One justification that alcoholics will use for not giving up the abuse is their fear of alcohol withdrawals. The process of entering sober living can involve an uncomfortable few days, but the rewards that come afterwards make it well worth it. The reality is that alcohol detox symptoms are rarely that uncomfortable and some people experience very little in the way of unpleasantness. The experience that the individual has with withdrawals can depend as much on their expectations as anything else.
The word withdrawals or withdrawal are most commonly used when describing symptoms that people experience when they abruptly discontinue or decrease their intake of medications or recreational drugs. These symptoms begin to occur whenever the level of these chemicals in the bloodstream falls to a certain point. Alcoholics can experience the beginning of withdrawal symptoms as part of their hangover. This is why many of these individuals will feel ill until they manage to consume their first drink of the day. Another way of describing withdrawal symptoms would be to say that they are painful physical and psychological symptoms that occur with the discontinuance of addictive substances.
The most common symptoms that people are likely to experience when withdrawing from alcohol include:
* Feelings of anxiety and nervousness
* They often experience a feeling of fuzziness in their cognitive functioning – they are unable to think straight.
* Inability to sleep or even get comfortable in the bed. When they do fall asleep they may experience disturbing and vivid dreams.
* Nausea and vomiting.
* They feel shaky and easily startled.
* Body aches
* Shaking or trembling
* They feel tired and lack motivation to do anything.
* Cravings for alcohol
* Mild symptoms of depression.
* Sweating or clammy skin.
* Inability to concentrate.
* The feeling that something bad is about to happen.
* Mood swings.
* Changes to vital signs such as increased heart rate or elevated blood pressure.
* Upset stomach
Symptoms of alcohol withdrawal usually begin about 5 to 10 hours following the last drink. They reach their peak between 48 and 72 hours and can persist for a few weeks into recovery. In most instances the symptoms of alcohol withdrawal are mild, but there can be more severe symptoms known as delirium tremens (DTs) – these can be fatal.
Those individuals who have been heavily abusing alcohol for many years are at risk of developing the DTs when they give up alcohol. Up until a few years ago the mortality rate from these severe withdrawals was as high as 35%, but it currently stands at about 10%. The risk of death is still there so it is vital that anyone who is likely to experience delirium tremens should be medically supervised during withdrawals. The symptoms of the DTs can include:
* Convulsions similar to clonic tonic seizures where the individual loses consciousness and shakes violently.
* Intense hallucinations that will usually involve moving animals such as rats and snakes. Some people will also experience the hallucination that insects are crawling on their skin.
*Confusion associated with the DTs can be quite severe.
* Changes to vital signs are likely to be more extreme than with usual withdrawal symptoms.
* People can become highly anxious and agitated.
In most instances the symptoms of delirium tremens will appear within the first 72 hours. If the individual makes it past this time without experiencing the DTs they will less at risk of them – although not entirely risk free. A physician can use a special assessment to judge the likelihood of people developing this severe form of alcohol withdrawals. Those who intend to stop drinking are advised to have this assessment.
Those individuals who abuse alcohol develop a tolerance for this drug. The body is wonderfully adaptive, and it can adjust functioning to accommodate alcohol abuse. It does this so well that the sudden removal of alcohol from the bloodstream is a shock to the system. It has to struggle to regain normal functioning, and the withdrawal symptoms occur while this is happening.
Alcohol withdrawals also usually involve psychological symptoms that can be just as uncomfortable as the physical ones.
One of the best known motivational speakers of the twentieth century, Normal Vincent Peale, once claimed that:
> If you paint in your mind a picture of bright and happy expectations, you put yourself into a condition conducive to your goal.
The expectations that people have about the future does have an impact on what they will experience. It means that if they are expecting their withdrawal symptoms to be unpleasant they probably will be. Their fear of what is going to happen will mean that they are aware of every single niggle or discomfort, and they can easily blow these out of proportion. This is because when people go looking for trouble they are almost certain to find it.
The Buddha is reported to have given a good explanation for why this happens. He uses the example of a man being hit by an arrow. The pain associated with this event is going to cause discomfort, but the way the person reacts to it can make things worse. If they panic and expect the worst then this is like being hit by a second arrow. Their mental attitude has led to a doubling of their pain. The exact same thing can happen with withdrawal symptoms if people are not careful about their expectations.
Distraction is a powerful tool for helping people make it through the early days of recovery. This is because the worst thing that the individual can do is remain focused on their discomfort and cravings. Distraction means turning away from the original focus or interest. When people do this it means that they can at least temporarily escape the stimulus that was making them uncomfortable. Examples of the type of distraction that people might use in early recovery include:
* Watching television – comedy shows can be a particularly good form of distraction.
* Listening to music, but this should not be anything that reminds the individual of drinking.
* Going for a walk can be a great distraction, and the fresh air also tends to make people feel better.
* Vigorous exercise is another effective solution, but this may not be appropriate for those who are in early recovery and have not exercised in a long time.
* Spending time with other people.
* Playing computer games, though this can have its’ own complications for compulsive behavior.
* Reading a book is another option but some individuals may not have the concentration for this in early recovery. Audiobooks may be an effective solution for those who have trouble reading.
Most people will only have mild withdrawal symptoms that will not be any worse than an episode of influenza. It is the knowledge that the individual is able to stop the symptoms by drinking again that makes them more difficult to cope with. In order to make it successfully through alcohol withdrawals it is helpful to:
* It is important to keep in mind that the unpleasant symptoms are only temporary, and the rewards for sitting them out are important.
* The worst thing that people can do is to wallow in their suffering. It is best to keep the mind distracted as much as possible.
* If people have the right mental attitude they may experience very little in the way of symptoms when they give up alcohol.
* Those individuals who expect the worst may be more likely to struggle with their withdrawal symptoms.
* If there is any suggestion that the individual may be progressing towards delirium tremens they will need to medical assistance right away.
* When people feel like they are about to give into the cravings they should delay for an hour. The cravings are likely to lessen during that time and if not they only need to commit to one more hour – by just keep on committing to one more hour the individual makes it through this stage of weakness.
* It can be helpful to write a letter at the start of the process where the individual writes in detail about their reasons for wanting to quit, and their expectations for a future life in sobriety. If they feel like their motivation is beginning to wane they can look back on this letter for inspiration.
* It can be helpful to remember that many millions of people have successfully made it through the withdrawal process. There is no reason for why the individual cannot do the exact same thing.
* The companionship of other people can be a great help at this stage of recovery.
* The individual will greatly increase their chances of making it through the detox process by entering rehab. Here they will have all the resources they need to make the process go as smoothly as possible – they will also be protected from temptation.
* A physician can prescribe medications that will ease discomfort during withdrawals. In most instances such drugs will only be available in a medical setting or when the individual is going through detox in rehab.
* There is no requirement for people to feel miserable during this period of adjustment. Laughter is one of the most effective medicines on the planet and is highly recommended.