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Alcohol Withdrawal Symptoms

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Symptoms Associated with Alcohol Withdrawal

Alcohol Withdrawal Syndrome, or AWS, may begin to appear anywhere from six hours to a few days after your last drink, depending on the quantity and time frame within the alcohol was consumed.

Typically, several of these symptoms occur:

  • Tremors
  • Increased anxiety
  • Nausea and/or vomiting
  • Headache
  • Increased heart rate
  • Increased sweating
  • Irritability
  • Confusion
  • Insomnia
  • Nightmares

AWS may increase over two to three days and persist for several weeks. They may be more noticeable first thing in the morning with the decreased amount of alcohol in your blood stream.

One of the most severe symptoms of alcohol withdrawal is delirium tremens. Symptoms of delirium tremens include:

  • Acute confusion and agitation
  • High fever
  • Seizures
  • Tactile hallucinations (i.e., itching, burning and numbness)
  • Auditory hallucinations (i.e., hearing sounds that are not present)
  • Visual hallucinations (i.e., seeing things that are not there)

If you experience severe AWS symptoms, it is a serious medical issue and you simply must consult a healthcare professional. A high fever, hallucinations and heart issues can be critical conditions and require immediate medical attention.

How Is AWS Diagnosed?

A medical professional at the alcohol counselling services will review your medical history and social practices, ask about your symptoms and conduct a physical exam.

Some of the signs your doctor will look for include:

  • Shaky hands
  • Irregular heart rate
  • Dehydration
  • Fever

Your doctor may also order a toxicology screen and report. This test identifies how much alcohol is currently in your body.

One way to measure symptoms and predict their severity is through the use of The Clinical Institute Withdrawal Assessment for Alcohol (CIWA-Ar), a questionnaire devised specifically for AWS.

What is the treatment?

The treatment of AWS depends on how severe the symptoms are. Some people can be treated at home with rest and hydration, but others may need supervised medical care to avoid potentially dangerous complications.

The initial goal is to keep you comfortable by managing the symptoms. Alcohol counselling and education are also important parts of treatment. Your healthcare professional will want you to stop drinking as quickly and as safely as possible.

Mild symptoms of AWS can often be treated at home with help from a friend or relative. Their job is to keep an eye on you, make sure you go to alcohol counselling and/or a recovery support group and visit the doctor regularly. Your doctor will undoubtedly want to perform regular blood tests and may want to perform tests for alcohol-related medical problems.

If your home environment is not conducive for managing your withdrawal, talk to your doctor or counsellor to schedule an alcohol counselling session. He or she may be able to help you find an appropriate place to stay while going through the process.

If your symptoms are severe, you may need medical supervision in a hospital. In this situation, a doctor will be able to monitor your symptoms and manage any complications. You may need IV fluids to prevent dehydration and medications to ease the severity of the symptoms.

Medication

If your healthcare professional deems it advisable, your AWS may be treated with sedatives such as benzodiazepines (e.g. Valium, Xanax). After the withdrawal, the physician will determine if other medications and/or supplements are needed to address damage to the body and nutritional deficiencies that have arisen from your chronic use of alcohol.

Most people who go through AWS recover fully. If you stop drinking, seek appropriate treatment for an alcohol counselling session and are otherwise healthy, the prognosis is usually very good. However, sleep problems, increased irritability and anxiety, as well as fatigue and feelings of lethargy may continue for the first few months.

The onset of delirium tremens it can be fatal. If you start to experience severe symptoms of AWS, it is important to get medical attention immediately. The sooner you start treatment or an alcohol counselling session, the better your chances are of avoiding life-threatening complications.

The best way to prevent AWS is to not drink excessively. If you are already alcohol dependent, seek medical assistance and alcohol counselling right away. A healthy and happy lifestyle is right around the corner and making it through AWS puts you right on that road to recovery.

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