A Warning…and a Sign of Hope
Many of us who work in the recovery industry have first-hand experience with addiction and I am no different. In a number of my blogs, I’ve alluded to some of the things I went through as an active alcoholic. I generally try to keep the focus of these posts on the recovery side of things. However, it is sometimes necessary to examine the bad old days in an effort to connect with people who are still suffering. This week, I would like to give you an idea of what alcohol withdrawals are like from the perspective of someone who has lived through them. Hopefully, my story can serve as both a warning and a sign of hope to those still in active addiction.
How It Began
I was a pretty heavy drinker by the time my third year of college came around. My habit wasn’t nearly as bad as it would be in years down the road – I generally didn’t slip into incoherence and would usually remember the events from the night before – but it was definitely a habit, though I wouldn’t have admitted that at the time. I would tell myself, “Oh, I don’t really have a problem…I just sleep better after a few cocktails.” One night, for whatever reason, I didn’t get to have my usual nightcap or three and as I lay in bed, annoyed with my expected insomnia, I noticed something else. My tongue tasted like I had been licking batteries and I started to run hot and cold with feverish sweats. After an hour of tossing and turning, I finally realized I was having my first undeniable experience with alcohol withdrawals.
The Facts About Alcohol Withdrawals
Alcohol withdrawals occur when a regular and heavy drinker suddenly stops drinking. Alcohol is a depressant and after prolonged use, the body needs to respond. In an attempt to offset those effects, the brain starts producing a large amount of chemicals like serotonin, dopamine, and epinephrine. When a drinker suddenly quits alcohol, the brain continues to produce these substances in the same quantities and the body is flooded with chemicals at dangerously high levels. A study published in American Family Physician lists the following as symptoms of alcohol withdrawal: It also goes on to list the following as symptoms: autonomic hyperactivity (the sweats I mentioned earlier, as well as a pulse over 100 beats per minute), increased hand tremors, insomnia, nausea or vomiting, hallucinations, psychomotor agitation (unintentional movements and restlessness), anxiety, and grand mal seizures. Finally, in severe cases, alcohol withdrawal can be fatal.
The Next Time
The sweats I mentioned in the first paragraph were actually the second noticeable experience – the first, of course, was insomnia. As scary as the realization was, it was only the beginning. Prolonged cycles of alcohol abuse and withdrawal produce an effect known as “kindling.” This means that the withdrawal symptoms will get progressively worse with each cycle. I can testify personally to the veracity of that statement. It took me over a year of drinking every night to feel night sweatsfor the first time. Years later, when I was struggling to stay sober, a weekend of heavy drinking would give me those sweats and much worse, despite months of sobriety. Over the course of my alcoholic career, I experienced almost every one of the symptoms listed, even though my drinking episodes grew shorter. I can tell you honestly that the “next time” is always worse.
According to the aforementioned study, as many as 2 million Americans may experience alcohol withdrawal symptoms each year. If you or someone you love is among this number, I offer you my sympathies and hope. Withdrawals can be a terrifying experience and I wouldn’t wish them on my worst enemy. I would also ask that you consider professional treatment. Ocean Recovery, located just steps from the beach in Orange County, California, has been treating addiction and alcoholism since 2002. Our staff consists of trained experts who know recovery from personal experience. Please give us a call today and start building your foundation for hope.