When heavy or frequent drinkers suddenly decide to quit “cold turkey” they will experience some physical withdrawal symptoms — which can range from the mildly annoying to severe and even life-threatening.
The severity of these withdrawal symptoms is usually dependent upon how “chemically dependent” the chronic drinker has become. Those who drink heavily on a daily basis of course have developed a high level of dependency, but even those who drink daily, but not heavily and those who drink heavily but not daily, can also be chemically dependent upon alcohol.
When someone who has become “alcohol dependent” decides to stop drinking, they will experience some level of physical discomfort. For this reason, it is extremely difficult for them to merely stop drinking “on their own” without assistance and support.
The scenario has been played over and over many times. After a particularly damaging or embarrassing binge, the hungover person will make an oath to himself and others to drink “never again” and quite often is sincere about quitting.
But with the onset of withdrawal symptoms, also comes the “craving” for more alcohol. The body is telling the drinker that it “needs” alcohol. As the physical symptoms of withdrawal begin to increase, taking another drink simply becomes less painful than not taking one — or so it seems at the time.
For those who have committed themselves to not drinking again, or forced by circumstances to not have access to alcohol, the struggle to fight the withdrawal symptoms can become a dangerous battle, one that can actually become life threatening.
For some, who are less chemically dependent, withdrawal symptoms might be as “mild” as merely getting the shakes, or the sweats — or perhaps nausea, headache, anxiety, a rapid heart beat, and increased blood pressure.
Although these symptoms are uncomfortable and irritating, they are not necessarily dangerous. But they are often accompanied by the “craving” for more alcohol, making the decision to continue abstinence much more difficult to make.
Even the “morning after” hangover of someone who only occasionally drinks to excess, is actually a mild form of alcohol withdrawal from the excesses of the night before, as the alcohol content of their blood begins to drop. The symptoms can appear within a few hours after not drinking.
However, within six to 48 hours after not drinking, hallucinations may develop. These usually are visual hallucinations but they can also involve sounds and smells. They can last for a few hours up to weeks at a time.Also within this time frame after quitting, convulsions or seizures can occur, which is the point at which alcohol withdrawal can become dangerous, if not medically treated. The symptoms may progress to delirium tremens (DT’s) after three to five days without alcohol. The symptoms of DT’s include profound confusion, disorientation, hallucinations, hyperactivity, and extreme cardiovascular disturbances.
Once DT’s begin, there is no known medical treatment to stop them. Grand mal seizures, heart attacks and stroke can occur during the DT’s, all of which can be fatal.
The good news for those who are extremely alcohol dependent, and who wish to quit drinking, all of these symptoms can be alleviated and even eliminated with proper medical treatment.
Typically, for those who are mildly dependent doses of vitamins (Thiamin) and a proper diet will prevent most of the mild withdrawal symptoms from occurring. For the severely dependent, medication can be administered, but only by a physician.
One approach is to substitute Valium for alcohol and gradually reduce the dosage until the patient is drug free.
If you are a heavy drinker and want to quit, consult a trained medical professional, and be honest about your usual alcohol intake. The psychological withdrawal is enough to deal with, without also having to fight the physical symptoms.You don’t have to do it “on your own” to prove anything to anyone. Help is available, take advantage of it.
Alcohol withdrawal refers to a group of symptoms that may occur from suddenly stopping the use of alcohol after chronic or prolonged ingestion.Not everyone who stops drinking experiences withdrawal symptoms, but most people who have been drinking for a long period of time, or drinking frequently, or drink heavily when they do drink, will experience some form of withdrawal symptoms if they stop drinking suddenly.
There is no way to predict how any individual will respond to quitting. If you plan to stop drinking and you have been drinking for years, or if you drink heavily when you do drink, or even if you drink moderately but frequently, you should consult a medical professional before going “cold turkey.”
Mild to moderate psychological symptoms:
Feeling of jumpiness or nervousness
Feeling of shakiness
Irritability or easily excited
Emotional volatility, rapid emotional changes
Difficulty with thinking clearly
Mild to moderate physical symptoms:
Headache – general, pulsating
Sweating, especially the palms of the hands or the face
Loss of appetite
Insomnia, sleeping difficulty
Rapid heart rate (palpitations)
Eyes, pupils different size (enlarged, dilated pupils)
Tremor of the hands
Involuntary, abnormal movements of the eyelids
A state of confusion and hallucinations (visual) — known as delirium tremens
“Black outs” — when the person forgets what happened during the drinking episode
Women who recover from drug and alcohol addiction may not kick the habit just for their children or because they have a sudden “wake up call” about their problem, according to a small new study of former female addicts.These women – many of whom are over the age of 35 and hold a college degree – took a proactive role in overcoming substance abuse, replacing those addictions with new lifestyles that include school, work, community service and physical exercise.
Women Face Difference Challenges
Women are the fastest-growing segment of substance abusers in the United States: About 2.7 million American women abuse alcohol or drugs, or one-quarter of all abusers, according to the federal Center for Substance Abuse Prevention. But there is little research on women’s stories of how they recover from drug and alcohol addiction, according to Ohio University sociologist Judith Grant.
Grant, a visiting assistant professor, spent three years in a non-profit agency in Canada, where she worked as a researcher and educator with more than 300 female addicts enrolled in a recovery program. Many of the women faced different challenges than male addicts and devised unique ways to overcome substance abuse, Grant said.
Reasons For Quitting Drugs
To document their stories, the sociologist interviewed 12 Canadian women and 14 Ohio women who have been off drugs and alcohol for at least 18 months. She presented preliminary findings at the American Society of Criminology meeting in Chicago.While this study may not be reflective of all women addicts, it implies that some of the earlier studies may have mischaracterized addiction recovery for women. One concept the analysis refutes is that women abandon drugs and alcohol for the sake of their kids, said Grant.”Children are important, but if these women don’t recover for themselves, they generally relapse,” she said.
Unearthing Their Real Selves
The women also could not specify a “turning point” that prompted their recovery; for most the awareness of the need to overcome their substance abuse was a slow process, Grant found. And their success at recovery did not hinge on changing their identities from “addict” to “ex-addict,” as the literature suggests, but unearthing their real selves. The women viewed using drugs and alcohol as an activity they were involved in, not an identity they had assumed.”They bring back an old identity from before they got addicted, before the violence and drug abuse,” she said. “This is really me now,’ they say. ‘The blanket is gone.'”
Replacing Addiction With Another Passion
Half of the women in the study had used a program such as Alcoholics Anonymous or Narcotics Anonymous to overcome addiction, but the other half succeeded on their own. All of the women have replaced addiction with another passion in their lives, Grant said, ranging from physical exercise to volunteer work to school. Some now mentor other women who are overcoming addiction.The participants began using drugs or alcohol in their teens or early 20s to mask the pain of family violence and incest, according to Grant, who added that all also reported having a family member who was an addict. These experiences produced crippling low self-esteem, a theme particular to these women’s stories.
Addiction Linked With Domestic Violence
“I’ve never heard a male addict, to this day, in my work, talk about a ‘lack of self-esteem,'” Grant said.Grant hopes her findings will be of use to addiction recovery agencies and other organizations that assist women. The strong link between domestic violence and substance abuse should be acknowledged by addiction recovery centers and battered women shelters, she said, which tend to treat each problem in isolation.
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