Drinking is a common pastime around the world, and when done responsibly can be an enjoyable and relaxing experience. However, due to the calming effects of alcohol, it is all too easy to use drinking as a vice to deal with life’s problems. When a person develops an unhealthy dependence on a substance to cope it can quickly get out of hand. Often people find themselves having to face the possibility of quitting entirely, and not knowing exactly how to accomplish that.
What Will You Face When You Quit?
Quitting any addiction is a daunting task. There are several ways that quitting drinking can affect you, including mentally, emotionally and physically.
- Mental: The mental affects of quitting drinking can be some of the hardest symptoms to deal with, because they can often be the longest lasting. Alcohol causes the release of dopamine into the brain, which causes you to feel happy. When you are withdrawing from an alcohol addiction, the depleted levels of dopamine in your brain can cause you to feel anxious or depressed. Additionally, because your brain has had an artificial trigger for dopamine for so long, it can take some time for it to start making and regulating its own dopamine again, meaning that those mental symptoms can drag on for a while.
- Emotional: The emotional effects of quitting drinking can be very intense. Remember, people often form addictions to substances because of an unhealthy reliance on them to control their emotions. Without the band-aid that alcohol provides, you will find yourself having to deal with your emotions again. Not only that, but you will almost definitely have a backlog of emotional weight that has been building up from not being dealt with, and you will be out of practice with your coping skills. This can lead to feeling sad, overwhelmed, even incredibly angry.
- Physical: Alcohol is a physically addictive drug. When you have consumed alcohol daily over a long period of time, you will build a physical dependence on it. This means that when you quit drinking, you body will experience withdrawal symptoms from the alcohol. These symptoms can range from uncomfortable and disruptive, to very dangerous or even fatal.
Why Is Alcohol Withdrawal So Dangerous?
Some people are surprised to find that quitting drinking isn’t just difficult, but in fact can be very dangerous. This is because some of the more severe side effects of alcohol withdrawal can symptoms that can affect your health dramatically. So, can alcohol withdrawal kill you?
The answer is yes, absolutely. Some of the most dangerous side effects can include:
- Vomiting or Diarrhea: While these particular symptoms aren’t always serious, they can be. In fact, each of these can cause dehydration by removing much needed water from your system. If you become dehydrated as the result of vomiting or diarrhea you can be at risk for fainting, high blood pressure, and death.
- High Blood Pressure: Speaking of high blood pressure, this is also a common side effect of alcohol withdrawal, whether your dehydrated. High blood pressure needs to be monitored closely by a healthcare professional, and in extreme cases can cause heart attack or stroke.
- Irregular Heartbeat: The stress of withdrawing from alcohol can have a major impact on your cardiac health, causing irregular heart rhythms. Arrhythmias can be deadly even without the added stress on your other body systems. Like high blood pressure, this symptom is very serious and needs to be monitored closely.
- Hallucinations: While hallucinations can’t technically be fatal on their own, they can cause slips, falls, psychiatric issues and host of other issues which can be life threatening. This is especially true if the person experiencing withdrawals is already in a compromised state.
- Seizures: Seizures occur when the nerve pathways in the brain aren’t firing correctly and are a common and serious side effect of alcohol withdrawal. Seizures, like hallucinations, can cause falls and potential head injuries as well. Seizures can cause death and permanent brain damage, and if you experience a seizure as the result of alcohol withdrawal you should go immediately to the emergency room.
- Delirium Tremens: Delirium Tremens is the most serious side effect of alcohol withdrawal and presents as a combination of many different symptoms including severe confusions, tremors, hallucinations, seizures, deep sleep for 24 hours of more, agitation, heart palpitations, chest pain, and decreased reflex times. Any of the symptoms of Delirium Tremens can be fatal on their own, and when these symptoms occur together, they constitute a medical emergency. If you are experiencing DT’s, you should go immediately to an emergency room.
How to Quit Drinking the Safe Way
While these facts may seem overwhelming, you shouldn’t allow it to discourage you from doing what’s best for you and your health. Continuing to drink in excess is not only also very dangerous and detrimental to your health but robs you of your ability to live a happy and fulfilling life. The symptoms of alcohol withdrawal can be managed, and you can quit safely.
There are a few steps that you can take to ensure that you receive the help you need to overcome your addiction.
- Talk to Your Primary Care Provider: First things first, if you have a designated primary care doctor, talk to them about your situation and what you’re trying to do. As we’ve established, quitting drinking is not just a lifestyle issue, it is a healthcare issue. Be very honest with your doctor about how often you drink, how many drinks you have a day, what type of alcohol you’re consuming, and any symptoms you’ve had as a result of either drinking or trying not to drink. Your doctor will be able to advise you on the best course of action based on your personal consumption and medical history.
- Contact Your Health Insurance Company: It may be advisable for you to undergo medical detox for your drinking. A healthcare provider may recommend medical detox if they feel you are at risk for life threatening side effects of alcohol withdrawal. During the medical detox process, you will be given medications- for a few days to a week- such as blood pressure medications, benzodiazepines, and possibly sleeping pills that will manage your detox and make the process easier for you.
- Contact Alcohol Rehabilitation Centers: In some cases, it may be a good idea to seek alcohol rehabilitation. There are many different levels of care, from inpatient to outpatient care, which can help you in the long term to avoid going back to using alcohol addictively after you are detoxed. Contacting facilities can help you get an idea of what you may need or is a good option for your circumstance.
However severe your dependence on alcohol, and whatever plan you come up with for quitting, the important thing to remember is that this will be a positive step for you. From your physical health, to your mental and emotional wellbeing, you are about to embark on a journey that will dramatically improve your life.