Although the number of people who consume alcohol is steadily declining, alcohol abuse remains a serious problem throughout the world. Alcoholism is a disease that affects the sufferers in many different ways. Likewise, when sufferers abstain from alcohol to attempt recovery, the effects on their body is also varied. However, the recovery process can still be broken down into three levels, increasing in both onset time, and severity, although most people will not experience all of the different stages. This article looks at each of the levels in turn and explains what side effects to expect for the recovering alcoholic during withdrawal.
The stage 1 side effects are usually the first to materialize around 8 to 10 hours after the last alcoholic drink. These are the least severe symptoms but can still make withdrawal an uncomfortable experience. The most commonly experienced side effects are nausea, anxiety, and insomnia, although heart palpitations, vomiting, depression and mood swings may also occur. While these symptoms are bothersome, they are usually not dangerous to the individual and will pass over time.
The more severe stage 2 symptoms usually occur after the first stage effects and tend to appear one or two days after the last drink. Some of the possible side-effects are an increase in blood pressure, irregular heartbeat (arrhythmia), a higher body temperature and a faster breathing rate. Alongside these, the person recovering may show more noticeable mental problems than stage 1, with confusion, irritability and rapid mood swings all common.
For most people, these symptoms do not necessitate medical intervention. However, for those at high risk, particularly those with cardiovascular problems, it would be wise to get medical advice if these symptoms occur. It is always sensible to err on the side of caution and to contact a health practitioner if there are any concerns.
(If you are attempting alcohol withdrawal by yourself, and you think you are suffering from any of the stage 3 symptoms, contact your medical provider immediately.)
While less common, the stage 3 symptoms can be dangerous, and even life-threatening if left untreated. The most widely known of these side effects is delirium tremens, commonly called the DTs, or the shakes. While the exact cause of the DTs is unknown, it usually occurs in the heaviest long-term drinkers who stop suddenly. Delirium Tremens may accompany hallucinations, severe mental confusion, fever, and sometimes seizures. The first indication of the stage 3 symptoms is not usually seen until after three days from the last drink, making it the final stage to appear, and may even occur up to 10 days later.
For most people undergoing withdrawal, the side-effects will peak at around two days after alcohol last entered the body. Although, as would be expected, worse withdrawal symptoms link to those who drink the heaviest and have been drinking for the longest. However, recovery is very much unique to the individual, and it is important that whoever it is that is looking to stop drinking seeks medical advice if they feel they may be at risk of the more severe symptoms.