When someone who has been using alcohol heavily over a long period of time stops using alcohol suddenly or reduces their alcohol use, certain physical reactions or symptoms occur in the body. It is important to be aware of these alcohol withdrawal stages so that the individual does not become overwhelmed. Not everyone has withdrawal symptoms, but being aware and prepared is an important part of dealing successfully with any situation and with life in general.
Some of the mild symptoms include a shaky feeling, anxiety, and irritability. The person may have trouble thinking clearly and feel depressed and fatigued. There may be rapid mood changes, marked hand tremors, and difficulty sleeping, or sleeping poorly with accompanying bad dreams. Though uncomfortable, these symptoms are not especially dangerous.
More severe symptoms include a racing heartbeat, throbbing headache, sweating, nausea and vomiting. The individual may experience visual hallucinations, commonly known as delirium tremens or DTs. If the person experiences this stage of withdrawal medical treatment is needed since seizures can occur. First hand reports by those who have experienced this type of withdrawal symptom document the intensity of the hallucination phenomenon and the need for the individual to have a good support system and plan in place for coping at this time. Often the individual who has experienced the hallucinations will not remember them afterward. Other severe symptoms include agitation, profound confusion, and anxiety.
Many of the mild and severe symptoms are easily noticeable as one of the alcohol withdrawal stages not only to the individual who has ceased drinking but also to family, friends and other close associates. In addition to these observable symptoms there may be other less easily observable physical states which are uncomfortable to the individual experiencing the alcohol withdrawal stages. The person may have clammy skin, involuntary eyelid movements, a deep craving for a drink, and an increase in blood pressure.
During the alcohol withdrawal stages, it can be extremely tempting at any point for the individual who has discontinued his/her alcohol use to give in to the need for another drink in order to end the physical discomfort and emotional pain. As the individual goes through the process, the importance of planning for assistance becomes most evident. Having a support system including trained persons can be essential for success, especially if the symptoms escalate to become medically dangerous. At the very least, it is important to have someone on hand to take action should medical care be needed. For example, it is possible to have cardiovascular problems if the person begins to have Delirium Tremens.
Each of us is different and there are different combinations of physical symptoms, which can be exhibited during alcohol withdrawal stages. One important idea is that no one need think that he/she must handle alcohol withdrawal stages without assistance. For the 25% of patients who experience severe symptoms, there are drug regimens to manage these severe manifestations of withdrawal. For those who experience only mild symptoms, having a support system in place to help provide assistance, compassion, and understanding is equally important.