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What is alcohol withdrawal like?


Cold turkey: the horrors of alcoholism explained in graphic detail

If you, or someone you know and love continues to drink and struggle with addiction, then there are severe consequences.

If you try and go cold turkey on your own, or do not provide your body with the alcohol it craves, then you face horrific withdrawal and life-threatening seizures.

“Doctors say alcohol is often the most dangerous substance for the body to withdraw from”.

Those struggling with addiction can be reluctant to seek help for many reasons.

The real truth about alcohol withdrawal

One of the main reasons, however, is the fear of cravings, withdrawal and relapse.

We understand how daunting it can be to accept your need for help, and the prospect of going to residential rehab, so we have everything you need to know about what alcohol withdrawal feels like, so you can be as prepared as possible for your road to recovery.

Whatever your questions or concerns, our addiction specialist team are on-call 24/7 to help you.

Call us today on 0808 1150 446 for free and impartial advice.

What is alcohol withdrawal?

If you, or someone you love is suffering from alcohol use disorder (AUD), and have been drinking heavily for months, or even years, then you will experience both physical and psychological symptoms if you stop or cut back your intake substantially.

Get the help you need now.

The symptoms you experience when cutting back, going ‘cold turkey’, or during detox, are called withdrawal symptoms, and can range from mild to serious, depending on your individual circumstance.

What are the symptoms?

 Depending on your substance of choice, how many types, and how long you have been using, your symptoms will vary from mild to serious.

Your brain goes into shock if it does not have the alcohol it needs, and your nervous system will not be able to cope with the withdrawal.

Your body goes into full panic mode – your heart, lungs, and voice pipe can just lock up and stop working.

Because of this, you cannot detox from alcohol safely without medication and around-the-clock medical monitoring.

Below, we have outlined what each symptom will feel like:

1. Nausea

If you have ever vomited or felt nauseous as a result of a hangover or food poisoning, then withdrawal nausea unlike anything you will have experienced before.

“The week-long process started with the feeling that his “guts were being pulled out.”

When experiencing withdrawal symptoms from alcohol use, the nausea feels like it runs along the spine; an acidic feeling that spreads across your whole body and tingles your nerve endings.

It consumes your whole body, causing you to feel incredibly weak and shaky, and even lose control of your bodily functions.

Nausea is severe and constant during withdrawal.

2. Hallucinations

Hallucinations are a sign of a more acute withdrawal and are an indication that you are entering into a stage which is called Delirium Tremens.

Delirium Tremens (DT) is a serious condition that needs urgent medical attention.

It means an individual goes into a state of serious delirium where they do not know what is real and lose control of their body.

Medical staff need to monitor the patient 24/7 in order to medicate to help ease the symptoms of hallucinations and the life-threatening risk of seizures.

When you experience DTs, your brain goes into shock.

DTs are life-threatening

Symptoms of Delirium Tremens include:

Physical Symptoms:

  • Alcoholic fits
  • Fever
  • Paroxysmal sweating
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Paleness
  • Seizures
  • Tremors
  • Hand Tremors
  • Increased heart rate
  • Increased blood pressure
  • Loss of bladder control
  • Headache
  • Diarrhoea
  • Aggression
  • Extreme Itching
  • Risk of death

Psychological Symptoms:

  • Auditory hallucinations
  • Visual hallucinations
  • Nightmares
  • Disorientation
  • Depression
  • Paranoia
  • Anxiety
  • Irritability
  • Rapid Emotional chances
  • Disorientation
  • Clouded thinking

Experiencing DTs without medical attention can raise your risk of mortality by 35%.

A very high heart rate and blood pressure can lead to cardiovascular collapse or respiratory failure.

Withdrawal is so bad that you may die if you do not seek medical attention urgently.

Call 999.

medical assistance is essential during withdrawal

4. Paroxysmal Sweating

Imagine waking up during the middle of the night drenched in sweat as a result of the flu or food poisoning and fluctuating between cold and hot feelings.

With alcohol withdrawal, the sweating the worst you will ever experience.

Medically termed ‘paroxysmal sweating’, this symptom is the sudden attack of cold and hot sweats which washes over you in waves, often accompanied by a fit or seizure.

You will experience paroxysmal sweating alongside tremors often too.

4. Tremors

You often hear of people saying that they get ‘the shakes’ if they crave something. This is only too real during alcohol withdrawal.

Tremors during withdrawal will stop you from being able to control your body, for example you will not be able to stand up, and your head will feel like your neck cannot support it.

You will be shaking so much that you may well have difficulty feeding yourself or drinking water as the tremors will take over your body.

You may also not be able to control your usual bodily functions either, such as loss of bladder function, and controlling your vomit.

5. Nightmares

During alcohol withdrawal, despite you wanting to sleep through the symptoms, you will find it very difficult to sleep.

When you eventually get to sleep, you will experience very unpleasant nightmares which can merge with hallucinations.

These nightmares are also, more accurately termed as ‘night terrors’.

They are intense and unsettling feelings which are genuinely terrifying.

You may experience sleepwalking with no control or memory of your actions, or even the uncomfortable feelings of sleep paralysis.

Other symptoms of night terrors include:

  • Uncontrollable or racing thoughts whilst falling asleep
  • Aggressive behaviour
  • Vocalising during sleep, such as shouting throughout the night

Withdrawal is a necessary part of recovery

It is important to remember that, though this is unpleasant, withdrawal and detox are the first and most important steps in your addiction recovery.

This short-term discomfort is a small price to pay for long-term sobriety and stopping substance use for good.

Learn more about post-rehab. More.

It is important to see the process through to the end; everything will get better and it will be the best decision you make to recover from addiction.

‘My journey began at Castle Craig and it’s where I first learned to start living ‘one day at a time’ – never has this been truer.’ – Niall

Read more of our real-life stories here.

Recovery is more than possible

Wherever you are, and whenever you need us most, we are here for you.

Our addiction specialist team are on-call 24/7 to provide those in need with professional and medical advice and support.

Call us today on 0808 1150 446.

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Last Updated on November 2, 2021 by