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. For alcoholics, the pain of not drinking can be far greater, which can lead to continuous drinking to avoid withdrawal symptoms. This creates a vicious cycle that may require specialist treatment to break free from.
Most of us who enjoy the taste of alcohol have also probably suffered from the excruciating experience of a hangover at sometime or another. These symptoms 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. Withdrawal symptoms occur when the body has become dependant 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 directly 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 If that volume of alcohol is suddenly withdrawn, it responds by becoming highly overactive.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 intoxification will reflect the intensity of the symptoms. Mild alcohol withdrawal symptoms are characterized by loss of sleep, perhaps agitation, and raised levels of anxiety and panic attacks. The next level up is “Moderate alcohol withdrawal symptoms”. This is characterized by the symptoms mentioned above plus there is likely to be 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 diarrhea.
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 maybe further complicated – indeed made more dangerous - by the onset of seizures which are in fact epileptic fits.
Before any therapy can take place at an alcohol rehab centre the alcoholic must first of all go through a period of detoxification.