Is alcohol withdrawal really as bad as I’ve heard? Will I have hallucinations? How common are seizures during alcohol withdrawal? In today’s post, we address what is (and isn’t) likely to occur when a person who has become addicted to alcohol tries to stop drinking.

What Are the Symptoms of Alcohol Withdrawal?

The symptoms that a person develops when they try to end their alcohol abuse can vary in both type and severity. The primary influences on a person’s withdrawal symptoms are how long they have been abusing alcohol and how much they typically drink.

Depending on those and some other personal factors, alcohol withdrawal typically involves symptoms such as:

  • Headaches
  • Stomach aches
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Racing heartbeat
  • Excessive perspiration
  • Tics, tremors, or shaking
  • Insomnia
  • Lost appetite
  • Anxiety
  • Agitation
  • Depression 

For people who have long history of heavy drinking, withdrawal may involve more severe symptoms, including:

  • Extreme confusion and disorientation
  • Hallucinations 
  • Hypertension (dangerously high blood pressure)
  • Intense tremors
  • Seizure
  • Breathing difficulties
  • Arrythmia (abnormal heart rate)

The more severe symptoms listed above are characteristic of a phenomenon called delirium tremens. Commonly referred to as the DTs, delirium tremens can be both painful and dangerous. 

How Common Are Seizures from Alcohol Withdrawal?

Fears about the intense distress of the DTs can prevent people from trying to stop drinking. Worries such as “How common are seizures from withdrawal?” and “Can the DTs be fatal?” may dissuade a person from even attempting to achieve a sober lifestyle.

These are understandable concerns. The harsh truth is that alcohol withdrawal can be difficult – and in some cases, it may be life-threatening. But when you separate the myths from the facts, you’ll see that choosing to get professional help to stop drinking is the best first step toward a healthier future.

Here are answers to three common questions about seizures and other aspects of alcohol withdrawal:

How common are seizures from alcohol withdrawal?

Seizures during withdrawal are usually part of the DTs, and studies indicate that about 5% of people who go through withdrawal will develop delirium tremens. This means that, generally speaking, about one of every 20 people who attempt to quit drinking are at risk of having seizures. Some researchers have estimated that about 3% of people experience seizures during alcohol withdrawal. 

These statistics indicate that, thankfully, alcohol withdrawal seizures are relatively uncommon. But even a slight risk of seizures underscores the value of entering a detoxification, or detox, program to help you get through withdrawal safely.

What are withdrawal hallucinations like?

Hallucinations can involve any of the five senses, but the hallucinations that are associated with alcohol withdrawal typically involve sight (visual), hearing (auditory), or tactile (touch). 

A person who develops hallucinations while withdrawing from alcohol may see people or light patterns that aren’t really there, hear voices or other sounds that don’t actually exist, or feel like bugs are crawling over or under their skin. 

Can a person actually die from the DTs?

Since alcohol is common and legal, many people believe that it’s not as dangerous as other addictive substances. This mistaken belief in the relative harmlessness of alcohol often extends to assumptions about withdrawal. 

The truth is that people with severe cases of alcoholism who develop the DTs during alcohol withdrawal can be at risk of death. If a person develops the DTs and doesn’t receive proper medical attention, research suggests that they have a 37% chance of dying

Thankfully, when a person goes through alcohol withdrawal in an effective detox program, their risk of death declines significantly. As healthcare providers have developed the ability to recognize the signs of delirium tremens early and provide appropriate care quickly, the expected mortality rate for people who have the DTs has fallen to about 1%-5%. 

How long does alcohol withdrawal take?

As with the types of symptoms a person experiences, the amount of time that it takes them to complete withdrawal can also be influenced by a host of individual factors.

The first symptoms of alcohol withdrawal typically occur within six to 12 hours of the person’s last drink. Usually, symptoms peak within 24-48 hours after a person stops drinking, then begin to subside. The first 48 hours are also crucial for assessing a person’s risk of delirium tremens. If the DTs do not begin after two days, they are unlikely to occur.

In typical cases, the most intense alcohol withdrawal symptoms dissipate within about a week. However, it is not uncommon for people with alcohol addiction to experience residual physical or psychological distress for several weeks or even months after they have stopped drinking.

What Happens After You Complete Alcohol Withdrawal?

Getting through withdrawal is a significant step toward long-term sobriety. But it is just one step. The impact that alcohol addiction can have on a person’s physical, psychological, and social well-being doesn’t simply disappear once they have rid the substance from their body.

This is why follow-on treatment is so important for people who have just gone through detox. The therapeutic and educational components of alcohol addiction treatment can prepare people for successful recovery. 

Identifying triggers, resisting relapse, rebuilding fractured relationships, and developing effective stress-management skills are just a few of the many vital topics that may be addressed during the post-detox phases of a person’s treatment for alcohol addiction.

Find Treatment for Alcoholism in Massachusetts

Lake Avenue Recovery Center provides customized outpatient programming for adults who have become addicted to alcohol and other drugs. Our addiction treatment center in Worcester, Massachusetts, also serves patients whose struggles with compulsive substance abuse are accompanied by mental health concerns.

Features of care at our center include personalized planning, multiple forms of therapy, and flexible scheduling (with both day and evening sessions available). To learn more about how we can help you or a loved one, or to schedule a free assessment, please visit our Contact Us page or call our center today.

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