Category Archives: Alcohol Addiction

At What Point Does Drinking Become a Problem?

Unlike illegal substances such as cocaine or heroin, alcohol becomes legal at the age of 21. Alcohol is also prevalent in our society. It shows up as an invited guest to weddings, formal dinners, birthday parties, concerts and sports games. In a society where alcohol and social gatherings often come in pairs, how do you know when your drinking has become a problem?

Alcohol’s Effects on the Body

Drinking too much alcohol, even on a single occasion, can take a serious toll on your body. It affects the brain by interfering with the communication pathways. This is what leads to changes in mood, behavior and coordination.

Alcohol can cause heart problems such as high blood pressure and an irregular heartbeat. Drinking also takes a toll on the liver, leading to inflammation, fibrosis or cirrhosis. Research also shows a link between alcohol and an increase in certain cancers.

Each drink you take affects the body negatively. Still, people choose to drink because they feel that it helps them relax, unwind and have more fun. However, drinking on occasion can sneak up on you. No one intends to be an alcoholic, after all. So how can you tell when you’ve crossed the line?

Understanding Your Risk

First, it’s important to understand your personal risk factors. Of course, just because you are at risk does not mean you will develop alcoholism. Likewise if you are not at risk. You can still become addicted.

Below are the factors that may increase a person’s risk for alcoholism.

  • Genetics. People with a sibling, parent or child who abuses alcohol have 3-4 times the average risk of developing a drinking problem.

  • Mental Health. By some estimates, 37% of people with a drinking problem also have a mental health condition such as anxiety, depression or a personality disorder.

  • Age. In young people, alcohol use can lead to car crashes, suicides and homicide. People who start drinking at an early age are 4 times more likely to develop alcoholism than those who start drinking at 21 or over.

  • Gender. Drinking can affect both genders, but problem drinking is more common in men than women, especially in the 18-25 year age group.

Signs to Look For

Alcoholism does not show up overnight. It is a progressive disease that happens over time. If you feel that you are at risk for becoming addicted, get help. With so many options available these days, including convenient outpatient programs, you can easily and discreetly get the support you need to avoid a lifelong addiction.

Here are some signs that you may have a drinking problem.

  • Lying about or hiding your drinking

  • Drinking to relax or feel better

  • Not being able to stop once you start

  • Blacking out while drinking

  • Drinking in dangerous situations

  • Neglecting your responsibilities

  • Experiencing trouble in relationships

  • Building tolerance

  • Experiencing withdrawal

  • Trying to quit but cannot

If you are concerned about yourself or a loved one, call The River Source today. We have a number of programs to treat alcoholism and higher-than-average success rates. Plus, our rates are affordable and our programs are on the cutting-edge of integrative care.

Understanding the Most Common Alcohol Withdrawal Symptoms

For centuries, alcohol has been a part of celebrations and social situations. Since it’s legal for individuals over the age of 21 to drink alcohol, many people think this feel-good substance is relatively harmless. However, it can be just as addictive as any other drug, which is why understanding alcohol withdrawal symptoms is so important.

Alcohol contains a water-soluble substance known as ethanol. When you consume alcohol, the ethanol enters your digestive system. From there, it travels to your bloodstream where it passes through your cells and makes its way to your organs. Once it reaches your brain, it acts as a central nervous system depressant. At this point, your brain releases dopamine, while the ethanol deactivates glutamate (which slows the brain’s response to stimuli) and binds to gamma aminobutyric acid or GABA (which makes people feel calm and sleepy).

Most people can enjoy alcohol without becoming addicted to the substance. However, not everyone is so fortunate. When your alcohol consumption is excessive, you may receive a diagnosis of alcohol use disorder (AUD).

The current version of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM) states that you can be diagnosed with an AUD if you meet two out of 11 criteria within a 12-month period. The diagnostic criteria include the following questions:

  •       Have you ended up drinking more or longer than you intended?
  •       More than once, have you unsuccessfully tried to reduce or stop drinking?
  •       Have you spent a lot of time drinking or recovering from its aftereffects?
  •       Have you experienced a strong urge to drink?
  •       Does drinking or its aftereffects often interfere with your responsibilities?
  •       Have you continued to drink even though it causes problems?
  •       Have you given up on activities you enjoy in order to drink?
  •       More than once, have you gotten into a dangerous situation as a result of drinking?
  •       Have you continued to drink after experiencing health problems or a blackout?
  •       Do you need to drink more than you used to in order to get the same effect?
  •       Have you experienced withdrawal symptoms when you stop drinking?

In 2012, the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA) released informative statistics about the number of Americans with an AUD.

  •       In the United States, 7.2% or 17 million adults (ages 18 and older) had an AUD. Of this number, 11.2 million were men and 5.7 million were women.
  •       855,000 teens between the ages of 12 and 17 had an AUD.

One of the most startling statistics is how few people seek treatment. In 2012, only 1.4 million out of the 17 million adults with an AUD received treatment at a specialized facility.

With the right treatment and support in place sobriety is not out of reach for most people.

Having medical support is especially important during the detox process when withdrawal symptoms can derail your entire recovery process.

Alcohol Addiction – Tolerance and Dependence

Alcohol can be addictive with excessive and extended use. When you consume large quantities of alcohol for a prolonged period of time you can develop serious and long-lasting changes in the brain and body. One of the changes that people with an AUD notice is an increased tolerance. This means that you need to consume more alcohol over time to achieve the same effect.

Another change that alcohol addiction triggers is physical dependence, which means that you need to keep using alcohol to prevent the onset of withdrawal symptoms. These unpleasant symptoms can occur within two hours of the last drink and they can persist for weeks.

The Symptoms of Alcohol Withdrawal – Mild to Severe

When a person with an alcohol use disorder cuts back or stops drinking, they will experience withdrawal symptoms. The severity of the symptoms varies from mild to potentially life-threatening.

The severity, length, and type of symptoms vary from person to person based on several factors:

  •       How long a person has been drinking
  •       How much a person has been drinking
  •       Age and overall health of the person
  •       Whether the person has experienced withdrawal symptoms before

Since withdrawal symptoms can be very unpleasant, some people give up on trying to get sober in an effort to avoid feeling the effects of withdrawal. By understanding alcohol withdrawal symptoms and seeking appropriate medical treatment, you are more likely to make it through the first hours, days, and weeks of alcohol detox and recovery.

More minor alcoholism withdrawal symptoms usually start five to 10 hours after a person’s last drink, and they usually peak at 24 to 48 hours. These symptoms can include:

  •       Anxiety
  •       Headache
  •       Insomnia
  •       Irritability
  •       Nausea and vomiting
  •       Nightmares or vivid dreams
  •       Rapid breathing and pulse
  •       Sweating
  •       Tremors

Approximately 12 to 24 hours after your last drink, you may begin to experience moderate symptoms of alcohol withdrawal, including auditory, tactile, or visual hallucinations. Some of the most common visual hallucinations include seeing multiple, small moving objects, such as insects or coins. While most patients realize that their hallucinations are not real, the experience is vivid and it can be very distressing. Within 48 hours, these hallucinations often cease.

A more serious symptom is withdrawal seizures. Patients who experience this symptom often do so six to 48 hours after they stop drinking, with the risk peaking at 24 hours. However, withdrawal seizures can occur as soon as two hours after the last drink. You have an increased risk of experiencing withdrawal seizures if you have undergone multiple rounds of detox.

The most severe symptom of alcohol withdrawal is delirium tremens (DTs), which has a 1% to 5% death rate. This symptom strikes 48 to 72 hours after the last drink, and it typically peaks at Day 4 or Day 5. Some patients may have delayed onset of symptoms and experience DTs more than a week after their last drink. The symptoms of DTs include:

  •       Confusion, disorientation, and severe anxiety caused by a lack of blood flow to the brain
  •       Dehydration
  •       Fever
  •       Hallucinations that cannot be distinguished from reality
  •       High blood pressure
  •       Profuse sweating
  •       Racing and irregular heartbeat
  •       Seizures
  •       Severe tremors

Alcohol withdrawal symptoms can worsen quickly, so it’s important to seek medical attention even for mild symptoms. Receiving appropriate treatment early in the detox process can reduce the risk of developing more severe symptoms like withdrawal seizures and DTs.

It’s also important to consult with a doctor if you’ve previously experienced alcohol withdrawal symptoms or if you have certain health conditions such as heart disease, infections, lung disease, or a medical history of seizures.

Treatment Time Frame for Alcohol Use Disorder – It Takes Time

Each person is different, but both the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) state that patients who enroll in a detox and treatment program that’s at least 90 days in length have greater success rates than patients who participate in programs of shorter durations.

While three months might seem like a long time, this time is necessary to manage withdrawal symptoms and address the changes that an AUD causes in your brain and body. Patients did not acquire an AUD overnight, so alcohol addiction cannot be properly treated in just a few days. Each person needs time to recover from the mental and physical effects of alcohol addiction.

Recovering from any type of addiction, whether it is to drugs or alcohol, is a long process, and it is one that requires counseling, medication, and support. For the best results, you should take time to discuss your treatment goals with your doctor. This simple step can help the doctor create the right treatment and care plan for your situation. Finding the right treatment is the first step on the road to recovery and long-term sobriety.

Treatment Settings for Alcohol Withdrawal – Several Options

There are multiple locations where you can detox from alcohol. The best location will depend on the severity of your withdrawal symptoms. If you have more minor symptoms, it may be possible to manage withdrawal symptoms and complete the detox process at home. However, if you have more severe symptoms you should only attempt detox under direct medical supervision in a hospital or alcohol and drug treatment center.

You should talk to your doctor about your health history, home situation, and symptoms to find the best treatment setting.

  •       Home – If you are dealing with milder symptoms of alcohol withdrawals, the detox process can occur at home. However, patients who select in-home detox need to find the right medications and support in order to find success with in-home detox. We do not recommend this method as it can be dangerous to your health and increase the risk of relapse.
  •       Alcohol and Drug Treatment Centers – A great place for you to undergo detox is a treatment facility like The River Source. Our team of medical professionals follows an approach that utilizes behavioral and pharmacological therapies to help patients get through the symptoms of withdrawal and find long-term sobriety.
  •       Hospitals – With more intense alcohol withdrawal symptoms like DTs, severe vomiting, and withdrawal seizures, you should go to a hospital’s intensive care unit (ICU). In this location, doctors can monitor your blood pressure, breathing, and heart rate. They can also provide emergency life-support if your condition deteriorates.

Counseling, Medication, and Support – A Mix of Treatments

The best way to ensure treatment success is to utilize a holistic treatment approach that incorporates a mix of counseling, medication, and support. This combination has been proven to help patients manage the symptoms of alcohol withdrawal and recover from alcohol addiction.

Most alcohol treatment programs will include several steps including detox, medication, counseling, and support.

You stop drinking alcohol during the detox process. During this time, you may experience alcohol withdrawal symptoms as all traces of the substance leave the body. To help deal with the symptoms of withdrawal doctors may prescribe medication or supplements.

  •       Librium and Ativan are sometimes prescribed to patients to help reduce the symptoms of alcohol withdrawal, as both medications can be helpful for anxiety.
  •       Supplements, especially those that contain folate, magnesium, phosphate, thiamine, and zinc, can replenish the minerals and vitamins that alcohol withdrawal symptoms deplete.

After undergoing the detox process, it is the ideal time to start focusing on the long-term treatment of alcohol addiction. This time should be filled with a combination of counseling, treatment of other mental disorders, and support.

  •       Counseling is a necessary component of treatment for an alcohol addiction. It can be performed on an inpatient or outpatient basis, and it can be completed alone, with your family members, or in a group setting. Counseling is designed to identify and modify the behaviors, relationships, and thought patterns that contributed to your alcohol addiction.
  •       Treatment of other mental disorders may also be performed during the recovery process. It’s common for patients with a substance abuse disorder to have another untreated mental disorder like anxiety or depression. Diagnosing and treating these disorders reduces the risk of a relapse and improves your quality of life.
  •       Support from loved ones, medical professionals, and support groups can do wonders for your recovery. A strong support system can help you stay on track, while support groups can show you that you aren’t alone in the recovery process.

The symptoms of withdrawal can make the process of recovering from alcohol addiction feel like an insurmountable task. However, sobriety is possible and worth the time and effort. It’s important to remember that alcoholism is a disease and should be treated as such.

The River Source offers a holistic approach to addiction recovery. By providing behavioral and pharmacological therapies in a supportive and professional environment, we help patients detox from alcohol and explore the reasons for their addiction. After inpatient treatment, patients leave with a long-term care plan to help them stay sober.

If you or someone you love is suffering from an addiction to alcohol, the River Source can help. Please contact us to learn more about our approach to treating alcohol addiction and how our team of trained professionals helps patients overcome the symptoms of alcohol withdrawal.

Alcohol Awareness Month 2017

Every April, the National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence (NCADD) sponsors Alcohol Awareness Month. Founded and sponsored by NCADD, the month of April is dedicated to increase public awareness and understanding of alcoholism. Specifically, the stigma that prevents some people from getting the help they need.

Providing Education on Alcoholism

During Alcohol Awareness Month, NCADD, NCADD National Network of Affiliates and many other organizations educate people in local communities on the dangers of heavy drinking and alcoholism. Some of the information that the organizations want to get across include:

  • Alcoholism is a progressive, chronic disease that can be fatal if not treated.

  • Alcoholism can be successfully treated with the right balance of detox, counseling and continuing care.

  • Addiction is not a character flaw or moral weakness.

  • Alcoholism does run in families, and some people are more genetically predisposed than others.

  • What signs and symptoms may indicate a drinking problem.

  • Recognizing when it’s time to seek help, and knowing where to get help.

How to Participate in Alcohol Awareness Month

Whether you’re a recovering alcoholic or a friend/family member to a recovering alcoholic, you can do your part in participating in NCADD Alcohol Awareness Month 2017. On the website, the following materials are available for downloading:

  • 2017 Organizer’s Guide

  • Poster

  • Logo (to be used on your website or electronic materials)

There are also other ways you can contribute to this important mission:

If you are a recovering alcoholic, share your story with others. Take the next step in your support groups by becoming a mentor. Volunteer your time with others and give back to those in need, just as people donated their time to help you in early recovery. Encourage alcohol-free outings with your friends. Be a Big Brother or Big Sister and make a difference in a young person’s life.

If you are family to a recovering alcoholic, it’s just as important that you share your story. You are a testament to other families just starting their journeys. You can offer hope, inspiration and practical advice to those in need. Volunteer your time to help others, attend a support group with your loved one and continue to be a positive role model.

Alcoholism is a frightening disease, and many addicts and their families don’t know how to respond. By dispelling the myths and bringing to light the true nature of addiction and the treatment options available, we can work together to erase the stigma of alcoholism and encourage all people to get the help they need to be sober.

Stages of Alcoholism

No one becomes an alcoholic overnight. Alcoholism is a progressive, chronic disease that generally follows three stages. Since alcohol is legal and socially acceptable, many people do not realize that they are crossing the line to the middle stage.

Once you are past the first stage, it’s difficult to stop drinking on your own. Alcohol becomes needed socially, emotionally and physically. Tolerance builds up, which means you may find yourself drinking more to achieve the same effects.

Let’s start by breaking down the stages of alcoholism, the signs and symptoms you can expect and when it’s time to seek intervention from a professional treatment center.Moving from Habit to Addiction

Alcoholism is a disease that only gets worse – not better. Though each person is unique, alcoholism generally presents itself in three stages: early, middle and late. In the beginning, most people start drinking socially or recreationally.

Not everyone who drinks ends up with a problem, but some will. Your genetics and the environment you were raised in influence your likelihood for developing alcoholism. If you have a mental disorder such as bipolar disorder, this also puts you more at risk for alcoholism.

The most common signs that recreational drinking is moving toward addiction are:

  • A strong craving for alcohol

  • Inability to stop drinking once you’ve started

  • Withdrawal symptoms if you haven’t had a drink in a while

  • Need to drink more to get the same effects as before (tolerance)

It’s not necessary to wait until alcoholism is presenting itself physically and psychologically. Alcoholism can be treated in its early stages, and you can get your life back on track before it spirals out of control. However, in order to recognize when drinking has become a problem, you most be familiar with the stages of alcoholism and how they manifest.

Breaking Down the Key Stages of Alcoholism

Stage 1: Early Alcoholism

The early stages of alcoholism can be difficult to detect because there is usually no dysfunction. During this stage, tolerance to alcohol builds up. The first true sign of a problem is being able to drink more without losing control.

Another thing to pay attention to is your attitude toward alcohol. Do you seem to need it more than others? Can you have fun without alcohol being around? Do you find yourself obsessing over that next drink? If something seems different about the way you handle drinking compared to your peers, it’s possible that you may be at a greater risk for alcoholism.

Generally speaking, people in the early stages of alcoholism are high school students or young adults experimenting with alcohol for the first time. Drinking is a socially acceptable activity and even considered a “normal” part of the high school and college experience. This is what blurs the lines between social drinking and habitual drinking.

Binge drinking is also a big issue for these age groups. Binge drinking is serious and can lead to greater tolerance and the progression to daily drinking. High school and college students are also introduced to a wide variety of alcohols – beer, wine, liquor – which can lead to preferences and dependency.

Stage 2: Middle Alcoholism

In the second stage of alcoholism, the disease progresses to the point that physical and social effects appear. Heavy drinking may lead to blackouts, and you may develop a strong craving for alcohol. Everyone experiences these cravings in different ways. One person may obsess over having a drink after work, while another experiences irritability. You may notice symptoms of alcohol withdrawal if you go too long without having a drink.

Symptoms of alcohol withdrawal include:

  • Severe headaches

  • Shakiness and tremors

  • Loss of appetite

  • Nausea or vomiting

  • Rapid heartbeat

  • Enlarged pupils

  • Clammy, pale skin

  • Excessive sweating

Alcoholism can also affect you psychologically. You may notice that without a drink, you feel anxious or depressed. You may not be able to fall asleep on your own or attend social events without having a drink. Because of your growing tolerance to alcohol, other people start to notice the unhealthy relationship developing. They may say something to you, which will probably be upsetting.

When alcoholics feel judged, their first reaction is to pull away. Your brain and body tell you that you need alcohol, and you don’t want want to experience the uncomfortable feelings of withdrawal. It’s easier to isolate yourself and drink alone, or have a few drinks before going out with friends. Alcoholics get creative in the beginning of this stage, but usually by the end, they are less worried about their appearance to others.

Stage 3: Late Alcoholism

The end stages of alcoholism are what we envision when we think of a classic alcoholic: someone who has lost control of their lives and suffers physically, socially, mentally and financially from the disease.

Another major part of the end stage of alcoholism is obsessiveness. By now, you’ve probably become so obsessed with drinking, it has taken over all aspects of your life. You need it to have fun, to sleep, to deal with stress, etc. It doesn’t matter that alcohol is coming in between your relationships, your family or your career. Your focus is on having that next drink.

Even when you are able to get through one of your responsibilities, you’re not really present. You are just counting down the hours until you can indulge. This is not a lack of character or choice. This is the addiction taking over.

With the obsessiveness that comes with the disease of alcoholism, it’s obvious that many things are lost in the final stages. You can also suffer from physical problems such as hepatitis, cirrhosis of the liver, pancreatitis and respiratory infections. In severe instances, alcoholism can lead to heart failure or permanent brain damage.

At this stage, it’s important to realize that you’ve lost control of your ability to stop drinking. The only way to recover from this disease is to seek professional help. Otherwise, you will likely spend your remaining years drinking to prevent withdrawal symptoms.

Getting Help: When is the Right Time?

A common misconception that people have is that addicts need to reach rock bottom before they can get help. This is not true at all. In fact, it’s far more effective and beneficial for everyone involved to seek professional treatment early on. A few key benefits of early addiction treatment are:

  • Easier Recovery. Since the disease of alcoholism hasn’t had the time to progress to its full stages, recovery is typically easier on the mind and body. Withdrawal symptoms are usually less severe as well.

  • Fewer Challenges. Again, because the disease wasn’t given the chance to wreak havoc on your life, there should be fewer obstacles to deal with. It’s hopeful that someone in this stage still has a relatively stable job, home and family life, and less legal problems, too.

  • Less Treatment May Be Needed. Severe addictions to alcohol benefit from intensive treatment for at least 30 days, but the recommended number is 90 days. With less serious addictions, a person generally doesn’t need a full 90 days, though they can still benefit if they choose to stay.

  • Greater Treatment Options. Today, there are many treatment options available, including outpatient and inpatient programs. With a less severe addiction, you can choose between intensive day programs, residential programs and AA groups.

Don’t Wait – Treatment Comes in All Forms

It’s important to realize that there is no “right” time to seek or accept help – the time is NOW. If you think you have a problem with alcohol, whether you are in the first stage or middle stage, help is available.

If you are in the early stages of alcoholism but are concerned about your drinking, you may benefit from an outpatient program. This way, you can continue going to school or working while getting the guidance and support you need to stop drinking.

By stopping the behaviors today, you open up a future that is free from alcohol, and prevent more serious problems later on. You can also address some of the reasons why you may be at risk for addiction, such as an untreated mental disorder or unresolved family problems.

The mid to late stages of alcoholism benefit most from an inpatient program. Since the addiction has progressed and made an impact on your life, you will probably need to relearn essential life skills and healthy ways to cope with stressful situations. You will also benefit from living in a sober environment with no distractions or temptations.

No matter where you are in your recovery, you can almost always benefit from a support group such as Alcoholics Anonymous. Support groups introduce you to a diverse group of people, opening up your understanding of alcoholism and how it manifests itself. You can take what you want from the members in the group and learn from the rest.

At the very least, you should enjoy the opportunity to connect with others who understand your struggles with alcoholism. You may learn about social outings that you can participate in or other activities to fill your time as you recover.

Final Thoughts

Alcoholism is a progressive disease. By continuing to abuse alcohol, you put yourself at risk for alcoholism. If you feel that you have a drinking problem, don’t make excuses or wait to get help. Treatment is available in many forms and is readily available from a private treatment center such as The River Source.

The River Source offers outpatient and inpatient treatment programs for people in all stages of alcoholism. Before starting one of our programs, we will assess your individual needs and determine how we can help you. Each treatment plan is highly individualized, maximizing your chances of long term sobriety. Please call us today to have your needs assessed and to learn more about the stages of alcoholism.

How Long Does Alcohol Withdrawal Last?

Facing alcohol addiction is never easy, but once the decision is made, healing can begin. Whether it’s yourself or a loved one that will be going through the alcohol withdrawal process, you probably have some questions about what the journey entails. How long does it take for withdrawal symptoms to surface? How long does alcohol withdrawal symptoms last? Does a safe detox need to be done in a treatment center or at home?

In this post, we will cover the timeline of alcohol withdrawal symptoms, how long they can be expected to last and how to safely go through this process and set yourself or a loved one up for success. Let’s begin!

What is Alcohol Withdrawal?

Alcohol withdrawal refers to a group of symptoms that occur when a person suddenly stops drinking alcohol after they have been dependent on it. It most commonly occurs in adults but can happen in teenagers. The more you drink, the more likely you are to experience withdrawal symptoms. If you have other medical conditions, you are also more likely to have severe withdrawal symptoms.

What Causes Alcohol Withdrawal?

The reason why alcohol withdrawal occurs is because the brain becomes over-excited, which is common during any type of detox process. When you drink alcohol, gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA) is inhibited and excitability in the brain is reduced. When the alcohol stops, the brain turns back on and becomes overactive. This is what starts withdrawal symptoms, as some of the first effects include anxiety, nervousness, depression and irritability.

Who is At Risk for Withdrawal Symptoms?

Anyone who is dependent on alcohol can experience withdrawal effects. As the body looks for the chemical that it depends on, the side effects of withdrawal begin, whether you’ve been drinking for weeks, months or years.

Generally speaking, the more you drink, the more likely you are to go through these symptoms, and the more serious they may be. However, each person is entirely unique. Your detox experience will depend on other factors unique to you, such as your age, body type and lifestyle.

What is the Timeline for Alcohol Withdrawal?

While each person will go through withdrawal in a different way, there is a general timeline that the side effects follow. Knowing what these are and how they follow each other is helpful. You can anticipate what’s coming next and not be frightened by some of the symptoms that you or a loved one might be feeling. And remember, if you detox in a medically supervised rehabilitation center like The River Source, many of these symptoms can be managed so that you do not have to endure the full pain and discomfort.

Alcohol withdrawal symptoms can occur as early as two hours after your last drink. Symptoms usually peak within 24 to 48 hours and tend to be most uncomfortable at this point. Withdrawal from alcohol can be very uncomfortable and many alcoholics keep drinking in order to avoid these these symptoms. Often, withdrawal from alcohol is not easy. 

Here is a breakdown of the symptoms that are experienced during alcohol withdrawal.

6-12 hours after stopping alcohol:

  • Agitation

  • Shaking

  • Anxiety or stress

  • Headaches  

  • Nausea/vomiting

12-24 hours after stopping alcohol:

  • Hand tremors

  • Seizures

  • Disorientation

48 hours after stopping alcohol:

  • Insomnia

  • High blood pressure

  • High fever

  • Excessive sweating

  • Delirium tremens

  • Hallucinations

How Long Does Alcohol Withdrawal Last?

Alcohol withdrawal symptoms are affected by several different factors, including how often the person drank, how much was consumed in a typical setting, how long the person drank for and other health factors. Even though symptoms are done peaking around 48 to 72 hours, less serious effects can go for weeks.

In fact, you may have heard about Post-Acute Withdrawal Syndrome (PAWS) before. PAWS involves withdrawal symptoms that occur after the initial detox process has been completed. It can make things very difficult for newly sober individuals, especially because PAWS can last anywhere from a few weeks to 12 months. The most common symptoms of PAWS include:

  • Irritability

  • Mood swings

  • Anxiety

  • Fatigue

  • Memory problems

  • Trouble sleeping

  • Dizziness

  • Delayed reflexes

Since PAWS can be a natural part of the recovery process, it’s important to be prepared and proactive. There are things you can do to decrease the symptoms, such as by practicing meditation daily, adopting a dependable sleep schedule, maintaining sober friendships, eating healthy meals, exercising daily and attending your AA meetings. The brain has the capacity to heal, but you need to give it time.

Can Alcohol Withdrawal Be Fatal?

Though it’s not common, it is possible to die from alcohol withdrawal. It tends to be more likely for someone who has been a heavy drinker for many years and suffers severe withdrawal symptoms. Abruptly taking alcohol away from the body can lead to heart arrhythmias and kidney and liver dysfunction. Even more concerning, however, is the seizures that can accompany alcohol withdrawal.

Delirium tremens are one of the more extreme side effects that can take place during the detox phase. The level of consciousness and delirium can be fatal in approximately 1 to 15 percent of cases. For individuals who are older, have poor liver function or have been heavy drinkers for many years, delirium tremens can be markedly worse.

It’s also possible to suffer other complications from the seizures, such as choking on food or falling and hitting your head. Not everyone who withdrawals from alcohol will experience delirium tremens. If you or a loved one makes it through the first 72 hours without a seizure, your chances for having one are less likely.

With the potential risk of death when going through alcohol withdrawal, it’s highly recommended that you or your loved one seek help from an addiction treatment center like The River Source. Let’s find out more about the options that are available to you in the next section.

How Can I Safely Withdrawal from Alcohol?

Now that you know how long withdrawal from alcohol lasts, let’s move onto how to safely start and endure this process. The goals of any treatment program are to monitor the patient, determine the severity of their withdrawal symptoms and provide them with medications to manage their symptoms.

For example, when discussing delirium tremens in the section above, this loss of consciousness would be prevented with an anti-seizure drug during treatment. Other medications that may be used during detox are beta-blockers to slow the heart rate and reduce tremors, and benzodiazepines to reduce anxiety withdrawal symptoms.

Below are some options that are available to those struggling with drinking problems. Be sure to ask each treatment program you consider about the types of medications they use to manage alcohol withdrawal symptoms.

  • Inpatient Treatment. Inpatient treatment programs are highly recommended because they offer a safe, medically supervised environment for people struggling with alcohol addiction. A full continuum of care can be offered as well, including detox, counseling and continuing care.

  • Outpatient Treatment. Outpatient treatment programs allow patients to continue their daily responsibilities while receiving treatment. Though all drinking problems are serious, outpatient rehab tends to be best for those with less severe issues, such as functional alcoholics.

  • Counseling. Counseling comes in many forms: individual, family and group. Alcohol rehab counselors are available to help patients through withdrawal symptoms and teach recovering alcoholics the life skills needed to live a life of sobriety.

  • Support Groups. Support groups like Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) and Al-Anon are excellent sources of support and information in early recovery. Members can discuss challenges and share their treatment goals with others in recovery.

What is the Outlook for Alcohol Addiction Recovery?

When you’re first starting out and going through withdrawal symptoms, it can feel like there is no end in sight. Always keep in mind that withdrawal from alcohol does not last forever. Many people who go through this process are able to make a full recovery, and there’s no reason why you or a loved one can’t, too.

Alcohol withdrawal is physically, emotionally and mentally exhausting, but it helps to have a great support network behind you. This support network starts with the right treatment center and then branches out to your AA groups and sober friends and family. Before starting any type of treatment program, make sure that you do your research and choose an option that will make the early recovery process most successful for you.

Why is Treatment Needed After Detox?

Some people wonder why a treatment program is necessary after detox, so let’s talk about this. Treatment for alcohol withdrawal syndrome doesn’t address the disease of addiction. An alcohol treatment program does. Ideally, this treatment should follow immediately after detox with no lapse in between.

Going through the withdrawal process simply means that the chemical is out of your system. However, you haven’t learned any of the skills to live in the real world without alcohol. How do you plan to spend your time? How will you react to stressful situations? What happens when someone starts drinking in front of you?

Through an addiction treatment program, you are taught how to change your negative thinking patterns and destructive behaviors. You are taught about addiction and your personal risk factors for the disease. With the right tools and education, you can avoid falling into the same patterns as before. You can also learn how to live a life of sobriety – one that is fulfilling and satisfying.

Conclusion

The alcohol withdrawal process is often intimidating, but every recovery story has to start somewhere. The best thing you can do for yourself or a loved one is to choose a treatment center that offers supervised detox and a treatment program after. This way, you get the treatment that is needed to get sober and work through your underlying problems. Your symptoms will also be successfully managed during the withdrawal process, providing you with the energy needed to get through this process and move onto counseling.

In a medically supervised environment, you can expect the highest quality care, personalized attention and a more comfortable detox process overall. For more information about starting the alcohol withdrawal process in a safe and effective environment, call The River Source.

Functional Alcoholics

Most people have a typical image of what an alcoholic looks like: someone who consumes alcohol regularly and has a life that is falling apart because of it. Not all problem drinkers fit into this narrow category, though. Some can be just fine when they abuse alcohol, and experts refer to these individuals as “functional alcoholics” or “high-functioning alcoholics.”

Just because some people can function on alcohol does not take away the risks associated with heavy drinking, nor does it erase the possibility that the drinking can progress to addiction one day. Since functional alcoholics are largely misunderstood, we feel it’s important to talk about this group of problem drinkers.

It’s possible that the “social drinkers” you have in your circle of family and friends are actually high-functioning alcoholics. And, if they are, what do you do? Do these people need treatment? Should they be encouraged to stop? What types of unique risks do they face? All of this is covered below.

Functioning Alcoholics: A Different Kind of Alcoholic

You can still be an alcoholic even though you have a great life on the outside: a steady career, healthy bonds with friends and family, a nice home and vehicles, etc. It’s important to realize this because we tend to think that something is only a problem when it causes a problem. In other words, we tell ourselves that if John has a nice home, a loving family and a good income, his drinking is under control.

But, high-functioning alcoholics are a different type of alcoholic.

Functional alcoholics are often responsible, productive and high achieving. They also tend to justify their drinking by saying that they have a lot of friends or an active social life. Most problem drinkers of this type are in denial because they don’t fit the stereotypical mold of an alcoholic. It’s easy to put themselves in a different caliber because they think they have everything under control.

The reality is that functioning alcoholics can’t continue to drink heavily and maintain all of their responsibilities in the long run. Their habit will eventually catch up to them. They may get a DUI coming home from the club one night, or they may embarrass themselves at a work function. They may forget important dates, experience a change in personality or not know how to relax or have fun without alcohol. The physical effects take their toll, too.

How to Spot the Top Signs of a Functional Alcoholic

If you know some heavy drinkers in your life, or if you are one yourself, you may be wondering if becoming an alcoholic is something to worry about. What does heavy drinking mean? What signs should you watch out for?

First, let’s define heavy drinking, since it is a rather ambiguous term. Women who have more than three drinks a day or seven a week are considered “at risk” drinkers. Men who have more than four drinks a day or 14 a week are considered “at risk.”

If you drink more than the daily or weekly limit, you are an at-risk drinker. WebMD.com reports that one in four people who drink this much already have a problem with alcohol or is likely to have one soon. Approximately 20% of alcoholics may be functional.

With that out of the way, is the number of daily or weekly drinks the only method for determining who is at risk and who is not? No. There are additional signs that are combined with the heavy drinking that may indicate that someone is a functional alcoholic. Let’s take a look at what these are.

  • Missing work or school

  • Trouble in relationships

  • DUI arrest/legal problems  

  • Alcohol is needed to feel relaxed

  • Drinking in the morning or when alone

  • Blackouts or memory loss

  • Frequent excuses for drinking

  • Refuses to stop or reduce drinking

  • Only attends events/places where alcohol is served

  • Engages in risky behavior

Four Stages of Functional Alcoholism

One question that many people have is how to tell the difference between a functional alcoholic and a traditional alcoholic. Is having a good job or a rewarding family life enough to consider someone a functional drinker? Not exactly.

There are four stages of functional alcoholism that many problem drinkers follow. In the case of an alcoholic, the person becomes addicted to the substance and is not be able to function without it. With a functional drinker, the path is a little different. Interestingly, both functional alcoholics and regular alcoholics end up with the same problems.

Below are the four stages that many people follow when they begin abusing alcohol.

Stage 1: Increased Tolerance

Not everyone drinks to get drunk. In fact, people without the disease of alcoholism typically don’t drink till intoxication. They enjoy feeling relaxed and confident, but they don’t like the feeling of being out of control.

Alcoholics, on the other hand, thrive off this feeling. They drink because it makes them feel good. Being intoxicated is their normal. Over time, tolerance builds up. A few beers or shots were enough to make them feel good before, but now they need more. So they drink more.

Stage 2: Drinking as a Way to Cope

Drinking to unwind may sound reasonable, but functional alcoholics take things to a different level. They tend to obsess over that 5 o’clock drink after work. It becomes an obsession.

People who have this obsessive thinking eventually rely on alcohol to cope. They turn to alcohol as a way to relax after work or deal with feelings of stress or anxiety. Alcohol can take the place of other healthy coping mechanisms such as talk therapy, going for a run or practicing yoga. Soon, people don’t know how to respond to stressful stimuli in any other way.

Stage 3: Isolation, Depression and Legal Troubles

In this stage, things start getting noticeably worse. By now, the person is tolerating a lot of alcohol and using it as a way to cope. This means that the drinking is becoming more obvious to others, and they may question whether or not there is a problem. This is why managing the drinking becomes necessary.

The functional alcoholic doesn’t want to admit there’s a problem because they don’t want to stop. They need the alcohol to feel good, have fun and deal with bad moods, so they pull in the reigns and isolate themselves. Friends and family made them feel uncomfortable, so it’s easier to drink at home alone.

It’s hard to be happy when you’re isolated and the effects of alcohol take their hold. Alcohol is a depressant, and it can lead to chemical imbalances. The more depressed the person becomes, the more they drink. It’s also easy to get into legal troubles when a person develops an unhealthy relationship with alcohol. They may get a DUI or wake up in the morning not knowing how they got home.

Stage 4: Physical, Emotional and Psychological Changes

In the last stage, there are obvious signs that the drinking is taking its toll. The physical appearance is different. Many people pack on weight from the excess calories and have the telltale “beer belly.” This weight can put the body at risk for high blood pressure, high liver enzyme counts, stomach ulcers, heartburn, diabetes and shaking hands.

Relationship problems are also common. It’s hard to have strong bonds with friends and family when you’re isolated and deny getting help. The person can lose their job if their performance dips low, or they may have to be on medication to manage diabetes or high blood pressure.

Alcoholism is a progressive disease. People don’t just find themselves an alcoholic one day. They move through these stages, some just do it slower than others.

Do Functional Alcoholics Need Treatment?

Yes, functional alcoholics can benefit from some form of treatment. But getting them there is the challenge.

In most cases, people who realize that they have an unhealthy relationship with alcohol are not going to seek treatment because they are never “as bad” as the next person. Instead, they attempt to “control” the drinking. They may try things like drinking only the weekends, avoiding hard liquor, stopping for a few months, etc. This is their way of “proving” to themselves and others that they haven’t lost control. However, if you have the need to control something, it’s probably out of your control.

High-functioning alcoholics tend to do better with a more streamlined and “gentler” approach compared to other addicts. If a functional alcoholic is ready to address their problem, they will probably benefit a lower level of care. This is especially the case if the person doesn’t need detox. Lower levels of care include outpatient treatment programs, counseling and support groups.

The River Source is a treatment center that addresses alcoholism and drug addiction. We strongly feel that anyone with a drinking problem should be assessed by a licensed doctor and/or treatment center before making any decisions. Many functional alcoholics do remarkably well in support groups like AA, whereas others need more structure through an outpatient program.

The River Source has found that our Intensive Outpatient Program (IOP) can be extremely effective for high-functioning alcoholics. They thrive off the support and understanding they receive from others. They also learn new strategies for dealing with stress, anxiety and other problems. Because many of these individuals have jobs, families and other responsibilities, it’s important that they are present in their daily lives. IOP allows them this freedom and makes treatment more appealing.

Conclusion

Functional alcoholics may be in a different category than other addicts, but they still have a problem with alcohol. Alcohol is not a friend, not a way to cope. It’s a one-way ticket to problems on a social, emotional, psychological and physical level.

If you or someone you care about is a problem drinker, it’s never too early to seek help. You can talk to a counselor who is trained in addiction to learn about your options and the best route of care. The worst thing to do is wait until you see the classic signs of addiction. By this point, you won’t just have a drinking problem to tame but a full-blown addiction to face.