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Quitting Drinking: The Alcohol Withdrawal Roller Coaster

Deciding to stop drinking alcohol can herald the start of a very difficult journey, one that should be undertaken with great care.  If the body has become dependent on alcohol, withdrawal can be very dangerous, and can even lead to death if not done properly.  Not being aware of the deadly consequences of rapid alcohol withdrawal leads many people to embark on this journey alone.

Alcohol Withdrawal – A Personal Account

One such journey is described in the following story from a recovering alcoholic.

For me, deciding to quit drinking altogether didn’t happen overnight.  It was a long road to recovery, but an unsuccessful suicide attempt, followed by a two-week bender, meant the decision to seek help was the only path I could follow that did not include death.  Even though I knew I needed to quit drinking, I still had a lot of denial about how bad my drinking really was, so the idea of getting medical help to withdraw was not even on my radar.  I simply committed to stop drinking and started to go to Alcoholics Anonymous, as I knew this would somehow help.

The first few days of no alcohol were an hour by hour struggle.  My brain was fighting with itself, debating whether I really was an alcoholic.  By noon I would be needing a nap as my body was physically craving alcohol and I felt as though if I did not shut it down, I would figure out a way of getting any alcohol I could find.  In the afternoons, I would start to have a slight tremor in my hands and each minute felt like an eternity.  I would get hot flashes followed by the chills and I was unable to concentrate on anything for more than 30 seconds. 

The only reason I survived a week was that I was surrounded by family, at a cottage in the middle of nowhere.  I spent a lot of time staring at the lake wondering how I got myself into this mess.  My skin itched, my body ached, and I was scared that the second I got back to the city I would run to the liquor store. I managed to get through that first week and started to go to regular AA meetings.  These would distract my brain just long enough for me to get through part of the day, and brought me just enough hope that perhaps I could actually be sober.  My body continued ache, I slept whenever I could and I would normally head to bed just after dinner, as I knew that if I stayed up much longer I would find a wine store that was open and run to it.  There were a lot of nightmares, a lot of night sweats and tears that constantly filled my eyes.   Slowly but surely, my body began to get back to normal, though the nightmares and profuse sweating stayed around for months.  Being sober was still not easy, but about six weeks into the journey at least my body began to feel like it was mine again.  It was still just a beginning, but I was glad to be on the journey.         – Candice P.

In this story, we see just how difficult it can be to withdraw from alcohol.  We see that most of the alcohol withdrawal symptoms can clear relatively quickly, while the emotional side effects such as anxiety and insomnia can last for weeks. Physically, withdrawal can cause tremors as well as aches and pains all over the body.  Recovering alcoholics will often report having psychological symptoms like the nightmares described in the story.

Coping Without Alcohol

There can also be a lot of mood swings in early sobriety as the addict no longer has alcohol to help cope with difficult emotions. As with addictions to other substances, people addicted to alcohol often drink in order to help regulate their emotions, and once they take the alcohol away it becomes increasingly difficult to deal with certain situations.  When you take the alcoholic’s drug away, all the situations might have prompted them to drink are still around, and the ups and downs of everyday life can feel impossible to deal with.  Withdrawing from alcohol is by no means easy, and those who do it might want to seek professional help in order to do so safely.

Staying Safe During Alcohol Withdrawal

Something to note when withdrawing from alcohol is that it can cause death if not done with care.  When withdrawing from alcohol, one should look for signs and symptoms of delirium tremens (DT) which can lead to death if left untreated.  The symptoms of DT include hallucinations, fever, seizures, sever confusion and agitation.  The symptoms will show up one to two days after the last drink and should be taken seriously.  It is often advised that those looking to withdraw from the use of alcohol be placed under medical supervision due to the possibility of DT, and if the symptoms begin to appear, the addict should go straight to the hospital.

When an addict withdraws from their drug of choice, it can be very difficult on their mind and body.  The ups and downs of withdrawing from alcohol can be severe, and the addict should be surrounded by friends or family when trying to do so.  Seeking the help of a medical professional may be the best course of action when it comes to alcohol withdrawal, so that the individual can be safe when coming off this deadly substance.  Once the addict has safely withdrawn from alcohol, they will be able to start the work of living a sober life.

Photo credit: Find Rehab Centers. This picture has a Creative Commons attribution license.