Alcohol Withdrawals & Overdose

It has been estimated that in 2012, some 18 million people in this country were alcoholics, dependent on alcohol, or have an alcohol use disorder. When someone is dependent on alcohol, this person usually spends a lot of time drinking and preparing to drink. This means that such people are consumed with finding more alcohol. And when they are not drinking, they are recovering from the effects of alcohol. This usually affects their educational, professional, and personal relationships and obligations.

Chronic and Progressive Condition

Alcoholism is classed as a chronic and progressive disease. Treatment involves medical intervention, as well as behavioral therapy. Some people believe there is no cure for alcoholism, and that these people will therefore be forever “recovering”.

Full alcoholism is the most serious disorder associated with alcohol use, in which case people are fully physically and psychologically dependent on the substance. This means that they cannot function without alcohol, and are compelled to consume more, even if they know the negative effect it has on their lives. Once people become dependent on alcohol, they also develop a tolerance. This means that they need to increase the amount to achieve the same effects. Furthermore, once they cut down on how much they consume, they will start to suffer withdrawal symptoms.

Can Be Life Threatening

Alcohol withdrawal syndrome can be life threatening. This happens in people who suddenly stop drinking after having consumed heavy amounts of any period of time (from weeks to decades). Some 2 million people are affected by this syndrome each year in this country alone, and the symptoms usually start to appear just two hours after they had their last drink. It can also quickly escalate from being uncomfortable to being fatal, which is why people who believe they are experiencing it should immediately seek medical attention and have their withdrawal monitored by trained professionals.

Causes of Alcohol Withdrawal Syndrome

There are a number of biological processes that cause alcohol withdrawal. Firstly, the brain is responsible for keeping a balance in the neurotransmitters by using excitatory and inhibitory mechanisms. When people drink alcohol, the GABA neurotransmitter is enhanced, making people feel calm and relaxed. However, when drinking becomes chronic, GABA is completely suppressed, which means that more alcohol is needed. At this point, the person has developed a “tolerance”. Next, when chronic alcohol consumption is present, glumate activity is also suppressed. Glumate is another neurotransmitter that makes people feel excited. The brain will try to create an equilibrium again, which means that it starts to increase the level at which glumate responds compared to moderate drinkers and non-drinkers.

For those who chronically consume large amounts of alcohol, and they suddenly decrease it or stop completely, the neurotransmitters that were suppressed suddenly become active again. They rebound, and this causes hyperexcitability. As such, the effect of withdrawing from alcohol is the exact opposite of the effect of consuming alcohol.

Symptoms of Alcohol Withdrawal Syndrome

Different people experience alcohol withdrawal syndrome in different ways, depending on how much they drink and for how long they have been doing this. This is why the symptoms are described as being on a spectrum. Those who only experience minor symptoms will usually notice them some six to 12 hours after their last drink. Sometimes, they still have measurable alcohol in their blood at that time.

The spectrum of alcohol withdrawal syndrome is categorized by time periods. As such, after six to 12 hours, people start to experience:

  • Tremors
  • Insomnia
  • Gastrointestinal problems
  • Mild anxiety
  • Sweating
  • Headaches
  • Lack of appetite
  • Heart palpitations

12 to 24 hours after the last drink, symptoms include:

  • Alcoholic hallucinations, which are different from those experienced during delirium tremens. Usually, when people experience alcoholic hallucinations, they know that they aren’t real.
  • Auditory hallucinations
  • Visual hallucinations
  • Tactile hallucinations

24 to 48 hours after the last drink, symptoms include:

  • Seizures, which is seen mainly in those who have been through alcohol detox before but have relapsed
  • Tonic-clonic seizures, which are more generalized

48 to 72 hours after the last drink, symptoms include:

  • Delirium tremens, which is the delirium from withdrawal. The peak is usually five days after a final drink.
  • Seizures
  • Extreme sweating
  • Severe tremors
  • Heart arrhythmia
  • Hallucinations, mainly visual, whereby the person no longer realizes that it isn’t real
  • Low grade fever
  • Tachycardia
  • Disorientation
  • Hypertension

Alcohol Overdose

Alcohol is a socially accepted drug, and many people enjoy having a few drinks, and sometimes a few too many, with friends. The problem is that it is all too easy to cross the line and actually experience an alcohol overdose. Unfortunately, this is a potentially fatal situation.

If someone’s BAC (blood alcohol content) becomes so high that it impairs that person’s body functions, there is more chance that it will cause harm as well. Depending on how high the BAC is, people may have problems balancing or their speech may start to get slurred. In the worst case, they could end up in a coma and even die. How much someone needs to drink before reaching that level depends on a range of factors, including:

  • Drinking experience
  • Age
  • Gender
  • How much they ate
  • Ethnicity
  • Type of drink

Unfortunately, young people are particularly prone to binge drinking, meaning they consume at least five drinks in one go. As a result, they are also more likely to experience alcohol overdose. When someone binge drinks, the body’s ability to get rid of alcohol from the blood becomes significantly impaired. This means that BAC rises very rapidly, which in turn affects the way the brain works.

The higher the BAC, the stronger the effects of alcohol. Even a tiny increase in BAC can lead to vomiting, impair coordination, and significantly affect judgment. As a result, it is more likely that people experience injuries or car crashes, and they are also more likely to experience violence and sexual assault. If the BAC increases even further, amnesia and blackouts can happen.

If people show signs of impairment but continue to drink anyway, they can experience alcohol poisoning, which is even more lethal. At this point, the blood stream contains so much alcohol that the brain starts to shut down its basic life support functions, including heart rate and breathing. Even after they become unconscious, their BAC can still continue to rise, because some of the alcohol was still in their stomach or in their intestine and needs to circulate in the body. This is why, those who are drunk and unconscious, should not be left to “sleep it off”.

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