Heavy drinkers who go cold turkey are definitely taking a huge, positive step in their lives and should be applauded for kicking a potentially deadly vice. But they also have to be watched for signs of alcohol withdrawal syndrome, which can bring about some very serious symptoms in those whose bodies are accustomed to a steady flow of alcohol.1
Once the body has adapted to regular, large quantities of alcohol over the course of months or years -- or sometimes just in a matter of weeks, in the case of some binge drinkers -- your body begins to expect high levels of alcohol and you can become physically ill without a drink. In fact, the symptoms of alcohol withdrawal syndrome can begin as quickly as two hours after finishing drinking, but more typically begin six to 12 hours later. And you may experience them for several weeks after the cessation of alcohol consumption.
The initial symptoms are usually shaking hands, mild anxiety, sweating, nausea, vomiting, headache, and insomnia. But in some people, they rapidly progress to something worse, including hallucinations, seizures, and delirium tremens (DTs). DTs cause fever, rapid heartbeat, and confusion -- and can be fatal in approximately one to five percent of cases. The singer Amy Winehouse's family reportedly believes that she may have died from alcohol withdrawal. Her autopsy revealed no sign of any illicit drugs in her body -- originally, the suspected cause of death.
You are most at risk if you have gone through episodes of alcohol withdrawal syndrome before, have a history of seizures, or have pre-existing health problems like heart or lung disease. But anyone who is typically a frequent, heavy drinker should be prepared to seek medical attention if they are quitting alcohol, whether they have other health issues or not. At the first sign of symptoms, you may have to contact your primary care physician or go to a hospital for monitoring.
Alcohol is a central nervous system depressant that goes to work on the neurotransmitters in the brain. However, its effects are somewhat schizophrenic. At low doses, it acts as a mild stimulant. As concentrations in the bloodstream increase, stimulation gives way to sedation -- a relaxed, calm state -- and ultimately to stupor. But if it's overused and abused, the drinker needs more and more just to maintain a feeling of normalcy. And cutting off the supply of alcohol entirely leaves the drinker feeling like an anxious wreck, further encouraging them to have a drink just to calm down.
There are already three pharmaceuticals approved by the United States Food and Drug Administration for treating alcoholism. But switching out one drug (alcohol) for another, even if it is sanctioned by your doctor, can't really be the best answer to this problem. That's just another way for the big drug companies to cash in wherever they can.
If you are a heavy drinker and want to quit or at least cut back substantially, then in addition to a support group program, there are some natural alternatives that can help. For one thing, you'll want to start to help your body heal from the damage the alcohol has inflicted. Regular use of a milk thistle supplement will help to deflect some of the damage to your liver. Also valuable on a daily basis are alpha lipoic acid (or R-lipoic acid), proteolytic enzymes, and Omega-3 fatty acids to reduce liver inflammation. And you'll probably want to add in vitamins (particularly the B vitamins), minerals, and trace mineral supplements to replace what you've lost from regular consumption of alcohol. Start taking a good full spectrum antioxidant -- especially for the water soluble antioxidants that are also lost daily because of the drinking. Finally, drink lots of clean water during the day to counter the major dehydration caused by alcohol.
And finally, performing a full body detox, finishing with a liver gallbladder flush, is highly beneficial. It can help repair much of the damage that has been inflicted on the body by heavy drinking. Obviously, going back to drinking after the detox is completed starts the damage again, but from a "higher" point at least. Just be aware that the detox reaction resulting from cleansing alcohol toxins may cause symptoms such as headaches and nausea for several days. Stick with it, since once you have eliminated the toxins from your body, you will feel better than you have in a long time.
1 undefined. "Alcohol Withdrawal." WebMD. 1 October 2010. WebMD, LLC. 25 August 2011. <http://www.webmd.com/mental-health/alcohol-abuse/alcohol-withdrawal-symptoms-treatments>.