations of other psychological problems and repeat withdrawals can cause a kindling effect where each withdrawal occurrence is worse than the previous withdrawal.

Alcohol withdrawal can also cause illnesses and death from associated complications such as:

  • Gastritis or gastrointestinal bleeding from the esophagus, stomach, or intestines
  • Liver disease
  • Cardiomyopathy –heart muscle disorders
  • Pancreatitis
  • Disturbances in the electrolyte balance or alcohol ketoacidosis – a metabolic derangement that results in too much acid in the bloodstream and abnormally low levels of magnesium in the blood
  • Deficiency of the vitamin folate which can cause low blood cells
  • Deficiency of the vitamin thiamine which can lead to neurological problems such as Wernicke’s encephalopathy – an acute condition characterized by general confusion, difficulty walking, abnormal eye movements, and loss of balance

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