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The symptoms of alcohol withdrawal

Most people have, at some point in their lives, experienced the pain of a hangover and learned a valuable lesson about the costs of overindulgence. However, for alcoholics, the pain of not drinking can be far greater, which can lead to continuous drinking to avoid alcohol withdrawal symptoms. This creates a vicious cycle that may require specialist treatment to break free from.

The symptoms of a hangover are often confused with the symptoms of alcohol withdrawal. What is being experienced in a hangover is the body’s reaction to a poisonous toxin taken in excess. Alcohol withdrawal symptoms occur when the body has become dependent on alcohol but at the same time, is starved of receiving it. So how does the alcohol change from being a poisonous toxin to a fundamental bodily resource?

A vicious cycle

The reason this vicious circle occurs is because alcohol is an unwanted toxin in the body. The body naturally protects against a toxin but when it is taken in large quantities, it adapts to it and becomes tolerant to its effects. As the body builds up a tolerance, the drinker must now take more of the drug in order to reach the same highs – and a vicious cycle begins. In the same way, the brain becomes tolerant to alcohol if it is used heavily on a regular basis. If that volume of alcohol is suddenly withdrawn, it responds by becoming highly overactive. It is this over-activity which can result in direct effects like epileptic seizures (discharged electricity in the brain) and memory damage, as well as alcohol withdrawal symptoms in the body. Increased adrenaline release in the body occurs as a result of this over-activity, resulting in the typical alcohol withdrawal symptoms of sweating and shaking.

Different levels of dependence

Different levels of dependence and intoxication will influence the intensity of these symptoms. Mild alcohol withdrawal symptoms are characterised by loss of sleep, agitation, and raised levels of anxiety and panic attacks. Moderate alcohol withdrawal symptoms include the symptoms mentioned above, as well as substantial sweating and a tremor in the hands and limbs. If withdrawal is really intense, the sufferer will find themselves needing to vomit and they will also have severe diarrhoea.

Delirium tremens

The most severe form of withdrawal, which is experienced by long-term alcoholics, is 'delirium tremens'. At this level, the addict or alcoholic could be suffering from confusion, disorientation, and visual or auditory hallucinations. The period of alcohol withdrawal may be further complicated and made more dangerous by the onset of seizures.

Before any therapy can take place at an alcohol rehab centre, the alcoholic must first go through a period of detoxification.

Life Works provides first rate support and guidance in the treatment of alcohol addiction.

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