What is Alcohol Withdrawal Syndrome?

Your Relationship with Alcohol

You’re a grown-up. You know your mind. You know good and well what you’re doing with your life, don’t you? What you do doesn’t affect anybody but you. If somebody has a problem with what you’re doing, that’s their problem. We all make our own choices in life. And if your choices are good enough for you, they should be good enough for the people around you.

You can quit drinking anytime you want to. Right?

Maybe you find that alcohol helps you sleep. Or helps you deal with stress. Perhaps it gives you a sense of balance during your day. If you can quit anytime you want to, then why don’t you want to?

When Alcohol has the Upper Hand

However, there’s another dimension to quitting. Not being able to quit drinking is known as dependence. If you’re dependent on alcohol, that is a sign of a greater problem at work. The CDC defines heavy drinking for men as 15+ drinks a week. For women, it’s 8+ drinks a week. If that’s you, quitting cold turkey might actually do you more harm than good.

For a heavy drinker, not drinking could lead to withdrawal. Withdrawal refers to the changes that happen in your body and mind as a result of not drinking. Alcohol Withdrawal Syndrome (AWS) includes the symptoms that occur when withdrawing from alcohol.

Your central nervous system (CNS) loves habits. Habits help it make sense of the world. Habits help it motivate you to pursue what you want. Alcohol is a depressant for your CNS. Like any depressant, it causes the CNS to slow down. If you stop drinking, your CNS will speed up. Even though it’s moving along at a “normal” speed, this isn’t your normal speed. The CNS doesn’t like sudden changes, and it will struggle to adapt to a lack of alcohol.

The Dangers of Alcohol Withdrawal Syndrome

Consequently, you’ll experience an increased heart rate, which will result in higher blood pressure. You’ll breathe a lot faster, and might get a headache. You’ll likely feel hot and sweaty. Your hands may shake. Emotionally, you might feel anxious, afraid, or angry. People around you could find you irritable. Nausea, vomiting, nightmares, and insomnia are also common.

On the more serious side of AWS is delirium tremens (DTs). People experiencing DTs may notice disturbances in their perception and judgment. They can become delusional; believing things that aren’t true. They can also have hallucinations, seeing and hearing things that aren’t actually there. They may become very confused or agitated. Worst of all, people suffering from DTs can have seizures. DTs can be fatal. Anyone experiencing DTs should seek treatment immediately.

As part of a treatment plan for AWS, your doctor may have you take a survey. It’s called the Clinical Institute Withdrawal Assessment for Alcohol, Revised (CIWA-Ar). It will help your doctor understand what your symptoms are. This will help in the planning of your treatment. People with AWS might be prescribed benzodiazepines like alprazolam (Xanax) or clonazepam (Klonopin).

Help is Available

AWS does not have to be your life. It needn’t be permanent. It will take work, and it will be difficult. But hope is real and recovery is possible. If you or someone you love is struggling with addiction to alcohol, call Harmony Health Group now at 866-461-4474.