Cessation or reduction in alcohol use, especially after heavy and prolonged drinking, can lead to alcohol withdrawal. One of the most dangerous symptoms of alcohol withdrawal is seizure or death. Medical attention should be sought accordingly for alcohol withdrawal. Treatment usually involves hospitalization (i.e., inpatient detox) with medication. See more concerning treatment here.
The symptoms of alcohol withdrawal syndrome develop within several hours to a few days after an individual stops drinking. These can include:
- Insomnia (trouble sleeping)
- Autonomic hyperactivity (e.g., sweating or pulse rate greater than 100 bpm)
- Increased hand tremors (known as “the shakes”)
- Nausea and/or vomiting
- Changes in perception (i.e., seeing or hearing things that aren’t there, termed “hallucinations”)
- Psychomotor agitation (feeling physically restless, inability to stop moving)
- Seizures (typically the generalized tonic-clonic type, which is characterized by rhythmic, yet jerking movement, especially of the limbs)
- Hallucinations, or perceptual disturbances of the auditory, tactile, or visual type (the rarest of alcohol withdrawal symptoms)
In order to meet the DSM criteria for alcohol withdrawal syndrome, a person must experience a combination of two of more of these symptoms. Significant distress or impairment in social, occupational, or other important areas of functioning must also be present. These symptoms must be directly caused by stopping or reducing alcohol intake and not attributable to other medical conditions, a primary mental disorder, or the influence of another substance.
This criteria has been updated for the current DSM-5 (2013).
Medina, J. (2014). DSM-5 Alcohol Withdrawal Symptoms. Psych Central. Retrieved on September 18, 2014, from http://psychcentral.com/disorders/alcohol-withdrawal/
Symptom criteria summarized from:
American Psychiatric Association. (2013). Diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders, fifth edition. Washington, DC: American Psychiatric Association.
American Psychiatric Association. (1994). Diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders, fourth edition. Washington, DC: American Psychiatric Association.
Last reviewed: By John M. Grohol, Psy.D. on 10 Jul 2014
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