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Everything You Need to Know Before Quitting Alcohol

Lisa Taylor
Lisa TaylorAddiction Counsellor

By the time a person comes to the conclusion that he or she has a drinking problem, a certain amount of damage has already been done. The severity of the damage depends on the severity of the drinking problem. At any rate, quitting alcohol without first getting some good advice is not a smart idea. There can be some serious side effects of quitting – side effects that could be potentially life-threatening – for someone who is an alcohol abuser or alcoholic.

Make no mistake; the benefits of quitting alcohol are numerous and well worth going through treatment to achieve. Treatment for even the most severe of drinking problems can enable a person to live a full and enjoyable life without the spectre of alcohol getting in the way. But treatment must be undertaken in the proper way. This is why we encourage those with drinking problems to get professional help before attempting to quit drinking.

How Alcohol Affects the Body

Even a minimal amount of alcohol in the system affects how the body functions. The first effects are experienced in the brain. As alcohol makes it to the brain, it triggers the production of certain neurotransmitters that affect how a person feels. When a state of drunkenness is achieved, chemical imbalances in the brain prevent a person from thinking clearly, perceiving correctly, and exercising sound judgement.

These are all things most of us already know. But what about the long-term effects of excessive drinking on the body? They are numerous and potentially severe. Excessive drinking over long periods can do severe damage to the liver. In fact, cirrhosis is a disease directly related to alcohol consumption that claims its victims far too frequently. Persistent alcohol abuse can also lead to kidney problems, heart problems, dangerous weight gain or weight loss, and a myriad of other issues.

How Alcohol Affects the Mind

The fact that alcohol affects the brain means it also affects the mind. As already mentioned, having too much alcohol in the system impairs everything from perception to judgement. But it does more than that. Let us go back and talk about those neurotransmitters for one moment.

Neurotransmitters are chemicals in the brain that control all sorts of physical and mental functioning. They exist in a delicate balance that, when interrupted, change the way a person thinks and behaves. The problem with alcohol abuse is that it throws this balance off. Persistent alcohol abuse, therefore, leads to two dangerous problems:

  • Tolerance – Tolerance is a condition that occurs when the brain gets used to a certain level of alcohol in the system. When that level is achieved, the drinker no longer derives pleasure from consuming the same amount of alcohol. So he or she must drink more to feel good. The problem with tolerance is that it continually increases over time.
  • Dependence – Dependence is a condition in which the mind becomes accustomed to always having a certain level of alcohol in the system. It causes alcoholics to believe they have to have alcohol in order to survive. Dependence also leads to increased cravings that can only be satisfied with more drink.

The effects of alcohol on the mind are that which make quitting alcohol so difficult. The fact is that the mind controls much of what we do, both consciously and subconsciously. Once tolerance and psychological dependence exist, even cutting down can be next to impossible.

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The Side Effects of Quitting

An early stage problem drinker making an attempt at quitting alcohol may not notice any physical or mental side effects other than mild cravings. But for alcohol abusers and alcoholics, it is a different story altogether. There are very definite side effects that must be dealt with from a medical standpoint in order to ensure safety and eventual recovery.

You may have heard the side effects referred to as withdrawal symptoms. They are called withdrawal symptoms because they are a direct result of the body having to adjust to the lower levels of alcohol in the system. As the body withdraws, it reacts in very specific ways. The following is a list of common withdrawal symptoms experienced by those quitting alcohol:

  • Alcohol cravings
  • Insomnia and fatigue
  • Feelings of restlessness and agitation
  • Feelings of anxiousness or nervousness
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Headaches, palpitations and excessive sweating
  • Mild tremors

In the most severe cases, quitting alcohol can lead to a condition known as delirium tremens. This condition comes on suddenly and can last anywhere from one to three days. It involves irregular heartbeat, high body temperature, uncontrollable tremors, and hallucinations. Delirium tremens is a dangerous medical condition that requires constant attention to prevent injury and death.

The worst symptoms of alcohol withdrawal usually occur within the first 48 hours of taking the last drink. The good news is that most people will be symptom-free in about seven days. When symptoms do persist beyond seven days, they are usually limited to alcohol cravings and the restless and anxious feelings. Patients usually experience a gradual reduction of those lingering symptoms over time.

Do Not Attempt to Quit by Yourself

It should be clear from our description of alcohol withdrawal symptoms that quitting alcohol by yourself could be a potentially dangerous proposition. We urge anyone who is suffering from an alcohol problem to first consult with a professional before attempting to quit. We are more than happy to provide a free consultation by way of our 24-hour helpline.

Our counsellors are professionally trained and capable of providing complete and comprehensive assessments. Just by speaking with a counsellor for a little while should help you discover the severity of your drinking problem and what it will take to solve it. Our counsellor can give you all of the advice you need about quitting alcohol, including referrals to reputable treatment providers.

Here's one last thing for you to consider: any drinking problem is a problem that could eventually lead to severe health problems and even death. The earlier the problem is diagnosed and treated, the less likely a person is to reach the advanced stages of alcoholism. If you are struggling with drinking at all, quitting alcohol is the best thing for you. Contact us to get the help you need to do so.

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