How to Reduce Withdrawal Symptoms from Alcohol

Man doesn't know how to reduce withdrawal symptoms from alcohol

If you’ve been a heavy alcohol drinker for weeks, months, or years, you are likely to have both physical and mental problems when you cut back or stop drinking. This is called alcohol withdrawal and symptoms can go from mild to serious. If you only drink occasionally, you may not have these symptoms, but if you have gone through alcohol withdrawal once, you are more likely to go through it again the next time you quit drinking.

Easing Alcohol Withdrawal

If you don’t have a serious health condition and you’ve never had severe withdrawals in the past, it’s likely that you won’t need more than a supportive environment to help you through withdrawal. This includes:

  • A quiet environment
  • Soft lighting
  • Limited contact with other people
  • A supportive, positive atmosphere
  • Healthy food
  • Lots of fluids

If your blood pressure, pulse, or body temperature rises or if you experience more serious symptoms like hallucinations and seizures, call 911 immediately. The doctor may suggest inpatient care and professional drug treatment.

What’s an Alcohol Withdrawal Diet?

When you are going through alcohol detox the best thing you can do, diet-wise, is to eat as healthy as possible. Avoid too much salt, sugar, and fat. Replenishing the right nutrients can make things go easier. 

10 Best Foods for an Alcohol Withdrawal Diet

  1. Berries

Berries give a boost of healthy natural sugars and help stave off your cravings for junk and sugary foods. Plus, they are full of vitamins and minerals.

  1. Whole Grains

Whole grains are a good source of fiber, which is vital for your body going through withdrawal. It also keeps your blood sugar steady which prevents mood swings.

  1. Green Vegetables

Green vegetables are high in vitamin B. Alcoholism can cause vitamin B deficiency.

  1. Cayenne Pepper

Cayenne pepper can help fight cravings and increase your appetite. This is helpful if nausea is making it difficult to eat.

  1. Fatty Fish

Fish like salmon and mackerel are high in vitamin D, another nutrient you may be low in. On top of that, they are high in protein which helps your body recover from damage.

  1. Sunflower Seeds

Sunflower seeds raise your dopamine levels. Lows or crashes of dopamine are the main causes of cravings in recovery.

  1. Foods high in Zinc

Zinc is a natural healer. Foods such as beef, beans, and nuts work wonders for the immune system.

  1. Bananas

Bananas also work to raise dopamine levels and fight cravings. And the potassium in bananas is a huge benefit to the cardiovascular system

  1. Whole Wheat Bread

Whole wheat bread provides fiber, carbs, and magnesium which is an energy booster that protects the muscles and nervous system.

  1. Foods high in Iron

Your body uses iron to move oxygen around. Foods high in iron include chicken, tofu, beans, and lentils.

Food to Avoid During Withdrawal

  • Greasy and fatty foods
  • Sugary foods

Drinking alcohol can temporarily increase your serotonin levels, making you feel happier.  During withdrawal, and for a while afterward, your body will be craving serotonin. When you quit drinking, you may experience a serotonin deficiency.  

Cravings for sugary foods could just as easily be cravings for carbs, drugs, or alcohol. When your body stops getting the serotonin boost it’s addicted to, it will find it in other sources. By giving in to the craving, you are simply exchanging one addiction for another, and getting your serotonin from another source.

What Is Alcohol Withdrawal Syndrome (AWS)?

Alcohol withdrawal syndrome is the group of symptoms that can start when someone with alcohol use disorder (formerly known as alcoholism or addiction) suddenly stops drinking. Individuals with AWS can have a variety of symptoms depending on: 

  • how much alcohol they drank
  • their body type 
  • sex
  • age 
  • any underlying medical issues

Common symptoms of AWS include:

  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Increased heart rate
  • Agitation
  • Headache
  • Insomnia
  • Sweating
  • Nightmares
  • Anxiety

Delirium Tremens (DTs)

Less often, people can develop severe symptoms of AWS called delirium tremens. Symptoms of DTs include:

  • Severe tremors
  • High blood pressure
  • Visual hallucinations
  • Extreme disorientation
  • Seizures
  • Raised body temperature

The DTs can be life-threatening. In severe cases, the brain can have problems regulating circulation and breathing. Also, radical changes in blood pressure and heart rate can develop which can lead to a stroke or heart attack.

Chest Pain During Alcohol Withdrawal

Your heart is a pump that moves blood all over your body. It delivers oxygen and nutrients and removes carbon dioxide and unwanted waste products. Long-term excessive drinking increases the risk of developing heart problems. Here’s why:

  • It increases your blood pressure. Drinking large amounts of alcohol raises your blood pressure, which is an important risk factor for having a heart attack or a stroke. Increases in blood pressure can also be caused by weight gain caused by drinking.
  • Heavy drinking weakens the heart muscle which means that the heart can’t pump blood as efficiently. This is called cardiomyopathy and can cause heart failure, leading to death.

Considering the damage already done from long-term drinking, some people in alcohol withdrawal are at risk for some heart complications that can cause chest pain and tightness. They are:

  • Rapid heartbeat
  • Abnormal heart rhythm
  • Spasms in the heart’s blood vessels

Can I Just Taper Off?

If you are a long-time heavy drinker, a frequent binge drinker, or a daily drinker and you suddenly stop drinking completely, there is a strong possibility that you are going to experience some withdrawal symptoms. If you try to quit on your own without any type of medical assistance, the symptoms could become very serious. You may be thinking about tapering off first instead of stopping suddenly to reduce withdrawal symptoms.

Girl sad about alcohol withdrawal

Although tapering off is a recognized medical practice for other drugs, there is very little research (if any) that shows that tapering off actually reduces the effects of alcohol withdrawal. This might be because withdrawal symptoms vary from person to person and there is no way to compare the results between daily, heavy, or binge drinkers.

In general, alcohol home detox is not the most effective or the safest way to quit alcohol. However, it is inexpensive and could be appropriate for an individual whose job, relationships, and well-being are not at risk.

What Causes Alcohol Withdrawal? 

It’s because alcohol has what is called a depressive effect on your system. It slows down your brain function and changes the ways your nerves send messages back and forth.

After a while, your central nervous system adapts to having alcohol around all the time as your body works hard to keep your brain in an awake state to keep your nerves communicating with each other. When you quit drinking and the alcohol level suddenly drops, your brain stays in this keyed-up state. That’s what causes withdrawal.

Alcohol Withdrawal Symptom Timeline

The symptoms of withdrawal can be from mild to serious. It depends on how much you drank and for how long. Generally:

6 to 12 hours after you stop drinking mild symptoms may begin including:

  • Anxiety
  • Shaky hands
  • Headache
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Insomnia
  • Sweating

12 to 48 hours – more serious issues can start in this timeframe Including:

  • Hallucinations
  • Seizures

48 to 72 hours – DTs usually start in this time period. Only about 5% of people in alcohol withdrawal have DTs. These are serious symptoms that  also include intense hallucinations and delusions and:

  • Confusion
  • Racing heart
  • High blood pressure
  • Fever
  • Heavy sweating

Medications Used in Withdrawal Treatment

In treatment rehabs, common medications include:

  • Acamprosate -This is prescribed after the alcohol has been eliminated from your body. It fights the urge to drink after detox. Acamprosate helps the brain regain normal function, free of alcohol, by blocking the positive feelings that come with drinking. However, it doesn’t reduce the symptoms of withdrawal.
  • Benzodiazepines (Xanx, Librium, Valium) – Benzodiazepines are anti-anxiety medications usually used as sedatives. They have been found to be the most successful in resting severe cases of withdrawal. Benzos help treat symptoms like anxiety, insomnia, seizures. In addition they can reduce hallucinations and DTs. Because it affects the same parts of the brain as alcohol, the body can continue to eliminate the alcohol while still feeling some of the effects it has grown to need.
  • Disulfiram (Antabuse) – This is the first prescription medication used to treat alcohol use disorders. When it is mixed with alcohol it causes discomfort. This will create a negative feeling about alcohol and the user will be discouraged from drinking. Disulfiram is not prescribed until after the body has been detoxed.
  • Naltrexone – Similar to Acamprosate, Naltrexone blocks the euphoric feeling you get from consuming alcohol. Taking this after detox can stop the “high” experience of alcohol if you relapse but it doesn’t stop the impaired feeling. It is a  common first step after detox.
  • Antipsychotics – Topiramate
  • Anticonvulsant medications – Depakote and Gabapentin

Keep in mind that treating alcohol withdrawal is a short-term solution that doesn’t help the long-term problem. When you talk to a doctor about relieving symptoms, it’s a good idea to talk about treatment for alcohol abuse or dependence.

Therapy During Alcohol Withdrawal

After detoxing, your physical addiction will be gone, but there will still be the mental addiction that needs to be addressed. Alcohol rehab often includes counseling in its treatment plans. Therapy is meant to help people identify drinking problems and to fight the triggers and cravings that could lead to a relapse.

Behavioral Therapies

Behavioral therapies help people: 

  • change their attitudes and behaviors related to drug use
  • increase healthy life skills, and
  • stay consistent with other forms of treatment, including medication

Some common behavioral therapies include:

  • Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT)
  • Dialectical behavioral therapy (DBT)
  • Contingency management (CM)

Talk Therapy

Talk therapy, also known as psychotherapy, is what mental health professionals use to communicate with their patients. The purpose of talk therapy is to help people recognize issues that cause emotional distress. The goal is to find any underlying reason for their alcohol abuse. People commonly use substances to ease an undiagnosed mental illness. Common talk therapies are:

  • Individual therapy in which the individual works one-on-one with a counselor in a confidential, collaborative, trusting relationship.
  • Group therapy in which several individuals work with one or two therapists to discuss issues related to addiction, coping methods, and relapse prevention.

Harmony Ridge Treats Alcohol Addiction

We treat alcohol addiction and we understand the seriousness of the illness and the importance of having the appropriate treatment program for each person. Harmony Ridge Recovery Center can provide you or your loved one with a safe detox and medication-assisted treatment. You won’t have to suffer the discomfort and danger of withdrawal without the constant monitoring of a medical professional.

Our clinicians can help you get your life back on track. You will learn life skills that will help you understand yourself and prevent relapse. There is really no time to wait. If you are concerned or have questions about going cold turkey without medical support, the answers are right here. Contact us today. We are available to answer your questions.

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