Disease and Not a Hangover: What Is the Danger of Withdrawal Syndrome?

Sep 24, 2019

“My husband has been drinking for 10 years. He used to drink earlier without stopping for a couple of weeks, and then could stay for a month without even a drop of alcohol. He swore he would stop drinking and we were looking for the ways to fight alcoholism and even went to the doctors together. But it hasn’t brought any result. After another bottle, he has forgotten all about his promises.

My husband already for 2 years “has been on the drink”. He was fired from work, since he could no longer hide either his boozy breath or the shiver in his hands. He wakes up the morning after his drinking totally exhausted – he barely can speak, his legs and hands do not move and he has nausea. He convinces me that he cannot stop and give up drinking, because he feels very bad for his body requires alcohol.

A year ago, I tried not to let my husband go out of the house to his alcoholic friends. But he ended in an ambulance, as he had a high temperature and convulsions began. The diagnosis was a withdrawal syndrome. He stayed in the narcological dispensary for 2 weeks. Doctors suggested a treatment for alcoholism, but he refused and said that he would manage himself. Persuasions didn’t help.

Of course, he wasn’t able to manage himself, a month after narcology he started drinking again. Several times already this year he has been in the hospital under a drip with a post-binge withdrawal syndrome”.


– Elena, 40 

Many people believe that it is enough only to recruit one’s willpower and say to oneself “no” in order to fight any harmful habit. But in the case of long-term intake of alcohol, this process is complicated by the development of a withdrawal syndrome. A person after stopping drinking, badly feels that he/she must “drown” the pain with another portion of alcohol. This can last for a very long time. Both the addict and his/her relatives suffer. In this article we will find out what a withdrawal syndrome is and why it is dangerous. Is it possible to make the physical and mental condition of a person easier if he/she has alcohol withdrawal?


  • What is alcohol withdrawal syndrome?
  • Classification of withdrawal syndrome
  • Causes of alcohol withdrawal
  • Symptoms of alcohol withdrawal
  • What should not be done with alcohol withdrawal?
  • Treatment of alcohol withdrawal is a fight against alcoholism

What is alcohol withdrawal syndrome?

Alcohol withdrawal syndrome is a complex of somatic, neurological, and mental disorders that occur in patients with alcoholism after quitting alcohol. This is the main sign of alcoholism since painful symptoms against the background of refusal of alcohol-containing drinks occur exclusively at the second and third stages of the disease. Narcologists give patients, who have arrived in the hospital, an accurate diagnosis by the presence or absence of a withdrawal syndrome. [1]


Alcohol abstinence many be mistakenly called a hangover. This is not a completely correct comparison, because the withdrawal syndrome has more pronounced symptoms, which manifest for a long time. The signs of a hangover are easily removed in just a day, if you observe the drinking regimen, eat correctly and rest more. The duration of a withdrawal syndrome can reach 10-14 days. Many home methods for removing hangovers to ease the state of an addict simply do not work.

What are the risks of withdrawal syndrome for a drinker?

  1. Physical state

All the painful sensations that an alcoholic experiences after abandoning alcohol are caused by a large number of toxins in the body. The severity of symptoms will depend on the stage of his/her alcoholism. 

As a rule, the withdrawal syndrome begins to manifest at the second stage of alcoholism. At this stage, it is characterized by an acute desire to drink to remove the abstinence. An addict again drinks alcohol, feeling that unpleasant symptoms in the form of shivering hands and headache will leave. It can lead to long drinking periods, which can last for weeks and even months. Alcoholism is a progressive condition, so it is already very difficult for the addict to abandon alcohol – he/she becomes physically ill without another drink.

The withdrawal syndrome often occurs with numerous complications at the third stage of alcoholism. The health of the addict is undermined by the long-term use of alcohol, and therefore, the symptoms of abstinence bring strong physical torments. At this stage of the disease it is extremely difficult to say goodbye to the pernicious habit, since in some cases after abandoning alcohol, alcoholic psychosis is observed in addicted people. Alcoholic delirium tremens can develop because of abstinence (jimjams). This is a serious condition that has dire consequences for human health – up to coma and even death.

  1. Emotional state

Alcoholism is not just a physical addiction, a sufferer is tied to alcohol at the psychological level.

All his/her thoughts during the development of a withdrawal syndrome after the rejection of alcohol are occupied with only one thing – where to get another drink. He/she ceases to behave adequately and to objectively perceive the situation. An alcoholic is irritable and anxious and has insomnia after the refusal. He/she can even lose a sense of reality at all if abstinence is accompanied by delirium and hallucinations.

The unstable emotional state during abstinence is directly reflected on the relatives of an addict. Relatives have a hard time, since the alcoholic can show uncontrollable aggression after refusing alcohol – so intolerable is it to be sober.

  1. Social dimension

There is a general degradation of an addict’s personality during periods of alcohol abstinence. His/her family relations, friendships and professional ties are all being destroyed. An addict cannot work normally, so he/she often doesn’t have a permanent salary and spends all the hard-earned money on alcohol, ignoring care for the family.

Patients with a withdrawal syndrome are often “breaking bad”. They can commit a crime to get a desired bottle of alcohol, because social responsibility, moral qualities and the instinct of self-preservation will start to refuse to work. This can lead to prison sentences.


Classification of withdrawal syndrome

Specialists classify alcohol withdrawal depending on the symptoms of a patient. This helps the narcologists diagnose the stage of alcoholism, plan therapeutic measures to prevent the patient from drinking and plan further treatment of this dependence.

The types of alcohol withdrawal are shown in the table. [1]

Uncomplicated abstinence

Uncomplicated withdrawal syndrome lasts up to 5 days. A patient will have one or more symptoms at a time for there are a number of somatic, neurological and mental disorders. There are also frequent exacerbations of the existing pathologies of the heart, liver, and kidneys at the second stage of alcoholism during abstinence, which complicates the process of rehabilitation. If a person takes a dose of alcohol, the symptoms of abstinence pass. Therapy is recommended to be carried out exclusively in the hospital under the supervision of a narcologist for the prevention of drinking periods and development of the alcoholism. Home treatment of alcohol withdrawal cannot give any results and may even make it worse.

Abstinence state with seizures         

When classic signs of abstinence syndrome are complicated by seizures, the patient needs the urgent help of narcologists.

Convulsions occur against the background of acute poisoning of the body with products of the decay of ethanol. The condition is dangerous because a dependant person can be injured during seizures. There have been reported cases where seizures caused respiratory stoppage, as patient’s vomiting masses blocked the respiratory tract and could not be overturned.

Abstinence state with delirium        

Alcoholic delirium tremens is an acute psychosis that develops in an addict on the second and third day after giving up alcohol. As a rule, this is characteristic for those addicts who regularly stay in weeks-long binges. A sudden quitting of alcohol consumption causes hallucinations and delirium. And even a portion of alcohol to relieve severe symptoms will not be effective – the condition is critical.

Unless therapeutic measures are taken, a patient’s well-being will only deteriorate. It is impossible to treat a withdrawal syndrome with delirium in alcoholics at home!

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Causes of alcohol withdrawal

“I’ve never been against drinking in good company at a party. I know well what a hangover is. More water and rest – and all symptoms are reduced.

But now the situation is critical. After the death of my mother 3 years ago, I drink almost constantly. I can go to work with a hangover, and then wait for the evening to drink again. I will go on a binge at the weekend. There is a terrible lack of money, so I am not particularly choosy in my selection of alcohol. And if I stop drinking, it becomes so bad that I want to shout – there is pressure, high temperature, nausea with vomiting and numb limbs. It only becomes better in 3-5 days.

I have called an ambulance a couple of times after a drinking spree, because I was afraid to die. The doctors said it was not a hangover, but withdrawal syndrome. Did I become an alcoholic after 3 years of deep drinking? I need to survive the withdrawal syndrome in order to give up drinking, and it’s very hard for me”.

– Ekaterina, 33

Withdrawal syndrome occurs at that stage of the development of alcoholism, when the products of the decay of ethanol in concentrations to which the body has become accustomed, begin to participate in the metabolism. This causes a physical dependence on alcohol.

As a result of prolonged use of alcohol in the blood, the products of the decaying ethanol accumulate. These are toxic substances that adversely affect the operation of the internal organs and systems. In a healthy body, enzymes are produced that neutralize toxins. But in alcoholics who drink constantly, the liver no longer copes with such a load. Accordingly, enzymes that combat poisons are not strong enough.

Usually withdrawal syndrome appears after 5-7 years of uninterrupted drinking after quitting alcohol.  But the symptoms can also show before, if a person begins to drink in adolescence. According to narcologists, an early display of the condition is also a characteristic of women. The withdrawal syndrome in women can develop after 2-4 years of systematic drinking. [2]

Symptoms of alcohol withdrawal

Alcohol withdrawal syndrome occurs phase by phase in many patients of narcological clinics. It is often impossible to notice and clinically fix the transition of these phases, since some symptoms change very quickly, and can also manifest themselves simultaneously. [3]

How long the withdrawal syndrome will take and how severe its symptoms will become, depends on several factors:

  • stage of alcoholism;
  • health and age;
  • quality of alcohol consumed;
  • duration of alcohol consumption before the sharp abandonment.

Abstinence begins with mild symptoms, which become more pronounced if measures are not taken. The course of the withdrawal syndrome can be represented graphically:

Тяжесть симптомов алкогольной абстиненции
Heaviness of withdrawal symptoms
Слабая абстиненция Чувство тревоги Раздражительность Бессонница Тремор
Weak abstinence Feeling of anxiety Irritability Insomnia Tremor
Тяжелая абстиненция Лихорадка Потливость Дезориентация Галлюцинации
Heavy abstinence Fever Sweat Disorientation Hallucinations
Белая горячка Сильная спутанность сознания Недержание мочи и кала
Delirium tremens Confusion of consciousness Gating
Крупноразмашистый тремор Пугающие зрительные галлюцинации
Coarse tremor Frightening visual hallucinations
Время прекращения приема спиртного, сут.
Time free from drinking, days
  1. Weak abstinence

An addict will show these classic symptoms of the syndrome:

  • sharp mood swings and increased anxiety
  • insomnia and nightmares;
  • limb tremor
  • dizziness and headache
  • oral dryness
  • nausea and diarrhea.

If the patient is diagnosed with the second stage of alcoholism, he/she can get rapid and effective relief of weak abstinence syndrome in the hospital. However, doubtful home remedies of elimination from drinking can only aggravate the state of an alcoholic.

Unfortunately, addicts themselves rarely ask for medical care with mild abstinence. They prefer to take another portion of alcohol to remove the withdrawal. Responsibility then falls more on the family.

  1. Severe abstinence

Severe alcohol withdrawal symptoms include:

  • sudden increase in body temperature
  • fever;
  • periodic convulsions and hallucinations;
  • severe nausea accompanied by vomiting.

A patient’s condition deteriorates for 3-5 days after giving up the intake of alcohol. In some cases, patients suffer dehydration caused by persistent vomiting and diarrhea.

Treatment of severe symptoms is complicated by the fact that an alcoholic often has a history of chronic diseases of the internal organs and systems. As a rule, abstinence with complications is noted at the third stage of alcoholism or at the second stage after especially long drinking sessions.

  1. Alcoholic delirium tremens (jimjams)

The close ones of an alcoholic will never be able to predict whether weak abstinence will grow into jimjams or things will be limited to hand tremor and high body temperature. It is important to consult a doctor in time to avoid the worst – alcohol withdrawal with delirium leads to death in some cases. A person doesn’t die from jimjams, but from those chronic diseases that at a critical moment have passed into the acute stage.

It is believed that jimjams occur exclusively during the late stages of alcoholism. But in some cases, they develop even in those dependents who drink alcohol for 5-7 years. Everything depends on the general state of health of a particular person and the quality of the alcohol consumed.

Jimjams consist of such symptoms as:

    • visual and auditory hallucinations;
    • indistinct speech;
    • confused consciousness;
    • aggression;
    • increased anxiety
    • insomnia

What should not be done with alcohol withdrawal?

Alcohol withdrawal is not a normal hangover. This is why many methods aimed at easing the condition of the patient are under strict prohibition.

What exactly should NOT be done at home with withdrawal syndrome? [1]

  1. Taking medications

Any medications which you hope to relieve the physical and mental state of alcohol in abstinence can harm! This applies to all drugs without exception – against headache and nausea, soothing, etc. Almost all of them are contraindicated for stopping signs of alcohol poisoning.

Medical treatment can be performed only after a doctor’s examination.

  1. Visiting a Russian sauna and taking hot bath

Many persistently believe in the myth that hot air in a bath or sauna helps remove alcohol toxins from the body, thereby easing withdrawal syndrome.

For people who rarely drink and are inevitably tortured with thirst and nausea without headache after a noisy party, staying in a lightly heated sauna may prove to be effective. But this kind of “sobering” is completely unsuitable for an addict in abstinence at the second and third stages of alcoholism. His/her condition is already severe and the blood pressure will surely jump and the heartbeat increase from hot steam. This will only worsen the withdrawal syndrome.

  1. Drinking again

The hand of an alcoholic will surely stretch for a bottle to remove withdrawal symptoms. But there is a huge risk of another drinking period, which an addict may not survive.

  1. Fixing a person in horizontal position

People who experience abstinent syndrome often become aggressive. But it is inadvisable to tie their limbs or tie them to a bed to immobilize them. A person can get a serious self-injury in an attempt to escape.

Treatment of alcohol withdrawal is a fight against alcoholism

Treatment of the abstinence syndrome in alcoholism is the prevention of manifested symptoms of various severity.

The therapy takes place in the hospital under the supervision of a narcologist. The main task of the specialist is to remove toxins from the patient’s body, normalize his/her physical and mental state and reach persistent remission aggravated by chronic diseases against the background of alcoholism. Special drugs (tablets, droplets) are prescribed. The person who consumes alcohol in large quantities often does not follow his/her diet at all, so abstinence in some cases is accompanied by avitaminosis, and the patient is given a course of vitamins together with medicines.

When the state of a dependance after treatment of withdrawal syndrome is normalized, he/she can be discharged from the hospital. But this is not a victory over the disease. If the person starts to drink again, and then suddenly stops, the abstinent syndrome will again manifest itself. And the harder the withdrawal syndrome was, the more pronounced the signs of abstinence will be.

Only fighting with the cornerstone, which caused the syndrome – alcoholism – will be effective. If you start treatment at the first and second stages of the condition, you can avoid the rapid progression of abstinence against the background of alcohol consumption.

Treatment of alcoholism is not only the normalization of physical condition after a drinking period and therapy for chronic diseases. Psychotherapy is also important, because all harmful habits cause psychological dependence, which can be more difficult to get rid of than the physical.

An alcoholic, even at critical stages of the disease, may not recognize the existing problems. Therefore, the relatives of an addict must convince him/her to start immediate treatment.

Bad habits are mostly unhealthy behavior and negative attitudes. Excellent effectiveness is shown by behavioral methods of psychotherapy in the fight against many dependencies. One of these methods is the 7Spsy behavior modification technique. This is a patented course based on the theories of I.P Pavlov, B. F. Skinner, A.A. Ukhtomsky.

The training will help a dependent on the first and second stages of alcoholism to say a firm “no” to addiction. Having mastered a healthy pattern of behavior, the person will learn to live without alcohol, receiving pleasure and rejoicing every day. Positive settings will allow the subject to find more rational ways to fight stress and complexes without alcohol. He/she will realize the many great opportunities a sober way of life can give – peaceful family relations, successes in career, interesting leisure.


The 7Spsy behavior modification technique course is applied for the treatment for people at the first and second stages of alcoholism and designed for a period of up to 6 weeks. Consultations with the psychologist are held in a convenient remote mode and remain strictly confidential. If it is difficult for the person to admit to the fight against addiction, he/she need not tell anyone about the course of psychotherapy. The specialist gives all necessary recommendations and answers to questions by e-mail, in chat rooms and by phone.

Information from this website cannot be used for self-therapy and self-diagnostics. 

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