Alcohol withdrawal presents with a variety of symptoms, one of which is confusion. Confusion as a result of alcohol withdrawal is also referred to as alcohol withdrawal delirium or AWD. AWD occurs as a result of serious alcohol withdrawal and can lead to severe issues in one’s nervous system and brain.
According to statistics, 50% of individuals with alcohol addiction can experience withdrawal symptoms if they quit drinking without tapering off their alcohol consumption. As a result, those that quit drinking cold turkey are likely to experience the most severe AWD symptoms like severe confusion or grand mal seizures.
Understanding Alcohol Withdrawal Delirium
The confusion and other symptoms caused by AWD only affect individuals with a history of severe alcohol use. Thus, only heavy drinkers may experience the confusion that comes from withdrawal.
If you’re a heavy drinker, you may experience AWD if any of the following are true:
- You stop drinking suddenly
- Your alcohol use is declining too quickly
- You aren’t eating enough when limiting alcohol use
- You’ve injured your head
- You have an infection or are sick
When a person drinks excessively, they irritate and excite their nervous system. Drinking daily forces the body to become dependent on alcohol, which will have disastrous effects on one’s central nervous system as it will no longer be able to adapt to a lack of alcohol.
Similarly, alcohol will affect the brain’s neurotransmitters. These are the chemicals that work as the brain’s messengers, communicating with the nervous system and other parts of the brain.
Are You At Risk Of AWD?
If you drink heavily, you are likely at risk of experiencing AWD. Consider the following:
- You’ve been a heavy drinker for a long period of time
- You have a history involving alcohol withdrawal or AWD
- You have additional health problems
- You have a history of brain damage or seizure disorder
All long-term drinkers have a chance of developing AWD. According to the CDC, heavy drinking is defined as 15 drinks per week for men while women are considered to be heavy drinkers if they consume eight a week.
One drink is equivalent to:
- 1.5 ounces of liquor or distilled spirits, including vodka, rum, gin, and whiskey
- 5 oz. of wine
- 8 oz. of malt liquor
- 12 oz. of beer
Heavy drinking most often takes on the form of binge drinking. For men, this is defined as consuming five drinks or more in one sitting, while women are classified as binge drinking after more than four drinks in a single sitting.
Treating Alcohol Withdrawal
To understand AWD, one needs to learn the stages of alcohol withdrawal. This process is broken down into three different stages:
- Stage 1: Nausea, insomnia, anxiety, and abdominal pain are the most common symptoms experienced at this stage. These symptoms typically begin eight hours after an individual has their last drink.
- Stage 2: Increased body temperature, confusion, unusual heart rate, and high blood pressure characterize this stage. These symptoms start anywhere from 24-72 hours following the last drink.
- Stage 3: Seizures, fever, agitation, and hallucinations are common at this point. These symptoms begin around 2 -4 days following the last drink.
While these symptoms will likely decrease in 5-7 days, they are incredibly discomforting and dangerous at the moment. This is why individuals attempting to treat alcoholism should do so with the help of professional treatment. When seeing treatment at a rehab facility, an individual will be able to go through medically assisted detox which will help them navigate the symptoms related to AWD.
During this detox, medical professionals work to control and monitor physical symptoms until an individual has reached a stable point. Through medical detox and the assistance of certain medications, the medical staff will be able to treat insomnia, seizures, dehydration, and nausea that are related to alcohol withdrawal.
At this point in the detox, benzodiazepines are typically used to reduce an individual’s overactive central nervous system while it works to restore itself to its natural order. In certain treatment plans, medical professionals are able to create a detailed schedule that will taper off alcohol use, which helps patients avoid some of the harsher symptoms of AWD.
Once the physical symptoms are controlled, the treatment will focus on reducing the emotional effects of withdrawal. The main goal after detox is to prevent relapse and help the individual successfully enter sobriety.