What Physical Signs Are There If I Stop Drinking Alcohol?

Alcohol Drink
Alcohol Drink (Image: coffee with alcohol cocktail image by Vasca from Fotolia.com)

Physical signs that appear when you stop drinking alcohol are called alcohol withdrawal symptoms. A National Institute of Health (NIH) article titled "Alcohol Withdrawal" defines the term as "symptoms that may occur when a person who has been drinking too much alcohol every day suddenly stops drinking alcohol." Alcoholism includes three physical and mental stages, and according to the NIH article, "The more heavily you drink every day, the more likely you will be to develop alcohol withdrawal symptoms when you stop drinking."

Mild Physical signs of Alcohol Withdrawal

Headaches, sweating, nausea and vomiting, and clammy hands may be associated with mild alcoholism. These physical symptoms, along with insomnia and loss of appetite, may be experienced within a few hours after the last drink. Although they cause discomfort, they are not usually life threatening.

Moderate Physical Signs of Alcohol Withdrawal

Shaky hands, abnormal eye movements, dehydration, and tiredness are often physical manifestations when a moderate alcoholic stops drinking. Some or all of the symptoms may last for months. This stage of alcoholism can have life-threatening effects but usually do not require hospitalization. People with moderate physical symptoms are normally treated as outpatients. This determination should be made by a physician.

Severe Physical Signs of Alcohol Withdrawal

Severe alcohol withdrawal symptoms include agitation, fever, seizures, and delirium tremens (DT)). A second NIH article titled "Delirium Tremens" states, "Delirium tremens is a severe form of alcohol withdrawal that involves sudden and severe mental or neurological changes." At this stage of alcoholism, confusion and visual hallucinations occur. The alcoholic may believe he is under attack by bugs and snakes and may injure himself trying to escape. Agitation, fever, and seizures are also signs of DT. Alcoholics showing these physical signs should be immediately transported to an emergency room.

DT is common among people with a history of alcoholism. According to the NIH article, "It is especially common in those who drink the equivalent of 4-5 pints of wine or 7-8 pints of beer (or 1 pint of "hard" alcohol) every day for several months. Delirium tremens also commonly affects those who have had a history of habitual alcohol use or alcoholism for more than 10 years."

To determine if you have a drinking problem, use the CAGE approach set out in Dr. Gary Cordingley's article, "Delirium Tremens (DTs): The Alcohol Withdrawal Syndrome from Hell." Dr. Cordingley says "Symptoms of DTs typically start 2-4 days after the last drink in someone with prior heavy and prolonged consumption of alcohol." Cordingley suggests that you ask yourself these CAGE questions: "Have you ever felt you should CUT down on your drinking? Have people ANNOYED you by criticizing your drinking? Have you ever felt bad or GUILTY about your drinking? Have you ever had a drink first thing in the morning to steady your nerves or get rid of a hangover (EYE-opener)?"

If you answer 'yes' to more than one of these questions, consult your doctor. A health evaluation and possible medical treatment may be required.

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