You can become addicted to almost anything. Our country is full of people addicted to caffeine, nicotine, alcohol, and narcotics, but not all addictions are dangerous when quitting. You can quit sugar with no ill health effects, or caffeine with only a few headaches but some drugs you should never go cold turkey on – like alcohol.
Let’s learn why detoxing from alcohol is dangerous including a lesson on how alcohol works in your body, milder forms of alcohol withdrawal, severe threats from alcohol withdrawal, and how to quit safely. Alcohol could be running your life, but you can’t just quit by yourself without the possibility of serious health consequences.
How Alcohol Works
You drink a couple of beers and you feel relaxed – why does that happen? Understanding the chemistry behind alcohol, alcoholism, and the human brain can help you better understand why detoxing can be dangerous. When you drink alcohol your brain releases neurotransmitters, or brain signals, that help you feel the associated positive sensations like euphoria, and loss of anxiety, but also negative consequences like loss of impulse control or balance.
This release of impulses and signals is not normal. When you drink you are altering your body’s natural chemistry. Chronic drinkers and alcoholics can change their brain chemistry enough to cause chemical dependency and addiction. Your brain used to think sobriety was normal, but now it believes being soaked in booze is a typical Tuesday.
When you take alcohol away and detox, your brain essentially panics. It is not getting the same influx of signals that it believes is normal and will try to convince you are in danger with mild withdrawal symptoms or could go haywire with uncontrollable severe symptoms which we’ll get into later.
Alcohol makes you happy by releasing chemicals but too much release and your brain becomes backwards and addicted. The same effects that cause happiness are the same ones that can lead to the dangers of withdrawal.
Mild Symptoms of Alcohol Withdrawal
Not every alcoholic will experience dangerous withdrawal symptoms once they quit but most will experience minor symptoms. Most minor alcohol withdrawal effects are unpleasant but not dangerous and can include:
- Cold, clammy skin
- Tremors (the shakes)
- Trouble concentrating
- Mood Swings
Dangerous Symptoms of Alcohol Withdrawal
Mild symptoms can quickly be followed by severe symptoms of alcohol withdrawal like:
- Racing Heartrate – As your brain panics, it can cause cardiovascular symptoms like heart palpitations, racing heart rate, arrhythmia, and other issues
- Skyrocketing Blood Pressure – Spiking blood pressure is dangerous to your entire body and can cause severe physical effects
- Heart Attack – Both a racing heart rate, spiking blood pressure, and other issues can contribute to a heart attack in patients withdrawing from alcohol
- Seizures – Seizures are caused by imbalances in the brain’s electrical workings and a brain withdrawing from alcohol is not balanced at all
- Delirium Tremens – Delirium tremens, known more commonly as DTs, is a state of psychosis, or loss of touch with reality, caused by alcohol withdrawal. It includes visual and auditory hallucinations and several unpleasant psychological effects.
- Coma – If withdrawal is bad enough your brain will shut everything down and leave the sufferer in a coma. Coma may also be medically induced in detoxing alcoholics to avoid more severe physical symptoms.
- Death – A mix of the preceding symptoms or just one can lead to death from alcohol withdrawal.
Factors in Withdrawal Symptoms
Not everyone will experience alcohol withdrawal in the same way. The two main contributing factors in alcohol withdrawal are the length of abuse and amount of abuse. The longer your drinking career is, the more likely you’ll experience severe alcohol withdrawal symptoms. Those who drink copious amounts of alcohol are also more likely to experience severe alcohol withdrawal.
Note: Though those who have drank longer or drank more are more likely to experience dangerous alcohol withdrawal symptoms – any alcoholic can experience them. Even if you’ve only been drinking chronically for a month, if your brain is dependent – withdrawal will be dangerous. If you’ve experienced mild symptoms of alcohol withdrawal you could be closer than you think to severe withdrawal.
How to Safely Withdraw from Alcohol
We know that alcohol withdraw is dangerous but thousands of chronic alcoholics quit drinking every year – how do they do it? They do it the safe way, in a certified detox center or treatment facility. Detox centers are medical facilities and have the proper care, plan, and personnel to help anyone slowly detox from alcohol to begin their path to sobriety.
Most facilities use a tapering method to ease alcohol withdraw. In the past detox centers utilized alcohol itself to taper patients but most modern facilities use modern pharmaceuticals like barbiturates or benzodiazepines to slowly wean your brain off chemical dependency. Like quitting smoking with nicotine gum or patches, doctors in rehab will slowly take your brain off the booze to avoid health consequences and unpleasant symptoms.
Because detox and treatment facilities are registered medical clinics you can expect knowledgeable care and someone available should something go wrong during withdrawal. The personnel, methods, and modern steps make detoxing from alcohol much easier and safe than trying on your own.
If You Need Help with Alcohol Withdrawal
If you or a loved one is an alcoholic but ready to quit, they must go about it in a safe and comfortable manner. There’s no use stopping drinking to lead a better life if there is no life after quitting. There’s nothing safer than detoxing from alcohol in a comfortable, supervised medical detox or treatment facility. Reach out to our alcohol detox and rehab facility to see what can be done starting today.
Chris Clancy is the in-house Content Manager for JourneyPure’s Digital Marketing team, where he gets to explore a wide variety of substance abuse- and mental health-related topics. He has more than 20 years’ experience as a journalist and researcher, with strong working knowledge of hospital systems, health insurance, content strategy, and public relations. He lives in Nashville with his wife and two kids.