What Helps With Alcohol Withdrawal


Alcohol withdrawal is one of the most difficult, and most dangerous, withdrawals that the human body can go through. Not only is it physically taxing, but the psychological effects are also quite severe.

If you, or someone you care about, are experiencing a physical dependency to alcohol then you may be considering what an alcohol withdrawal will be like. Knowing more about what helps with alcohol withdrawal can keep you, and your loved ones safe.

What Is Alcohol Withdrawal?

Alcohol withdrawal describes the experience an individual has when they stop drinking alcohol once their body has developed a physical dependency. This happens because over time the brain adapts to the constant intake of alcohol and adjusts its neurotransmitter activity levels to compensate. When that alcohol intake suddenly stops the brain does not have time to reactivate ‘normally’, leading to many unpleasant or dangerous withdrawal symptoms.

Some of the typical alcohol withdrawal symptoms include:

  • Anxiety: Feeling restless, nervous, stressed and emotionally uneasy
  • Tremors: Shaking and trembling, especially in the hands
  • Sweating: Profuse sweating, particularly when sleeping – this is often enough to even wake a person, or require them to change their bed sheets
  • Nausea and Vomiting: This is quite common to experience, especially early in withdrawal
  • Increased heartbeat: The feeling of a fast pulse as your heart rate increases, in addition to heart palpitations and high blood pressure
  • Insomnia: Difficulty either falling asleep or staying asleep
  • Agitation and Irritability: Mood swings are very common
  • Hallucinations: Some individuals, particularly long-time alcoholics, may experience auditory or visual hallucinations
  • Seizures: Severe cases of alcohol withdrawal may result in seizures, particularly in the first 48 hours of stopping drinking
  • Delirium Tremens: This is a severe form of alcohol withdrawal including many of the above symptoms such as confusion, hallucinations, fever, and seizures. This typically sets in between 2-4 days after stopping drinking and requires immediate medical attention

These symptoms are all attempts by the body to adjust to the absence of alcohol and alcohol’s effects on the central nervous system.

Is Alcohol Withdrawal Dangerous?

Yes, alcohol withdrawal is extremely dangerous, and can even be fatal. It is one of the most dangerous substances to detox from, despite being an extremely accessible drug in most countries.

Abruptly stopping alcohol consumption, or even weaning off too rapidly, puts immense pressure on the body leading to heart, respiratory, and neurological complications. While there are some drugs who do not have a dangerous physical withdrawal process (like marijuana for example), alcohol detox can be deadly.

Why Can You Die From Alcohol Withdrawal?

Alcohol is classed as a ‘depressant’ drug. This is not because it makes you depressed, although it can contribute to that, but because it depresses the responses of the central nervous system.

That means that it essentially slows down messages between your brain and your body. This results in symptoms from drinking such as slowed heartbeat, low blood pressure, slurring of words, cognitive delays, stumbling when walking, dropping items, and more.

Alcohol enhances the effects of GABA (gamma-aminobutyric acid) which is an inhibitory neurotransmitter, creating the sedative effects of alcohol as explained above. It also suppresses glutamate, which is an excitatory neurotransmitter, also contributing to the sedative effects.

As alcohol use continues chronically at high levels, the brain begins to compensate for this dual effect in an attempt to combat alcohol’s effects and function at a ‘normal’ level. However, with sudden cessation of alcohol there is an overexcitation of the nervous system.

This is why many of the withdrawal symptoms are the opposite of what is experienced under the influence – an increase in heart rate, agitation, trouble falling asleep, etcetera. With extreme alcohol use, comes an extreme imbalance in neurotransmitters, and therefore an extreme experience in withdrawal.

How to Safely Detox From Alcohol

The safest way to detox from alcohol is to complete a medically assisted detox in an inpatient setting with 24/7 medical supervision. This could take place either in a hospital, private clinic, or dedicated detoxification facility.

When considering your options, it is important to keep in mind that even reducing your alcohol intake can be dangerous, depending on how much you drink per day. Some clinics may even recommend that you continue drinking (also called ‘maintenance drinking’) until you come into the clinic in order to avoid potential risks.

The best clinics will be able to admit you as soon as possible in order to complete assessments and provide medical support in reducing your suffering during withdrawal. We talk more about the process of what happens during an in-patient detox further below.

Wherever you complete your detox, the first step must be a complete alcohol and other drug assessment to determine your total intake and therefore assessing the severity of your withdrawals. This will also help inform the psychiatrist as to what medications and treatments are best advised in protecting your life and alleviating withdrawal symptoms.

Can You Safely Detox From Alcohol at Home?

It is never recommended for someone who suspects they may have an alcohol dependency to attempt a detox in their home. This is particularly true for those who wish to stop “cold-turkey”.

When detoxing within your home you do not have access to medical care should an urgent event befall you (such as a heart attack). In addition to this, there is no ongoing supervision to ensure that you are eating sufficiently, drinking enough water, keeping your temperature down, etcetera.

Some out-patient medical clinics may assess you as consuming a sufficiently small amount of alcohol to be able to wean and detox at home. In this instance, they are still providing medical supervision and will keep a close eye to ensure you are following all guidelines. However this is not a recommended course of action for the vast majority of people dependent on alcohol.

Please do not take anecdotal advice from people who say “I did it, and I was fine” or “You’re at home, you just have to ride it out”. Alcohol withdrawal and detox can be fatal – you must consult with a medical professional before attempting even to wean off of alcohol.

Detoxing From Alcohol at a Private Rehab Clinic

The largest benefit to detoxing from alcohol at a private rehab clinic is that you can ensure you are as safe and comfortable as possible while undergoing an incredibly challenging time. The overall process of detoxing at a private clinic looks similar to this:

  • Assessment and Admission: Upon arrival you will experience a full medical evaluation by experienced professionals. This often includes a medical doctor, a psychiatrist, and a team of nurses. They will use this to inform an individualised integrated treatment plan.
  • Medication-Assisted Treatment: Medical staff will monitor your vital signs, withdrawal severity, and overall well being all throughout the detox process. In some cases medication may be prescribed in order to reduce withdrawal symptoms and support sufficient food intake and sleep.
  • Withdrawal Management: The medical team will work hard to alleviate your withdrawal symptoms and ensure that you are in as much comfort as can be expected while your body recovers. You may also have access to other services such as a medicalised spa in order to offer complementary therapies. Ideally you will also have access to therapeutic staff to support you psychologically and emotionally.
  • Fluids and Nutrition: The best clinics will provide an individualised nutrition plan, created in consultation with the medical team and a dedicated dietician to ensure that you are receiving the fluids, vitamins, calories, and supplements necessary to help your body heal.
  • Emotional Support: As mentioned above, therapeutic interventions can be priceless in offering a degree of emotional and psychological support. Individual and group counselling helps you to cope with your thoughts and emotions while developing healthy coping strategies for life.
  • Transition Into Ongoing Treatment: As you come out on the other side of your detox, you may be wondering what you can do to ensure that you never have to experience that again. Committing to an ongoing treatment to address the root causes of addiction and support your long-term recovery is crucial to protecting your health and wellbeing.

If you are interested in ensuring you can complete your alcohol detox in privacy, safety, and comfort, then Clinic Les Alpes is able to help. With 24/7 medical supervision in luxury accommodation, you can access daily therapeutic interventions and a medicalised spa to ensure that you start your road to recovery on the right foot. For more information, please do not hesitate to contact us.

Summary – What Helps with Alcohol Withdrawal?

As outlined above, alcohol withdrawal and detox is incredibly complex and dangerous from a medical perspective. When suffering from the effects of long-term alcohol use on the brain, the body is poorly equipped to ‘bounce back’ and recover its ‘normal’ function.

In seeking out information about alcohol withdrawal, you may be hoping to help yourself or someone you care about undergo detox as painlessly as possible. Ultimately, the best advice for what helps with alcohol withdrawal is professional medical supervision, even if only for a consultation.

Clinically Reviewed By

Brittany Hunt

Brittany Hunt is an internationally experienced clinician, specialised in treating addictions and co-occurring disorders. Having worked in the public and private sector, she utilises holistic and evidence-based approaches designed to empower the patients in their recovery journeys. A graduate of The University of Auckland, she has a Bachelor of Health Sciences majoring in Mental Health and Addictions, a diploma in Psychology and Counselling and a Post-Graduate degree in Health Sciences, majoring in Addictions. She is a fully registered practitioner under the Drug and Alcohol Association of Aotearoa New Zealand (DAPAANZ).

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