Alcohol Withdrawal Syndrome

Introduction to alcohol withdrawal syndrome

Alcohol withdrawal syndrome (AWS) can only be developed by alcohol addicts. If you are a casual drinker, this isn’t for you but you might need this knowledge to help some other person who is an alcohol addict. And if you are deeply in love with alcohol that you can’t go a day without it, this article met you well. But wait a moment! I didn’t have just you at heart; I have everyone who has a thing or two to learn about alcohol withdrawal syndrome at heart. So you see I am not a partial writer!

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An alcohol withdrawal syndrome, like I early mentioned, can only be suffered by alcohol addicts. It is a set of symptoms that accompany a person who just wakes up one day and tells himself or herself, ‘I’m not doing this again’ – no more alcohol intake!  You can guess this guy to be a heavy drinker who suddenly seems repentant about his bad habit of always not going a day without enjoying some bottles of an alcoholic beverage. Or, he could make up his mind one day to reduce the number of ‘bottles’ he consumes in a day. He thinks it is done that way. Some things need some expertise advice before they should be embarked upon.

If this ‘guy’ suddenly stops drinking, he will start experiencing a mix of emotional and physical symptoms.

He will have some mild form of anxiety, fatigue and nausea. There are also severe symptoms that he can develop, too. Two of such severe symptoms are seizures and hallucinations.

Alcohol withdrawal syndrome
Photo Credit: Medical News Today

Let’s look at the symptoms of alcohol withdrawal symptom

Alcohol withdrawal syndrome will begin to ‘dance’ around an alcohol addict some six hours and in some cases, some days, after his last bottle of drink.

He will have a minimum of two out of the following:

  • anxiety
  • insomnia
  • high blood pressure
  • nausea
  • vomiting
  • an increased heart rate
  • sweating
  • headache
  • confusion
  • irritability
  • tremors
  • nightmares

And you know one thing about these symptoms? They can worsen over a space of two to three days! Milder symptoms can remain for even weeks. It is common for these symptoms to be noticed when out of bed in the morning.

Delirium Tremens (Dt) is the most severe type of alcohol withdrawal syndrome. The following are common signs and symptoms that ‘work closely’ with AWS:

  • extreme agitation
  • high fever
  • extreme confusion
  • heart disturbances
  • seizures
  • tactile hallucinations – unreal itchy, burning, or numb sensations
  • auditory hallucinations – unreal hearing of sounds
  • visual hallucinations – seeing unreal images

All these symptoms are a real medical emergency that require urgent help.

What are the causes of alcohol withdrawal syndrome?

Drinking excessively both excites and irritates the nerves of the brain. When drinking has become a daily habit, the brain becomes overly dependent on anything alcohol. The body becomes addicted to alcohol, too. Because the body has now been addicted, it will readily react when it no longer gets the quantity it has always been getting. That is when the body reacts to the lack of alcohol.

And who is at risk for alcohol withdrawal syndrome?

Heavy drinkers who can’t go a day without taking a bottle of alcohol are the only people who are at risk. Adults actually top the chart followed by experimental adolescents. Heavy drinkers are those who can take between 8 to 15 bottles of alcohol per week. Women drink lesser quantity of alcohol than men.

There is a clear cut definition of heavy drinking as submitted by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Each of these is equivalent to one drink. Let’s look at them together:

  • 1.5 ounces of liquor i.e. whiskey, gin, rum and vodka
  • 12 ounces of beer
  • 5 ounces of wine
  • 8 ounces of malt liquor

A one-time alcohol addict, or one who had once sought for medical help to have detox, can develop alcohol withdrawal syndrome.

Binge drinking has been widely known to be the most common heavy drinking form. For women, they can be said to have binge drinking if they finish four or more drinks at a go. And for men, it is finishing five or more drinks at a go.

Diagnosing alcohol withdrawal syndrome

When an alcohol addict sees his doctor, he will be asked questions peculiar to his symptoms. His medical history will also be reviewed. A physical examination by the doctor will not be left out.  These signs will also be looked out for by the doctor:

The doctor will likely go a step further by doing a toxicology screen on him to find out how much alcohol is in his body.

The doctor will use a series of questions developed by the Clinical Institute Withdrawal Assessment of Alcohol (CIWA-Ar) to measure and diagnose AWS. These questions can also reveal the severity of the condition.

CIWA-Ar uses the following ten (10) symptoms:

  • anxiety
  • auditory disturbances
  • agitation
  • clouding of sensorium – inability to engage in clear thinking
  • nausea and vomiting
  • headache
  • paroxysmal sweats – sudden and uncontrollable sweating
  • tremor
  • tactile disturbances
  • visual disturbances

Questions the doctor may ask him are:

  • What day is this?
  • Do you feel like you’ve got a band around your head?
  • Is your stomach feeling sick?
  • Who am I?
  • Do you feel as if bugs are crawling under your skin?

Can alcohol withdrawal syndrome be treated?

Definitely! Treatment for the ‘person’ with alcohol withdrawal syndrome will be determined by the severity of his symptoms. While he may be treated at home, he could as well be treated in the hospital with close supervision especially if the symptoms include seizure.

What the doctor normally aims to achieve in any treatment he decides on is to make the alcohol addict fine and feel alright by working on the symptoms.

He will then engage alcohol counseling because the dream of every doctor is to leave his patients better than they met him. Alcohol counseling helps the doctor achieve this.

Home care

Mild symptoms don’t need to be taken to the hospital. They can all be handled at home. What might be needed is a trusted relative or friend to stay around the alcohol addict and help out should there be any complications eventually. They should also be able to get the AWS ‘guy’ to meet up with his appointments with the doctor for check-ups. If an alcohol withdrawal syndrome sufferer stays in a place that is not allowing him to stay calm, a medical help should be sought immediately. He might have to be enrolled in a shelter program meant for alcohol addicts who are undergoing a recovery process.

Hospitalization

Hospitalization will be the only option when the symptoms have become life-threatening.

This will allow the doctor have a closer eyes on him and manage whatever complications he has.

Fluids will be administered intravenously on him to prevent further dehydration. Medications that can ease his symptoms will also form part of the medical rescue.

Medications

Sedatives especially benzodiazepines are top drugs used to treat AWS symptoms. Commonly used ones are:

In addition to the use of benzodiazepines, vitamin supplements will be given to replenish those essential vitamins that alcohol abuse depleted. The moment withdrawal has been achieved, the vitamin supplements and other medications will be given so as to deal with nutritional deficiencies and complications caused by serious alcohol abuse.

What is the outlook for alcohol withdrawal syndrome?

A great percentage of people with AWS will experience full recovery so long as treatment is received on time.

What will seem like a concern will be the fatigue, sleep disturbances, and irritability that may last for months.

If AWS got to the stage of delirium tremens, there is the need for quick medical attention. Further complications can be stopped from arising thus.

Preventing alcohol withdrawal syndrome

Avoiding regular heavy drinking is the only way not to develop alcohol withdrawal syndrome. Counseling and medical help should be sought for if alcohol withdrawal syndrome has been developed already. Withdrawal from alcohol use is often gradual and systematic.

You might have this question on your mind:

Q:

What nutrition advice is available for those who are currently recovering from alcoholism?

A:

Nothing can be recommended for someone who is recovering from alcoholism without first falling back to the test results that has been obtained by the doctor.

Hence, nutrition advice will be based on test results. If the test result showed a serum magnesium deficiency, magnesium will have to be replenished in the body. Vitamins that contain magnesium will have to be supplemented for. Multiple vitamins might be included.

Eating balanced meals thrice a day and drinking copious quantity of fluids but alcohol to keep the body hydrated will be a smart option.

I hope you have learned a thing or two from this article!

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