The seriousness of alcohol withdrawal symptoms is directly related to the severity of a person's alcohol abuse, says Medline Plus. Treatment during the detoxification process of alcohol rehabilitation can help ease symptom's severity and limit their danger. Medicines such as benzodiazepines are sometimes used to help quell the many withdrawal symptoms. Patients can also be placed under sedation to help ease them through the withdrawal process.
Alcoholics can find their level of anxiety heightened within six to 12 hours of not having a drink, says the American Family Physician website, leading to increased nervousness and excitability. In many cases, people withdrawing from alcohol have severe swings from one mood to another. Depression can also set in during the early stages of alcohol withdrawal. Patients being treated for withdrawal symptoms can experience insomnia heightened by nightmares when they do sleep, says Medline Plus.
Many people experience hallucinations as part of the withdrawal process within the first two days after ceasing alcohol use. Visual hallucinations often include seeing small moving objects such as falling coins or crawling insects. People can also hear noises or feel sensations that don't exist while hallucinating during alcohol withdrawals. These symptoms typically last for up to two days, says intelihealth.com.
Early physical symptoms associated with alcohol withdrawal include a general, pulsating headache, shakiness, tremors and a rapid heart rate. A person often has a loss of appetite accompanied by nausea and vomiting. A person's skin can turn clammy and pale, with increased sweating. In some cases, involuntary eye movements or "flutters" can also occur.
Within 24 to 48 hours, some patients experience generalised tonic-clonic seizures, also known as a grand mal seizure in which muscles contract and become rigid along with the loss of consciousness. These seizures can last anywhere from 30 seconds to five minutes and involve a loss of continence, a person turning blue or ceasing to breathe, says Medline Plus.
The most severe symptom of alcohol withdrawal is delirium tremens. Commonly known as DTs, they are more common in people who have severe drinking problems, such as drinking a pint or more of hard liquor, four to five pints of wine or seven to eight pints of beer a day. Delirium tremens often present in patients within 72 hours of their last drink but can first occur seven to 10 days after drinking has stopped.
People going through delirium tremens suffer severe mental problems, including strong hallucinations, increased fatigue and a heightened sensitivity to external stimuli. They might experience chest pains along with withdrawal seizures. Research published in 2004 in the American Society of Addiction Medicine suggested that delirium tremens is fatal in 1 per cent to 5 per cent of all cases.