Quitting alcohol cold turkey may be detrimental to health

Quitting alcohol cold turkey may be detrimental to health

According to the 2015 National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH), about 86.4 percent of American adults in the age group of 18 and above have admitted consuming alcohol, one of the most commonly abused substances, in their lifetime. Moreover, alcohol has emerged as the fifth leading risk factor responsible for premature death and disabilities, contributing to nearly 25 percent of deaths in the age group 20 to 39 years, highlights the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA).  

Although a majority of people are affected by alcohol use disorder (AUD), only a handful of people receives adequate treatment. As addiction is a disease, it is essential to choose to quit alcohol as the first step toward recovery. While it is easier to develop the problem of alcohol addiction, it is quite difficult to quit it due to an array of challenges and symptoms of withdrawal, such as mild-to-moderate tremors, irritability, anxiety, agitation, hallucinations, seizures, delirium, etc. Such changes are witnessed due to the alcohol-induced imbalances in the brain chemistry.

Unsupervised quitting of alcohol triggers serious withdrawal symptoms          

Alcohol withdrawal, a clinical syndrome affecting people accustomed to regular drinking who decrease the intake of alcohol or stop drinking, can cause serious consequences. The consequences can be more pronounced among the users who stop drinking without consulting their doctor. The depressing effects of alcohol also affect a number of hormones and brain chemicals, such as serotonin, epinephrine and dopamine. When a heavy drinker suddenly stops his or her intake of alcohol, his or her body is likely to be thronged by an abnormal level of such hormones and chemicals.

Such an abnormal level can produce a range of serious effects, including insomnia, tremors, heart palpitations, nausea, sweating and upset stomach. Based on intensity and severity, alcohol withdrawal syndrome has been further divided into four categories:

  • Minor withdrawal
  • Major withdrawal
  • Withdrawal seizures
  • Delirium tremens (DTs)

DT and seizures are quite common during alcohol withdrawal. The alcohol withdrawal symptoms can occur within few hours or days after the last drink. Minor symptoms, which begin 6 to 12 hours after the last drink, include insomnia, tremors, heart palpitations, nausea, sweating and upset stomach. Patients can also experience audio and visual hallucinations within 12 to 24 hours after the last drink.

Risk factors associated with delirium tremens

DT is a severe form of alcohol withdrawal manifested by altered mental status and hyperactivity, which may lead to cardiovascular collapse. It may also lead to complications, such as oversedation, respiratory depression, respiratory arrest, intubation, aspiration pneumonitis and cardiac arrhythmias.

Chronic drinking can affect the level of neurotransmitters of the brain. During the withdrawal period, loss of the neurotransmitter gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA) can curtail the chloride flux, which is related to tremors, diaphoresis, tachycardia, anxiety and seizures.

Several risk factors associated with DT include the following:

  • Prior ethanol withdrawal seizures
  • Concurrent illness and more medical comorbidities
  • Daily heavy and prolonged ethanol consumption
  • Abnormal liver function
  • Severe withdrawal symptoms at presentation
  • Prior detoxification
  • Intense craving for alcohol
  • Hypokalemia
  • Thrombocytopenia
  • Elevated blood level of homocysteine
  • Presence of structural brain lesions

Proper treatment is essential

Detox is the first step toward sobriety in the recovery process. Alcohol abuse and dependence are prevalent medical conditions that require a medically supervised detoxification. In case of mild-to-moderate symptoms, it is essential to seek treatment. One should never go cold turkey in a bid to become sober. Unsupervised withdrawal symptoms due to abstinence can be life-threatening. As a result, a comprehensive detox program administered under clinically controlled conditions should be opted by anyone suffering from alcohol addiction.

If you wish to find out more about detox programs and drug treatment centers in California, contact the California Detox Helpline counselors. Most of the detox centers in California are equipped with the state-of-the-art services and latest amenities to provide the best detox service. To know more, call us at our 24/7 helpline number 855-780-2495 or chat online with our treatment advisors.