Alcohol addiction is a pervasive problem in the United States, posing a serious threat to the physical and mental health of a person involved in heavy drinking. However, the social acceptance of drinking makes it difficult to identify the problem of alcoholism in the initial stages. According to the 2015 National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH), by the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA), approximately 86.4 percent of people above 18 years reportedly drank alcohol at some point in their lifetime.
One of the most problematic conditions associated with alcoholism is the alcohol withdrawal syndrome (AWS). It is a life-threatening condition wherein a person who can not live without drinking a single day suddenly ceases to consume alcohol altogether or drastically reduces its intake. The symptoms of AWS develop as early as two hours after the last drink, and range from mild issues, such as anxiety and shakiness, to severe complications, such as seizures and delirium tremens (DT).
Symptoms and causes of AWS
Typically, the symptoms of AWS can be categorized into the following three categories:
- Mild symptoms such as anxiety, insomnia, nausea, abdominal pain and / or vomiting, loss of appetite, fatigue, tremors, depression, foggy thinking, mood swings and heart palpitations.
- Moderate symptoms such as, increased blood pressure, high body temperature and respiration rate, irregular heart rate, mental confusion, sweating, irritability and heightened mood disorders.
- Severe symptoms or delirium tremens, concluding hallucinations, fever, seizures, severe confusion and agitation.
AWS is triggered by multiple factors that irritate the central nervous system (CNS). Drinking heavily over a prolonged period disrupted the brain's neurotransmitters, which transmit messages.
Initially, drinking alcohol enhances the effects of GABA, the neurotransmitter that makes an individual feel calm and relaxed. But, when a person drastically increases his or her alcohol intake, it suppresses the GABA activity, which, in turn, leads to a higher tolerance level-the stage at which more and more alcohol is needed to get the desired effect.
Similarly, when a heavy drinker suddenly puts a break on his or her drinking habit, the neurotransmitters that were held back previously are not suppressed anymore, resulting in a rebound or a phenomenon known as “hyperexcitability.” Nearby, people continue to drink
due to the fear of alcohol withdrawal, which is often difficult to handle due to debilitating symptoms accompanying it such as anxiety, irritability and tremors.
Leading an alcohol-free life is possible
The first step to safely detox from alcohol begins by removing toxins from the body under medical supervision. This should be accompanied by medications that can treat the consequent symptoms of nausea, tremors and irritability. It is also important to include a healthy diet and regular sleep in the entire detox plan as treating malnutrition and insomnia are essential to ensure a faster recovery.
The specialized treatment facilities that offer inpatient, outpatient or medication-assisted treatment can also be opted for a healthy recovery of an individual dealing with alcohol addiction. Attending counseling sessions and getting help from support groups should also be the priority of an individual grappling with alcoholism.