National Drug and Alcohol Facts Week is coming up. The week of March 22-28 is a time set aside to be sure you understand the facts about drug and alcohol use. One of those very important facts is about what happens when you suddenly stop drinking when your body has become used to long-term or heavy drinking. Without proper supervision, you could experience some serious health issues, including alcohol withdrawal hallucinations.
Alcohol Abuse and Withdrawal
If you have been abusing alcohol, you may experience severe impairment in your social functions as well as medical problems. Alcohol abuse is more common that it should be, with as much as 20% of the population having exhibited alcohol abuse during their lifetimes.
Of those with a history of alcohol abuse, more than 50% can exhibit alcohol withdrawal symptoms when suddenly discontinuing their alcohol use. Around 3-5% of those individuals exhibit symptoms such as profound confusion, hyperactivity, and cardiovascular collapse. These symptoms are known as alcohol withdrawal delirium, also known as delirium tremens (DTs).
A Serious Issue
The condition known as DTs was first recognized in 1813 as a disorder associated with excessive alcohol abuse. The symptoms of DTs can occur as soon as 48 hours after abruptly stopping the use of alcohol and can last as long as five days. For people who experience DTs and who do not get appropriate treatment, the mortality rate can be up to 37%. It is critical to seek professional help when withdrawing from alcohol use. Identifying the early signs of withdrawal and getting treatment can prevent serious health issues, including a fatality.
The signs and symptoms of alcohol withdrawal can include:
- Anxiety, nausea, and insomnia, whole body tremor, vomiting, sweating, and hypertension
- Visual hallucinations and auditory hallucinations
- Withdrawal seizures
- Delirium tremens, which include hallucinations, confusion, agitation, disorientation, fever, hypertension, excessive sweating, hyperactivity, and an extremely high heart rate.
DTs and Hallucinations
When you withdraw from excessive and long-term alcohol use, visual, auditory, and tactile hallucinations are a likely side effect. You may see, hear, and feel things that are not really there, from 12 hours to 7 days after you stop drinking. In one study of 532 male patient who had been admitted to a Veterans Affairs Hospital for alcohol withdrawal, 10 percent experienced hallucinations.
The patients who hallucinated tended to be younger when they first developed problems with alcohol use, consumed more alcohol at each drinking occasion, and developed more problems in their life that were directly related to their alcohol use. They also had higher rates of other drug use. Alcohol withdrawal symptoms appear to be more pronounced and more frequent in men than in women.
Alcohol’s Effect on the Brain
When you drink alcohol, it affects the way your nerve cells communicate. Alcohol’s sedating effect is related to the altered function of receptors in your brain. These receptors are specialized proteins located on the surface of nerve cells. They receive chemical signals from other cells that are generally conveyed by chemical messengers released by nearby nerve cells, known as neurotransmitters.
When you drink heavily over the long term, these receptors that are affected by the alcohol undergo adaptive changes to try to maintain their normal function. When you stop drinking, the changes are no longer adaptive and that contributes to the symptoms associated with alcohol withdrawal. The issues that result from alcohol withdrawal can cause significant illness and even death.
Once your acute withdrawal has subsided, you may then begin to experience a longer, more drawn out withdrawal process. The persistent changes in your physical functioning, behavior, and mood that accompany this drawn out withdrawal may tempt you to relapse to heavy drinking in an attempt to relieve the symptoms. Returning to your heavy drinking, however, can only make your physical and mental health worse. Supervised detox and withdrawal are critically important to be able to get safely sober.
Men and Alcohol Abuse
The CDC reports that men are more likely than women to drink excessively. In fact, 59% of men reported drinking in the past thirty days, compared with 47% of women. Men are almost twice as likely to binge drink, with approximately 22% of men reporting binge drinking, consuming 8 drinks per binge and doing so 5 times a month. In 2019, 7% of men indicated they had an alcohol use disorder.
Gender-Specific Alcohol Addiction Treatment
When you have developed an alcohol addiction and want to stop drinking, we are here for you. Detox and supervised withdrawal will help you safely process the mental and physical symptoms so you can move forward with a healthy recovery. If you are struggling with substance abuse or mental illness, please contact PACE Recovery Center to learn more about our programs and services. We offer gender-specific treatment for men who have a desire to turn their life around. Recovery is possible, and we can help.