Alcohol Withdrawal Syndrome

What is alcohol withdrawal syndrome?

Alcohol withdrawal syndrome is a set of symptoms that people have when they suddenly stop drinking after using alcohol for a long period of time. Some people have mild shakiness and sweats. The worst form of withdrawal is called "DTs" (delirium tremens). People with DTs may experience confusion, anxiety and even hallucinations (seeing, hearing or feeling things that aren't really there). DTs can be very serious if not treated by a doctor.

Withdrawal symptoms rarely occur in people who only drink once in a while. Symptoms usually occur in people who have been drinking heavily for weeks or months and then suddenly stop drinking. People who have gone through withdrawal before are more likely to have withdrawal symptoms each time they quit drinking.

Do people going through withdrawal need to see a doctor?

Yes. Your doctor needs to know you're going through withdrawal so he or she can make sure it doesn't lead to more serious health problems. If you go through withdrawal a number of times without getting the right treatment, your symptoms may get worse each time. So even if your withdrawal symptoms don't seem that bad, it's important to see your doctor. This is especially true for people who have had a bad withdrawal before and people who have other health problems, such as infections, heart disease, lung disease or a history of seizures.

People who quit using other drugs (such as tobacco, injected drugs or cocaine) at the same time they stop drinking alcohol might have severe withdrawal problems. They should see a doctor before they quit.

What can a doctor do to help people in withdrawal?

A doctor can keep track of withdrawal symptoms so that more serious health problems don't develop. He or she can also give emotional support.

Medicines can control the shakiness, anxiety and confusion that come with alcohol withdrawal. Only a doctor can prescribe these medicines. If you take the medicines at an early stage of the withdrawal, they may keep your symptoms from getting worse.

What can family and friends do to help people going through withdrawal?

The urge to drink again during withdrawal can be very strong. Some people may put themselves into dangerous situations. After withdrawal symptoms go away, it's important for the person to join a treatment or sobriety program, such as Alcoholics Anonymous (see contact information under "Other Organizations"). Support from family and friends can help a person find success in one of these programs.


Other Organizations


More Information

For more information talk to your doctor.


Source

Written by familydoctor.org editorial staff.

American Academy of Family Physicians

Reviewed/Updated: 08/06
Created: 09/00