Addiction’s not a choice. Some people who aren’t educated about alcoholism think that people who struggle with it simply don’t have the willpower or intelligence to stop drinking. They think “I can stop drinking, why can’t they?” Those people don’t understand that mood-altering drugs like alcohol can change the physical structure of an alcoholic’s brain. When addicted to a substance like alcohol, the brain eventually becomes unable to naturally produce enough dopamine, a neurotransmitter responsible for being able to feel pleasure. The only way to make the brain release a noticeable amount of dopamine is to drink, which requires more and more alcohol every time in order to get the same effect. Physical addiction would be bad enough if there weren’t something else requiring an alcoholic to drink—withdrawal.
Even if an alcoholic could simply decide to put down the bottle for good, beating their addiction isn’t so simple. A brain used to alcohol’s effects for so long won’t transition to sobriety without incredible difficulty.
The severity of withdrawal from alcohol depends on how intense the patient’s addiction was. People with mild alcoholism won’t suffer anything truly dangerous—shaking hands, nausea, headaches, and other nuisances. Withdrawal certainly won’t be comfortable for alcoholics in this situation, but neither will it be much to worry about. This type of withdrawal can begin as little as a few hours from a person’s last drink. Even heavy alcoholics will start by feeling these symptoms, before hallucinations set in. These can be manifested in any of a person’s senses, from sight to smell to touch. Hallucinations can be extremely frightening and usually occur 6 hours from a person’s last drink.
The worst withdrawal symptom an alcoholic can face is the dreaded delirium tremens. This is usually only seen in the most severe cases of alcoholism. DT is a state where an alcoholic is overcome with intense hallucinations they are unable to distinguish from reality. They experience high fever and involuntary convulsions, and are at a high risk for other life-threatening complications. If delirium tremens is experienced without treatment, it carries an approximate 35% chance of being lethal. However, modern addiction medicine has drastically reduced that.
The Ridge’s staff of qualified doctors and nurses are very familiar with alcohol addiction and the difficult process of detoxifying from it. With their supervision, our patients will get safely through alcohol withdrawal and learn to rebuild their lives sober.