What are the Dangers of Alcohol Withdrawal?

After drinking heavily for a prolonged period of time a person will go through withdrawals. When alcohol is abused for long periods of time the withdrawal becomes dangerous. The first reaction the body has to suddenly being reduced or deprived of a substance is withdrawal. The way alcohol affects the brain and body is why suddenly stopping to drink can be dangerous.

The effects alcohol has on the brain begins with the first drink. Alcohol is a depressant. Alcohol blocks chemical signals between brain cells (called neurons). Blocking those chemical signals is what causes a person to slur their words or have slowed reflexes. Drinking alcohol in excess can lead to memory loss or impulsive behavior. Some people experience a ‘blackout’. A blackout usually the result of drinking too much in a short period of time. Blackouts also put a lot of stress on the body. The excessive amount of alcohol put more stress on the organs than they can handle, especially the liver. The liver is the filter of the body.

After a long period of drinking, the brain becomes dependent on how alcohol affects it. Alcohol has a sedating effect on the brain. When drinking heavily and often, the brain adapts by drastically compensating by increasing the production of serotonin (a relative of adrenaline). When the brain is then deprived of alcohol the brain is sped up by the amount of serotonin and norepinephrine being produced. This is what causes withdrawal. The amount of these chemicals being released into the brain is what makes alcohol withdrawal so dangerous. Whether you have been drinking for weeks or years you can experience withdrawal. Alcohol withdrawal can cause insomnia, the shakes, nausea, anxiety or depression, slowed heartbeat, changes in blood pressure, even tremors.

This is where alcohol becomes the most dangerous. The 48 hours after that last drink, is when the body is going through the worst part of detoxing from alcohol. Symptoms can typically start to subside in about a week. During this time, it is highly recommended that a person be in a facility that can monitor these symptoms. Going to a detox is the safest place to be.

With heavy drinkers, the symptoms can become life-threatening. Symptoms such as tremors, hallucinations, or seizures are why medical attention is recommended. A detox can monitor life-threatening symptoms such as seizures or delirium. These symptoms are so dangerous because they can be fatal. Long term abuse can lead to brain damage. Parts of the brain relating to problem-solving and impulse control are most susceptible to damage. Untreated, this leads to ‘wet brain’. Wet brain is onset alcohol- related dementia. This represents 10% of dementia cases according to the Hazeldon Betty Ford Foundation.

The after effects of heavy drinking can be life-altering. The liver takes a lot of abuse during long term drinking. There are four stages of liver failure.

  • Stage 1: Inflammation is the first sign of liver damage. There may be no symptoms
  • of the liver being enlarged, but it is a sign you are on your way to liver damage.
  • Stage 2: Fibrosis is when the inflammation begins to scar. Scarred tissue cannot
  • perform functions as well as healthy tissue.
  • Stage 3: Cirrhosis. With Cirrhosis serious scarring has begun to build up. This makes
  • it harder for the liver to function. You may now begin to feel symptoms of a damaged liver. Some symptoms include:
    • Swelling of the ankles, legs, feet. (Edema)
    • Abdominal pain or swelling
    • Easily bleeding or bruising
  • Stage 4: End-Stage Liver Disease is the point when
  • liver function has deteriorated dramatically. ESLD
  • is associated with hepatic
  • This is when brain function can start to decline because the liver is not filtering out toxins. This is dangerous because all sorts toxins can build up in the blood.

Liver failure is different from liver cancer. Liver cancer can begin at any stage of liver damage, however people at Stage 3 are more susceptible. There are two different types of liver failure. There is acute liver failure and chronic liver failure. Alcohol abuse is a main cause of chronic liver failure.

There are treatments for liver failure, although it depends on when it is addressed and how far along the damage has progressed. Long- term abstinence from alcohol is truly the only way an alcoholic can stop or heal liver failure in Stage 1 or Stage 2. At Stage 3, cirrhosis can be slowed or stopped, but is not reversible. There are no other treatments other than a liver transplant for Stage 4

Alcoholism wreaks havoc on the brain and body. It is a truly dangerous and life- threatening disease. After long periods of time, that damage can be irreversible. A rehab is the best place to begin seeking help with alcoholism. The damage done by long- term heavy drinking is serious. Being monitored during withdrawals and getting support during and after an intensive inpatient program can result in success. You can live a sober and healthy life after alcohol. There are recovery specialists on hand that can help you get your life back. They have the answers you need. There is help for you or anyone you know that is suffering.

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