The Dangers of Alcohol Withdrawal
Written by Jade McNulty BMS'23 Neuro‘23
One of the most difficult things a person can do is give up their addiction. Taking this first step on the road to recovery is painful and burdensome, requiring copious amounts of effort from the individual seeking help. Addiction becomes an aspect of an individual's life, and requires a lifestyle change to remove. The process itself is not linear and can take years to complete. Once a person suffering from alcohol use disorder decides to seek help, the first and hardest step is stopping drinking. Most times it requires multiple attempts of trial and error, and it’s nearly impossible to do without a support system which is a luxury millions of individuals may not have. Though alcohol withdrawal can be deadly, there are ways to prevent fatality. Treatment programs and support groups are available to aid this dangerous process, but even they may not be able to halt the mental and physical risks.
As alcohol is a depressant, it lowers the function of the central nervous system. After excess alcohol use, the body adjusts to the intake and sets a functional tolerance. During withdrawal, the body is lacking the alcohol it is used to managing and the nervous system is forced to adjust. Typically, the body attempts to compensate by becoming overactive. Symptoms of sweating, rapid heart rate, and increased body temperature begin within a few hours after the last drink. These are typical effects, but some experience more serious outcomes known as alcohol withdrawal symptoms. Within a day of decreasing alcohol consumption, symptoms including depression, tremors, nausea, and anxiety begin. Life-threatening and severe features include hallucinations, seizures, delirium tremens, and coma. These symptoms usually improve within five days, but can last weeks if left untreated. Oftentimes when individuals experience these withdrawal symptoms they get scared and resort back to drinking, which is never the goal. That is why support groups like AA and clinical care are available. Some things in life are not meant to be endured alone, and alcohol withdrawal is one of them
Due to the commonness of the illness, a Clinical Institute Withdrawal Assessmenthas been developed to assess individuals to determine the level of treatment necessary. This survey allows clinicians to determine how severe the withdrawal symptoms are, and can lead to a variety of differing treatment options. Patients with moderate symptoms are typically treated as outpatients and transferred only to an inpatient setting when an individual needs monitoring. However, complications of withdrawal may cause respiratory depression, causing direct entry to the Intensive Care Unit. For both inpatient and outpatient treatment, the goal is to keep patients healthy and to provide comfort.
Though all these symptoms may seem scary, the dangers of not stopping are even worse. Addiction is a horrible disease that ruins jobs, relationships, and lives. It is immensely important to get help and try to get better. Recognizing an addiction, especially to something as commonly present as alcohol, is a difficult thing, but it can save your life. College campuses have a variety of treatment options in place already for those struggling, and there are a variety of resources available online. If someone in need of help, there are ways to get better. Don’t struggle alone.
University of the Sciences students can reach out to the Student Health and Counseling center at The Counseling Center 215-596-8536 or 215-596-8980 for assistance for themselves or their friends.