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What is alcohol addiction withdrawal?

Alcohol addiction causes a variety of physical changes in your body which can make it difficult to control the quantity and frequency of your alcohol consumption, and can also make it increasingly challenging to reduce or stop your misuse of alcohol.

Alcohol withdrawal refers to the unpleasant process that your body goes through when you try to stop drinking alcohol or are unable to drink alcohol for whatever reason e.g. you have been unable to acquire it. Continued exposure to alcohol causes your body to become accustomed to having this substance in your system, and its absence can cause a variety of distressing and sometimes dangerous withdrawal symptoms.

At Priory, we are able to help you to manage the withdrawal process and any associated withdrawal symptoms, via our comprehensive medically assisted withdrawal detoxification process, and we are committed to ensuring that this process is safe, thorough, and managed as smoothly and comfortably as possible for each patient.

What are the symptoms of alcohol withdrawal?

The nature and severity of the alcohol withdrawal symptoms that you experience will be influenced by a number of personal factors, including how much you have been drinking, how long you have been struggling with an alcohol addiction, and your general mental and physical health. Alcohol withdrawal symptoms can be categorised into both physical and psychological symptoms.

Physical symptoms of alcohol withdrawal include:

  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Headaches
  • Diarrhoea
  • Abdominal pain
  • Fatigue
  • High temperature and/or chills
  • Unpleasant, vivid dreams
  • Tics and tremors (‘the shakes’)
  • Irregular or increased heart rate
  • Excessive sweating
  • Shaking and shivering
  • Decreased appetite

Psychological symptoms of alcohol withdrawal include:

  • Depression
  • Anxiety
  • Insomnia
  • Mood swings
  • Confusion
  • Irritability and agitation
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Intense cravings for alcohol

The most severe alcohol addiction withdrawal symptoms, known as ‘delirium tremens’, include:

  • Visual and/or auditory hallucinations
  • Seizures

It is important to understand that every person will have a unique experience when going through alcohol withdrawal. The symptoms that you experience, their severity and the risk that they pose to you will depend upon your personal history and your physical and mental health.

The duration of your alcohol withdrawal symptoms will also vary depending upon the nature of your alcohol addiction and the extent of your previous alcohol misuse. The first symptoms can begin to occur within eight hours of your last drink and withdrawal symptoms tend to be at their worst for the first 48 hours. However, your withdrawal symptoms should gradually start to improve as your body begins to adjust to being without alcohol, and the entire withdrawal process usually takes three to seven days from the time of your last drink.

How we treat alcohol withdrawal at Priory

At Priory, alcohol addiction withdrawal takes place as part of our intensive, medically assisted withdrawal detoxification programme, which is the process by which all traces of alcohol are removed from your body in a controlled and highly supportive clinical environment, under the close supervision of experienced professionals. Our medically trained detox teams are able to prescribe medication and offer medical intervention to help to ease your withdrawal symptoms, and make the process as safe and as comfortable as possible for you.

At Priory, we understand that alcohol addiction detox and withdrawal may seem to be an overwhelming and daunting prospect, and the shame and stigma surrounding alcohol addiction can cause negative emotions and may prevent individuals from seeking the help and support that they need. However, at Priory, our specialist detox teams are dedicated to minimising the impact of your withdrawal symptoms, and can support you every step of the way towards achieving a successful and long-lasting recovery.

Once you have undergone withdrawal and detox from your alcohol addiction, you will be physically stable and ready to transition directly into the next phase of your treatment. During the post-withdrawal and detox phases of treatment, you will develop the skills and strategies that will help you to live a healthier and more productive life, free from alcohol addiction.

For more information on the alcohol addiction withdrawal and detox process at Priory, you can visit our alcohol addiction detox page.

This page was clinically reviewed by Dr Niall Campbell (MBBS, MRCPsych) in June 2018, and is scheduled to be reviewed again in June 2020. To view all Priory alcohol addiction specialists, please click here.

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For details of how Priory can provide you with assistance regarding alcohol addiction treatment and rehabilitation, please call 0800 144 8969 or click here to book a FREE ADDICTION ASSESSMENT. For professionals looking to make a referral, please click here.

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