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Dangers of Alcohol Withdrawal

It’s probably no news to you that the consumption of alcohol is dangerous. But how aware really are you of the dangers of alcohol withdrawal?

The Dangers of Going ‘Cold Turkey’.

The excessive consumption of alcohol is dangerous, but not everyone is aware of the dangers of alcohol withdrawal.

Referring yourself to a specialist alcohol treatment service, or inpatient treatment centre like Castle Craig is recommended if you suffer from any level of alcohol addiction. Those who class their addiction as mild or moderate are also encouraged to seek help to reduce the risk of further harm.

Getting help as early as possible means you avoid the risk of complications during acute alcohol withdrawal, delirium tremens or signs and symptoms of autonomic overactivity (palpitations, tremors, sweating etc.). Castle Craig is one of the few rehabs with doctors and nurses available in our medical centre 24/7 during detox. 

Although death from alcohol withdrawal is uncommon, it is true that in cases of severe alcoholism, several complications can be life-threatening or lead to impaired physical and mental health.

Symptom Stages of Detox in a Nutshell

Symptoms can begin within just a few hours of complete cessation or with significant reduction in alcohol use. Peak withdrawal usually occurs between 24-48 hours, with the effects beginning to subside by hours 60-72.

  • Stage 1 – mild: Headache, insomnia, anxiety, hand tremors, heart palpitations, and gastrointestinal disturbances (stomach pain, heartburn, diarrhoea, constipation, nausea and vomiting) are all symptoms you might experience.
  • Stage 2 – moderate: Stage 1 mild symptoms occur as well as the addition of increased blood pressure and heart rate. Patients often also appear confused and have rapid abnormal breathing and mild hyperthermia.
  • Stage 3 – severe: The symptoms include Stage 2 moderate symptoms in addition to visual or auditory hallucinations (delirium tremens), seizures, impaired attention, suicidal ideation and disorientation. If untreated, DTs can cause a heart attack, stroke or death. The patient is also at risk of inadvertently harming themselves.

More on alcohol withdrawal symptoms and the time it takes to detox successfully.

Castle Craig Hospital Offers Safe, Medically Managed Detox with 24/7 Supervision.
Our Doctors and nurses manage the physical and psychological symptoms of your alcohol withdrawal, thus improving your chances of a successful outcome and decreasing the risks of early relapse.

Damage to Your Physical Health

Our priority during alcohol withdrawal should be to create a stable environment that prevents the development of DTs, seizures or Wernicke’s encephalopathy. However, if these extreme symptoms of alcohol withdrawal do occur, we have the specialist medical team administer the correct medication to keep the patient well and prevent them coming to any harm.

Generalised seizures generally occur in around 1-15% in the first 12-36 hours from the last drink – a history of past seizures can also increase the risk further when undergoing alcohol withdrawal. All seizures are dangerous and can lead to an increased risk of the patient having a stroke or heart attack.

Delirium tremens (DTS), whilst rare, occur in 5% of patients but is associated with a mortality risk of 15-20% – this figure has been seen to decrease to 0-1% with appropriate treatment.

The onset is usually between 48 – 72 hours; however, this can occur at any time during the first five days. Severe tremors, autonomic disturbances, visual and auditory hallucinations and delusions beliefs are all symptoms that can be anticipated.


High blood pressure and suicidal ideation can also be fatal during this period. However, with the correct medication and therapeutic support, these can be treated successfully. Other symptoms can cause short-term health problems.

Be aware and treat the following complications

Here, we outline common detox expectations outlined by NICE guidelines and talk from experience of our own detoxification outcomes.

  • Dehydration and Electrolyte depletion
  • Hypoglycaemia / Seizures
  • Delirium / Hallucinations associated with DTs

However, until your condition has been assessed by a medical professional, the severity of your alcohol addiction is unknown, and the path to recovery is unclear. Therefore, it’s always best to start with a medical assessment. We can then advise you on the next steps for your unique situation. Book an assessment.

Extreme symptoms of alcohol withdrawal

The below symptoms are seen in those with severe alcohol use disorders:

  • Generalised Seizures
  • Delirium tremens (DTs)
  • Wernicke’s Encephalopathy

Factors predicting severe withdrawal

The following predictions are based on expert opinion and are validated by our pest practice indications for managing alcohol detoxes within our inpatient setting:

  • Recent history of severe or complicated withdrawals
  • Severe withdrawal symptoms as seen above
  • Recent high levels of alcohol intake
  • Poor physical health
  • Concurrent use of other psychoactive drugs like benzodiazepines or opioids
  • Displaying high levels of anxiety and/or other psychiatric conditions

Other common alcohol withdrawal symptoms

 They are often experienced in stage 1 and stage 2 of alcohol withdrawal.

  • Anxiety/agitation
  • Tachycardia, Sweating Systolic
  • Hypertension, Tremors
  • Symptoms of DTs
  • Profuse sweating / impaired attention
  • Severe tremor / disorientation
  • Tachypnoea / Paranoid ideas
  • Insomnia / Marked anxiety
  • Marked systolic hypertension
  • Reversal of sleep pattern
  • Hallucinations/confusion

Immediate admission

Immediate admission to a hospital like Castle Craig is recommended over attempting at-home detoxes. Our mental health professionals are dedicated to providing you with therapies that sustain your sobriety long-term.

For those with mild alcohol dependence disorder, NICE guidelines specify the consideration of psychological interventions such as cognitive behavioural therapies or environment-based therapies explicitly focused on alcohol-related behaviours and problems. 

We can also offer behavioural couples therapy or family therapy if you have a particular person in mind who is willing to participate in your treatment and recovery.

 Yes, I want sobriety: call 01721 722 763.
Castle Craig Edinburgh Alcohol Rehab Staff Team
The team at Castle Craig alcohol and drug rehab clinic near Edinburgh, Lothian, Scotland – founded by Peter and Dr Margaret McCann

What about the mental health damage?

Mental health problems like depression, anxiety and mood disorders are all disorders that are often numbed with alcohol but are still experienced at some level daily. Traumas caused by DTs or other hallucinations, whilst upsetting and disturbing, do not often lead to PTSD or long-term mental health problems.

Research has found a connection between self-harm, suicide, depression and those with alcohol problems. These can work in two ways:

  • You regularly drink too much, which makes you feel depressed
  • Or you drink to relieve symptoms of depression and anxiety

Either way, alcohol affects the brain’s chemistry, which increases the likelihood of developing depression. In addition, the further you progress into alcoholism, the more life is bound to get complicated and painful. 

Detox won’t cure your alcohol addiction, but it is also unlikely in (95% of patients) to harm your mental or physical health long term.

Are you worried about a detox? Here at Castle Craig, we only offer medically-managed detoxes with round the clock nursing, so you can expect to receive the best standard of care when beginning your recovery journey.

Get in touch with us today.

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