The symptoms of Alcohol Withdrawal Syndrome (AWS) typically begin 6 to 24 hours after the last drink and can last from a few days to two weeks. Chronic alcoholics, however, can go into withdrawal as quickly as two hours from their last drink and might suffer from protracted alcohol withdrawal (PWS) where symptoms are present for up to a year. Those who have experienced AWS several times are at a greater risk for a medical emergency or death when they stop drinking. AWS occurs primarily in alcoholics that have been drinking steadily for weeks, months or years.
Sections in this Article
- Alcohol Withdrawal Syndrome
- Signs & Symptoms of Alcohol Withdrawal
- Withdrawal from Alcohol Timeline
- Heavy Drinking Defined
- Treatment for AWS
Alcohol Withdrawal Syndrome (AWS)
AWS is a “hangover on steroids”.
It is a potentially deadly condition. It can develop in heavy drinkers that have consistently been abusing alcohol and then either stop suddenly or significantly reduce their drinking. AWS occurs primarily in alcoholics that have been drinking steadily for weeks, months or years. According to the Centers For Disease Control and Prevention, excessive alcohol consumption is the 4th leading cause of preventable death in the United States.
Signs & Symptoms of AWS
The severity of the symptoms depends upon several important elements. Age, overall health, history of alcohol abuse and previous detoxifications all play a role, though, the key factors are how heavily an individual has been drinking and for how long. Many heavy drinkers continue to drink because of the painful and uncomfortable symptoms of AWS , which can include:
- Fatigue and Insomnia
- Shaking hands
- Moods (anxiety, irritability, depression)
Some severe withdrawal symptoms are:
- Heart attack or stroke
- Hallucinations and extreme anxiety
- Increased blood pressure and pulse rate
- Extreme anxiety
- Irregular heartbeat
- Disorientation and confusion
Withdrawal from Alcohol Timeline
AWS typically begins 6 to 24 hours after the last drink and can last from a few days to two weeks. Chronic alcoholics, however, can go into withdrawal as quickly as two hours from their last drink and might suffer from protracted alcohol withdrawal (PWS) where symptoms are present for up to a year. Those who have experienced AWS several times are at a greater risk for a medical emergency or death when they stop drinking.
Heavy Drinking Defined
Heavy drinking is defined as 5 or more drinks on the same occasion on each of 5 days or more in the past 30 days. This kind of prolonged alcohol consumption disrupts chemicals in the brain, called neurotransmitters, which send messages back and forth. Heavy drinking on a regular basis suppresses neurotransmitters, which is why over time more and more alcohol is needed to produce the same results. This is known as tolerance.
Treatment for AWS
Because of the physical effects of AWS the safest approach is to seek medical attention. There is effective medical treatment for AWS, which can help manage symptoms while an individual moves through the detox process. Severe withdrawal often requires an inpatient stay in the hospital or treatment center.
Very often, AWS is a signal that a person has a physical and mental dependency on alcohol. Addiction is a complex disease of the brain, and the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism estimates that as many 17 million Americans struggle with alcoholism (now known as alcohol use disorder).
Withdrawing from alcohol is only the first step on the road to recovery. Treatment and therapy can help problem drinkers examine their choices and behavior. In some cases, recovering alcoholics have damaged personal and professional relationships.
They might even face pending legal issues. Learning to cope with these difficult situations while remaining alcohol-free takes time and effort. Because of the nature of addiction, relapses are common, but a variety of resources exist to help people recommit to a sober, healthy and happy lifestyle.
If you or someone you know, shows any signs of AWS, call 911 immediately.
AWS can lead to the “Delirium Tremens” (DTs), which can be fatal.
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