Complications That Can Happen During Alcohol Withdrawal and How a Detox Center Can Help

alcohol withdrawal complications

Alcohol slows down brain function and changes the way your nerves send messages back and forth. When you drink alcohol frequently for a long period, your central nervous system adjusts to having the substance in its system. This causes your body to work hard to keep your brain in a more awake state to allow your nerves to continue communicating with one another.

If you suddenly stop drinking alcohol, your brain stays in this heightened alert state. This is what causes alcohol withdrawal to occur. When you stop consuming alcohol after a period of heavy drinking, you will experience uncomfortable and potentially life-threatening symptoms that require medical attention.

Because some of the symptoms of alcohol withdrawal can be life-threatening, you need to be aware of the complications that can occur. Most of these complications happen when you undergo alcohol withdrawal without proper medical treatment. 

If you or a loved one need to detox from alcohol, speak with a treatment coordinator at Moving Mountains Recovery today. We can help you detox safely and overcome alcoholism.

Complications That Can Occur During Alcohol Withdrawal

While it is possible to experience mild symptoms of alcohol withdrawal, complications can occur if you suffer from severe alcohol use disorder. Attempting to detox at home or quit alcohol cold turkey could result in severe symptoms of alcohol withdrawal, such as seizures, hallucinations, psychosis, or delirium tremens. 

Being aware of the risk associated with alcohol withdrawal may make you understand the importance of a medical alcohol detox program. Common alcohol withdrawal complications include:

Seizures 

According to research published by Science Direct, “Between 2% and 5% of alcoholics experience withdrawal seizures.”[1] 

While withdrawal seizures are not extremely common, some factors could make you at high risk. If you have a history of previous alcohol detoxifications, you could be a victim of the “kindling effect.” The kindling effect is a hypothesis that explains that each episode of alcohol withdrawal causes an irritative phenomenon on the brain, lowering your threshold for experiencing seizures.[1] As a result, the more times you have detoxed from alcohol, the more likely you may be to experience a seizure.

More than 90% of alcohol withdrawal seizures occur within 48 hours after someone stops drinking alcohol.[2] Seeking help from a licensed detox program immediately upon ceasing alcohol consumption is extremely important because you could experience a seizure rather quickly. 

Hallucinations 

When you suddenly remove alcohol from your system after a period of alcoholism, your body acts as if something it needs to sustain life has been taken away. This can lead your body to break down, as chaos is ensuing within your central nervous system. As a result, you could experience tactile, auditory, or visual hallucinations. 

According to the National Library of Medicine, alcohol hallucinations occur in 3 to 10% of patients during severe alcohol withdrawal anywhere from 12 hours to 7 days after the person’s last drink.[2] Patients who are at a greater risk of hallucinations tend to be younger during their onset of alcoholism, consumed heavy amounts of alcohol on each occasion, and had higher rates of other substance abuse than patients who did not hallucinate.

Psychosis 

Another complication of alcohol withdrawal is psychosis. To explain, psychosis can cause you to lose connection with reality, leading to disturbances of thought and perception. In other words, psychosis will cause you to have a hard time distinguishing between what is real and what isn’t. 

The symptoms of psychosis include:[3]

  • Trouble thinking clearly or concentrating 
  • Suspiciousness, paranoid ideas, or uneasiness with others 
  • Social withdrawal 
  • Unusual and overly intense strange ideas or experiencing no feelings at all 
  • A decline in self-care or personal hygiene 
  • Having a hard time distinguishing between fantasy and reality
  • Confused speech or trouble speaking 
  • Delusions 
  • Hallucinations 

Delirium Tremens (DTs)

According to the National Library of Medicine, “DTs are a serious manifestation of alcohol dependence that develops 1 to 4 days after the onset of acute alcohol withdrawal in persons who have been drinking excessively for years.”[2]

Delirium Tremens can cause symptoms such as:

  • Tremors or shaking hands and feet
  • Chest pain
  • Confusion
  • Deep sleep that lasts for a day or longer
  • Dehydration
  • Excitability or anger
  • Fever
  • Getting startled more easily
  • Hallucinations
  • Heavy sweating
  • High blood pressure
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Nightmares
  • Other tremors, including muscle tremors
  • Pale skin
  • Passing out
  • Problems with eye muscle and movement
  • Rapid heartbeat
  • Seizures
  • Sensitivity to light, sound, and touch
  • Severe hyperactivity
  • Sleepiness, stupor, or fatigue

This is a life-threatening condition that can be prevented by receiving proper treatment from a medical detox facility that can taper you off of alcohol, rather than allowing you to stop drinking cold turkey. 

Wet Brain Syndrome 

Also known as Wernicke-Korsakoff Syndrome, wet brain syndrome is a complication of alcohol withdrawal that is caused by a nutritional deficiency. When you drink alcohol heavily for a long time, you can become deficient in thiamine. If this is not addressed, you could develop wet brain syndrome during the alcohol withdrawal process. 

According to the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke, the symptoms of wet brain syndrome include, “mental confusion, vision problems, coma, hypothermia, low blood pressure, and lack of muscle coordination (ataxia).”[4]

How Can an Alcohol Detox Center Prevent These Complications?

Many of the complications associated with alcohol withdrawal are completely preventable. 

If you attend an alcohol detox center, all of these complications can be avoided as you will be receiving proper medical care. The goal of a medical alcohol detox program is to keep the body and central nervous system stable throughout the withdrawal process. This is most commonly accomplished through the tapering method. 

Typically, benzodiazepines like chlordiazepoxide are used to taper patients off of alcohol. These substances affect the central nervous system in a manner that prevents complications like seizures or delirium tremens.[5] Each day, your dose of medication will be reduced, allowing the body to slowly adjust to the absence of alcohol, rather than throwing it into shock by quitting cold turkey.

Supplemental treatments may also be given to prevent additional symptoms. For example, if you have a thiamine deficiency you will be provided with Vitamin B supplements, preventing you from developing Wernicke-Korsakoff’s syndrome. Fluid and electrolyte imbalances will be promptly corrected as well.[5]

Find a Reputable Alcohol Detox Program in New Jersey

If you or a loved one suffer from alcoholism, you must seek professional help. Attempting to quit alcohol consumption on your own could result in life-threatening complications, but you don’t have to go through it alone.

Moving Mountains Recovery has close relationships with trusted detox facilities in New Jersey and across the country. When medical detoxification is recommended, we can help you get admitted to the best facility for your needs. Following the completion of detox, we can also help make the transition to our outpatient treatment programs simple and easy.

Contact Moving Mountains Recovery Center today to get started.

References:

  1. https://www.sciencedirect.com/topics/medicine-and-dentistry/withdrawal-seizure
  2. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6761825/
  3. https://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/publications/understanding-psychosis
  4. https://www.ninds.nih.gov/health-information/disorders/wernicke-korsakoff-syndrome
  5. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4085800/
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