How Severe Are Your Alcohol Withdrawal Symptoms?

Are Your Alcohol Withdrawal Symptoms Mild, Moderate or Severe?

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How Bad Are Your Withdrawal Symptoms?. © Getty Images

The symptoms of alcohol withdrawal can be mild, moderate, or severe. Severe withdrawal symptoms can be quite serious; in rare situations they can actually be lethal. It's important to know whether you're experiencing more severe symptoms, as symptoms can worsen over time. 

The most severe symptoms usually occur between and and three days after alcohol withdrawal, which means that the first day or two may not be a good indicator of your risk of serious problems.

 

What Is Alcohol Withdrawal?

If you are a heavy drinker -- even if you are not an alcoholic -- you are likely to experience at least some symptoms if you stop suddenly. 

Most people use alcohol to relieve anxiety and relax. Alcohol provides this outcome by increasing the effects of GABA, a neurotransmitter responsible for creating feelings of calm and euphoria. It also decreases glutamate, another transmitter that creates excitability. Heavy drinking makes it harder and harder to increase GABA and decrease glutamate -- so more and more alcohol is required for the same outcome. Your body becomes accustomed to these changes, and responds by producing more glutamate and less GABA.

When you suddenly stop drinking, you are no longer suppressing these two neurotransmitters -- but your body is still overproducing glutamate and underproducing GABA. As a result, you may become hyperexcited: anxious, restless, and shaky.

If you were a heavy drinker, your symptoms may be much more severe, progressing to tremors, seizures, and serious high blood pressure.

One of the most severe symptoms of alcohol withdrawal is called "the DT's" or delirium tremens. Symptoms may include hallucinations and confusion, and may go along with seizures.

About 3-5% of people who withdraw from heavy drinking experience the DT's.

Will I Have Mild, Moderate, or Severe Symptoms After I Stop Using Alcohol?

The answer to this question will depend upon many factors -- your size, age, gender, drinking habits, and genetics among others. You can get a good idea of your risk level, however, by taking a quick quiz.

Answer these 10 questions to get an idea if your alcohol withdrawal symptoms are mild, moderate or severe.

The test is completely confidential and anonymous; your results are not recorded and are available only to you. You are not asked for any personally identifying information.

This quiz is not intended as a substitute for a professional medical evaluation. It should only be used as a guide to determining if your alcohol withdrawal symptoms are such that you should seek medical attention before you attempt to quit drinking.

When answering the questions, be honest with yourself, only you will see the results of your test. If you want more information, feel free to take this second quiz to help you gauge whether you may have a problem.

Be aware that, if your symptoms seem to be serious, now may be the right time to see medical intervention. Alcohol withdrawal can be fatal if severe symptoms go untreated. Hospitals and detox centers have experienced staff who are familiar with the symptoms and have the tools to provide appropriate treatment.

Sources:

Medline Plus. Alcohol withdrawal. 2015. Web. https://medlineplus.gov/ency/article/000764.htm

Monasco A, Chang S, Larriviere J, Hamm LL, Glass M. Alcohol withdrawal. South Med J. 2012;15:607-612.  

National Institute on Drug Abuse. Treatment approaches for drug addiction. June, 2016. Web. https://www.drugabuse.gov/publications/drugfacts/treatment-approaches-drug-addiction

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