Alcohol Withdrawal Syndrome
Alcohol withdrawal syndrome is a group of symptoms that may possibly occur after cessation or significant reduction of prolonged alcohol use. It is usually seen in adults, but may occur in teenagers or children as well. Withdrawal symptoms usually arise within 5 to 10 hours after the last drink and last for 7 to 10 days. The severity primarily depends upon age, heredity, the amount of alcohol consumed, and the length of time for which the individual has been drinking alcohol.
The withdrawal syndrome is largely caused due to the central nervous system being in a hyper-excitable state. Chronic use of alcohol decreases the activity of the neurotransmitter GABA (gamma aminobutyric acid) and the hormones epinephrine and norepinephrine (secreted by the adrenal glands), but when alcohol is withdrawn suddenly, excitatory processes are enhanced, inducing over activation of the central nervous system. The increased production of the adrenal hormones (cortisol and norepinephrine) causes toxic effects on the nerve cells. Cortisol specifically damages neurons in the hippocampus (an important part of the brain), which further results in neurological symptoms.
A majority of people who suddenly stop drinking alcohol experience mild to moderate psychological and physical symptoms such as sweating (especially on the face or the palms of the hands), rapid emotional changes, insomnia, clammy skin, irritability, vomiting, nervousness, depression, tremors of the hands, headaches (especially those that pulsate), difficulty in thinking clearly, fatigue, pallor, abnormal movements of the eyelids, nightmares, anxiety, rapid heart rate, nausea, and a loss of appetite.
The symptoms of alcohol withdrawal syndrome may resolve in 2-3 days. However, in a few cases, severe withdrawal symptoms like chronic depression, fever, convulsions, delirium tremens, seizures, muscle tremors, severe autonomic nervous system overactivity, and visual hallucinations may occur within 48 to 96 hours after the last alcoholic drink has been ingested. These usually last for 7-10 days.
The goals of treatment are to reduce the immediate withdrawal symptoms and to prevent complications. People with mild-to-moderate alcohol withdrawal symptoms can often be treated with medications, while hospitalization is required in severe cases. With a determined will power, strong family support, drugs, and psychotherapy, one can help prevent this syndrome and make it easier to live a life free from alcohol.
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