Preventing relapse in early recovery is of the utmost importance. The first days of abstinence are typically the hardest owing to withdrawal symptoms. Each person experiences withdrawal in different ways, but some symptoms are shared across the board. For instance, heavy drinkers are likely to experience shakes, cravings, anxiety, and sleeping troubles.
Those in the throes of late-stage alcohol use disorder can face severe tremors and hallucinations when trying to quit alcohol. A small percentage (3% to 5%) will experience what is known as delirium tremens (DTs) or alcohol withdrawal delirium. The symptoms of the DTs can include profound confusion, autonomic hyperactivity, and cardiovascular collapse.
Chronic alcohol abusers must seek medical attention when deciding to quit drinking. The symptoms of withdrawal can be fatal. While most people with alcohol use disorders will not experience DTs or have seizures, it is still advised that they seek professional help when attempting to abstain from alcohol.
As mentioned above, each person’s mind and body will respond differently from abruptly stopping alcohol use. There is no way of predicting the symptoms one will experience. It’s always best to err on the side of caution during the withdrawal stage of recovery. What’s more, medical detox programs significantly reduce the risk of relapse.
Alcohol Use Disorder Detox
Practically all heavy drinkers are subject to intense craving and heightened anxiety during the first days of recovery. Such individuals are more likely to have problems sleeping. The symptoms of withdrawal are often too much to tolerate, which can be an impetus for returning to alcohol. Fortunately, some medications can ease the discomfort attributed to withdrawal.
Those who enter detox are likely to be prescribed drugs like Valium and phenobarbital, sedatives that dampen withdrawal symptoms and help prevent seizures. Anticonvulsants are relied upon in some cases to reduce the risk of seizures. Antipsychotic medications might be used to treat agitation, delusions, or hallucinations.
It’s essential to keep in mind that medical detox is not one size fits all. Drugs are prescribed on a
case-to-case basis by doctors who are experts in treating alcohol withdrawal.
The Brain’s Stress Centers
The medications used currently are beneficial and can get individuals through the most challenging stage of early recovery. However, scientists continue to seek other medical remedies for alcohol withdrawal—either developing new drugs or studying the use of existing medications.
Researchers at Yale University published a study recently that involved using medication for high blood pressure. In a double-blind study, the scientists gave the drug prazosin or a placebo to 100 people diagnosed with alcohol use disorder, Yale News reports. The findings are published in the American Journal of Psychiatry.
Previous research conducted at Yale showed that the high blood pressure medication prazosin affects the brain’s stress centers; prazosin was also found to reduce anxiety and craving. The new study found that participants with more severe withdrawal symptoms given prazosin reported fewer heavy drinking episodes and days they drank.
The study’s corresponding author Rajita Sinha, a professor of neuroscience and director of the Yale Stress Center, found that the brain’s stress center is severely disrupted in individuals with withdrawal symptoms and intense cravings. Prazosin could help moderate cravings and withdrawal symptoms in early recovery, thus helping prevent relapse.
“There has been no treatment readily available for people who experience severe withdrawal symptoms and these are the people at highest risk of relapse and are most likely to end up in hospital emergency rooms,” said Sinha.
Alcohol Use Disorder Treatment in Southern California
If you or someone you love is struggling with alcohol use disorder, please contact Hope By The Sea. We offer a full continuum of care from medically supervised detox to sober living. Our team can help you or a loved one break the cycle of addiction and begin a life in recovery. Hope Starts Here!