Alcohol has slipped slowly into our lives and this addiction is becoming increasingly difficult to treat. The risk of developing alcoholism is influenced by both genetic and environmental factors.
Environmental factors include cultural attitudes related to alcohol consumption, stress levels, positive drinking expectations, and poor adaptation. Also, abuse occurs if people drink alcoholic beverages to avoid thinking about different situations, coping with problems, overcoming anxiety, or enhancing their creativity.
On the other hand, treating alcoholism may be as damaging as the disease itself. The treatment of heavy alcohol users is considered difficult because their prolonged consumption leads to central nervous system disorders. These result in alteration of information processing, emotional balance an individual’s body.
Here are some insights upon to what extent is alcohol a serious life threat and how to cope with alcohol withdrawal symptoms.
How Does Alcohol Affect the Body?
As the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA) states around 87% of the adult population has had at least one alcoholic beverage in their lifetime. Moreover, it is estimated that a big percentage of the adult population consumes alcohol on a regular basis.
However, the concerns are related to the amount of alcohol consumed on this regular basis. Moderate drinking is considered to be up to one alcoholic beverage, daily, for women and up to two beverages per day for men. Anything above these limits raises warning signs.
The medical consequences of over-the-line alcohol use are among the most common public health issues. More individuals receive treatment for alcohol in comparison to any other addictive substance.
The active ingredient in alcoholic beverages, a simple molecule called “ethanol”, can affect the body in different ways. It directly influences the stomach, brain, heart, bile, and liver. Ethanol affects the levels of lipids (cholesterol and triglycerides) and insulin in the blood, as well as the inflammation and coagulation.
What Happens When You Give Up Alcohol?
Alcohol withdrawal refers to changes that occur in the body when a person suddenly stops consuming alcohol after a long period of drinking high amounts.
Alcohol withdrawal symptoms are a complex medical condition with the potential to interrupt or reduce alcohol consumption if managed right. These occur in approximately 10-15% of patients hospitalized with ethanol-related disorders.
The withdrawal is a state of “protest” of the brain, triggered by the absence of the addictive substance. Some addictive substances (such as alcohol, tranquilizers or heroin) produce physical withdrawal, while others (such as marijuana, cocaine or ecstasy) produce strong emotionally / mentally withdrawal symptoms.
Is Alcohol Withdrawal Dangerous?
Alcohol slows down brain processes, acting as a depressant or sedative. Among people who have consumed high amounts of alcohol over a long period of time, the brain is almost continuously exposed to the depressing effect of alcohol.
Over time, the brain adapts its production of chemicals to offset the effects of alcohol. It naturally produces chemicals with a stimulating role (like serotonin), in larger quantities than normal. In the case of suddenly giving up alcohol, the brain reacts like an accelerated vehicle where brakes no longer work.
If too little serotonin leads to depression, too much leads to excessive nerve cell activity. One of the most dangerous types of alcohol withdrawal symptoms is delirium tremens (DTS) when the brain is unable to regulate the production of chemicals.
This causes a state of temporary confusion and leads to dangerous changes in the way the brain controls the processes of movement and breathing. The vital signs of the body, such as heart rate or blood pressure can change dramatically or unpredictably, with the risk of a heart attack, stroke or death.
Other common, less dangerous, alcohol withdrawal symptoms are nausea, panic attacks, headaches, insomnia, muscle pain.
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Alcohol Withdrawal: How to Get the Most Out of Your Detoxification Period?
In order to get the most out of your detoxification period, the main treatment goals should focus on relieving symptoms to prevent complications and starting long-term therapy to support abstinence.
Withdrawal symptoms occur within a few hours of the last drink, usually between 4 and 12 hours. These reach the maximum intensity in 24-48 hours. The vast majority of patients will have moderate withdrawal symptoms; 10% of those affected by this condition will make one of the worst possible complications: seizures or delirium tremens.
Symptoms disappear within 5-7 days after stopping alcohol consumption. However, some patients may retain, in a reduced form, symptoms such as hypertension, high cardiac frequency, anxiety or insomnia over a longer period of up to 6 months.
Medicines like benzodiazepines have the best evidence base in the treatment of alcohol withdrawal as these decrease the increased cerebral activity, which produces the symptoms and discomfort.
Most of the heavy alcohol users have a deficiency of vitamins and minerals. Especially folic acid, thiamine, vitamin B12, magnesium, zinc, and phosphates. Therefore, nutritional supplements will help patients cope with alcohol withdrawal symptoms.
Some brain and nervous system disorders, attributable to the toxic action of alcohol, are, in fact, the effects of thiamine deficiency. Additional thiamine administration has beneficial effects in various mental disorders from increased irritability to hallucinations.
Rat experiments reveal that when rodents were to choose between water and alcohol, they rarely chose alcohol if their diet contained sufficient thiamine. This demonstrates that the use of thiamine can really reduce alcohol consumption and decrease discomfort caused by withdrawal.
Magnesium deficiency can occur even with moderate alcohol consumption. In case of heavy alcohol consumption and withdrawal dysfunctions of the muscles, accompanied by pain, may take place. Taking supplements can reduce these symptoms.
Vitamin C helps to neutralize and eliminate alcohol in the body. It reduces the risk of liver diseases following alcohol consumption. Additionally, the amino acid, glutamine, reduces the desire to drink alcohol. This also works on improving sleep quality and reducing panic attacks.
The deficiency of another amino acid, tryptophan, may condition the evolution of depression, memory alteration, aggression, and the occurrence of suicidal tendencies. Additional administration of tryptophan annihilates these symptoms as well as alcohol dependence.
In case of heavy alcohol users, the patients must stay under constant medical supervision. Symptoms of withdrawal may worsen rapidly and may endanger the patient’s life.
However, in order to get the most out of a detoxification period, two aspects must be considered. To prevent complications, decreasing withdrawal symptoms is a must. Secondly, long-term therapy must take place to support abstinence.
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