Physical Alcohol Dependence & The Dangers Of Unsupervised Withdrawal

Compare Rehab UK | Physical Alcohol Dependence & The Dangers Of Unsupervised Withdrawal

What is Alcohol Dependence?

Alcohol dependence refers to the belief that drinking has taken on a substantial, if not the most significant, role in a person’s life and that they cannot function or even exist without it. Alcohol dependence is recognised by medicine as a form of “alcohol use disorder” that is treatable. It differs from “harmful drinking,” which is another type of alcohol use disorder and refers to a habit of heavy drinking that harms your health without really leading to dependence.

People have consumed alcohol for thousands of years, significantly influencing how human civilisation and behaviour have changed over time. Alcohol is perhaps the recreational drug used and consumed the most today. It is also among the most harmful because of its great propensity for addiction and involvement in numerous fatal incidents and criminal activities worldwide. When we drink, we “consume alcohol” in the form of ethanol, a kind of alcohol in alcoholic beverages. Alcohol of other types is detrimental to our health.

The general public frequently has misconceptions about what addiction is. According to its definition, this syndrome is characterised by compulsive engagement in certain rewarding behaviours (in this case, alcohol use), despite the unfavourable effects of such behaviour. When we consume alcohol frequently, and for an extended period, we risk developing an addiction and other health issues.

Alcohol dependence almost invariably leads to alcohol addiction, even though addiction is not the same as dependence.

Millions of individuals worldwide suffer from alcohol addiction, which is a common and highly destructive disorder that causes millions of deaths and has a tremendous, albeit incalculable, social cost.

Alcohol dependence causes physical withdrawal symptoms, which you will feel when you stop drinking. People who become addicted will realise they need to consume more alcohol to have the same results. They regularly put drinking above other responsibilities or activities (like work or family life), or they continue to drink despite side effects like liver disease or depression.

If you believe you may be addicted to alcohol, consult your doctor or another medical professional before stopping drinking. You can speak with a health care provider at your GP surgery or with one of our addiction experts at Compare Rehab UK and receive the advice and support you need.

Alcohol Dependence Symptoms

Some of Signs and symptoms of Alcohol Dependence can include:

  • being unable to control how much alcohol you consume
  • wishing to cut back on your drinking or making failed attempts to do so
  • Spending a lot of time drinking, getting alcohol or recovering from alcohol use
  • experiencing a strong desire or temptation to consume alcohol
  • inability to meet significant obligations at job, school, or home as a result of frequent alcohol use
  • drinking alcohol while being aware that it’s harming your health, relationships, society, job, or other aspects of your life
  • giving up or scaling back on hobbies, social activities, and employment to consume alcohol
  • consuming alcohol in unsafe circumstances, such as while operating machinery or swimming
  • acquiring a tolerance to alcohol, whereby you require more to feel its effects or experience less of those effects from the same amount.
  • consuming alcohol to prevent withdrawal symptoms, such as nausea, shivering, and sweating, from occurring when you don’t drink.

What are the Stages of Alcohol Dependence?

Alcohol dependence can sometimes progress over time into alcoholism. Typically, alcoholism develops across several phases.

Early Alcohol Abuse

Specialists state that new alcohol users may display 0–2 symptoms. The issue is that no one is able to foresee if routine or social drinking will develop into an alcohol consumption disorder. A person will often be exposed to many types of alcohol and experiment with it in diverse forms during the early stages of alcohol intake.

The majority of the time, high school students or young adults, such as college students, are the ones who are experimenting. Youth of this generation frequently engage in binge drinking as a kind of social gathering. Even if they don’t drink frequently, binge drinking increases their chance of becoming alcohol dependent. According to experts, binge drinking occurs when a person’s blood alcohol concentration (BAC) rises to 0.08 or more in less than two hours. According to their body weight, this normally requires four drinks for women and five for men in two hours. Many binge drinkers, though, may have more than four or five drinks, which can elevate blood alcohol levels and cause a number of unfavourable side effects.

Some people who binge or party drink regularly never progress past the experimental stage and keep bingeing or party drinking. People who continue to drink heavily or regularly may be predisposed to do so for environmental or genetic reasons. For instance, there is a four-fold increased risk of alcohol use disorder in children of people who have the condition. Additionally, studies show that specific elements of a child’s home environment, such as having a parent who abuses alcohol or other drugs or being exposed to a parent’s depression or family conflict/violence, can predispose them to drink. Furthermore, some people who struggle with mental illness could switch from occasional social drinking to more frequent drinking because they think it relieves some of their psychiatric symptoms.

A person’s chance of developing an alcohol consumption issue can be increased by the sheer number of drinks they take over time, in addition to environmental and genetic factors.

Women are deemed to be at risk if they consume more than three drinks per day or seven per week. Due to differences in physiology between men and women, males are considered to be at risk if they consume more than four drinks per day or more than 14 per week.

Middle-Stage Alcohol Dependence

Your drinking grows as you move through the intermediate stages of addiction because you become more dependent on alcohol to function normally. It becomes very difficult to control your drinking as you develop strong desires for alcohol and may even need it to stay alive due to severe withdrawal symptoms. Six to twenty-four hours after your last drink, withdrawal symptoms such as tremors, restlessness, headache, nausea, vomiting, and insomnia may appear. Psychological symptoms such as mood swings, despair, and feelings of guilt or shame are all possible.

You might begin drinking in the morning and store alcohol in locations where it is simple to find. Middle-stage alcoholics are prone to irritability or wrath when questioned about their drinking habits.

End-Stage Alcoholism

At this point, alcoholism is quite destructive. It will be more difficult, but it is still possible, at this stage, to fully recover from addiction. Alcoholics in this stage often referred to as the deteriorative stage, have become completely engulfed by their drinking and have sustained significant mental and bodily injury. Due to its all-consuming nature, drinking is impossible to stop. Since withdrawal symptoms can be lethal if an addict attempts to quit “cold turkey,” professional intervention, alcohol detox, and rehabilitation are crucial.

Alcoholics in their late stages may have lost their homes, family, and jobs. Significant damage is probably present to the brain, liver, and stomach. However, any stage of alcoholism can be overcome with the help of compassionate professionals.

Co-Occurring Disorders: Mental Health Issues & Alcohol Dependence

Alcohol abusers usually struggle with mental health issues.

Alcohol addiction can lead to feelings of worry, melancholy, and even suicidal thoughts. This is partially due to the disruption of the brain’s essential neurotransmitters for mental wellness caused by heavy drinking.

Your relationships with your partner, family, and friends, as well as your job and finances, can all suffer from alcoholism. These circumstances can make depression and anxiety worse.

Alcohol consumption may make you more violent, and you can be putting yourself on the road to a downward spiral if you use alcohol to try to improve your mood.

What is Alcohol Withdrawal?

Alcohol withdrawal is one of the most obvious indications of alcohol dependence. It’s also known as alcohol withdrawal syndrome (AWS). Alcohol withdrawal refers to the changes that occur when a person abruptly quits drinking after engaging in heavy and frequent alcohol use. The body and the brain eventually get dependent on drinking habits and frequency. When you stop drinking suddenly, your body that became accustomed to the effects of alcohol needs some time to get used to life without it. This results in some unpleasant withdrawal symptoms that are brought on by this adjustment period.

Alcohol withdrawal syndrome can result in serious health issues that may be life-threatening in addition to uncomfortable side effects. Alcohol withdrawal syndrome can occur whether you’ve been drinking for weeks, months, or years. Professional care from a specialised alcohol rehab facility is highly advised for people trying to stop drinking because withdrawal can sometimes be deadly.

How Withdrawal Relates to Alcohol Dependency?

One indication that you are developing alcohol dependence is if you suffer withdrawal symptoms. Furthermore, it’s highly likely that you are already alcohol dependent if you regularly experience these symptoms.

Alcohol dependency, “alcoholism” or “alcohol addiction,” is a dangerous condition that can result in a number of health issues. People who are dependent on alcohol may have a powerful, frequently uncontrolled want to drink and feel they can’t function without it.

What causes alcohol withdrawal symptoms?

Multiple biological processes are impacted by alcohol, which causes alcohol withdrawal when trying to stop. The central nervous system is first and primarily excited and disturbed by excessive drinking. After consuming alcohol, people experience a calming impact on the brain that suppresses some neurotransmitters and makes them feel relaxed. This explains why drinking alcohol causes people to feel initially happy, more sociable, and relaxed.

Alcohol dependence means that the body needs progressively more of the drug to have the same effects. The brain is nearly constantly exposed to the depressive effects of alcohol in a heavy, long-term drinker. As a result, they start to become dependent on the drug. The severe side effects of withdrawal, which are distinct from the “feel good” effects of alcohol use, occur when someone quickly stops drinking because the neurotransmitters are no longer suppressed by alcohol and the brain struggles to adjust to the new chemical imbalance.

The adverse effects of alcohol withdrawal differ from person to person. The fear of unpleasant withdrawal symptoms is a major deterrent for many people who want to stop drinking. However, it’s significant to know that doctors in alcohol addiction treatment can offer prescription drugs to lessen pain. You’ll be able to concentrate on healing and getting better by lessening withdrawal symptoms.

Don’t let the worry that you might have withdrawal symptoms keep you from seeking the care you need. Contact Compare Rehab UK to find out more about alcoholism therapy and other support services.

Alcohol Withdrawal Timeline and Symptoms

As soon as two hours after your last drink, you may experience symptoms of alcohol withdrawal. After stopping, symptoms usually reach their height within the first 24 to 48 hours. The most unpleasant withdrawal symptoms may appear at this time.

It’s crucial for people going through withdrawal to receive medically assisted detox because heavy drinkers who abruptly stop drinking may face a wide range of severe symptoms. Some people just have a few mild withdrawal symptoms, while others may have more severe adverse effects. For instance, one of the most severe signs of alcohol withdrawal is delirium tremens. After your last drink, it can manifest during the first 48 hours. Despite being uncommon, delirium tremens can be fatal.

The following timeline represents the typical manifestation of alcohol withdrawal symptoms:

6 to 12 hours after ingestion

  • Agitation
  • Anxiety
  • Headaches
  • Shaking
  • Nausea and vomiting

12 to 24 hours after ingestion

48 hours after ingestion

  • Seizures
  • Insomnia
  • High blood pressure
  • Tactile, auditory, and visual hallucinations
  • High fever and excessive sweating
  • Delirium tremens

Although a tiny percentage of people may have persistent symptoms, alcohol withdrawal symptoms normally subside within five days. Numerous variables, including frequency of drinking, amount ingested while drinking, time spent drinking, medical history, and co-occurring health issues, have an impact on the intensity and duration of alcohol withdrawal symptoms. If a person has abused both drugs and alcohol, they are more likely to experience severe withdrawal symptoms.

Acute Alcohol Withdrawal

Someone who stops drinking alcohol may experience severe withdrawal symptoms over the course of the first several days and weeks. When heavy drinkers abruptly cut back on their intake of alcohol after extended periods of excessive consumption, individuals frequently develop acute alcohol withdrawal syndrome. You are most susceptible to passing out briefly, getting delirium tremens, and having seizures during this time. It is advised that you never try to quit on your own and that you instead get treatment at a hospital or specialist rehab facility because acute alcohol withdrawal can cause life-threatening health consequences. Medical professionals can regularly evaluate your physical and emotional well-being throughout the day to make sure that the symptoms don’t escalate.

Post-Acute Withdrawal Syndrome (PAWS)

Some people may develop long-lasting negative effects after the acute alcohol withdrawal symptoms have faded. This stage, known as post-acute withdrawal syndrome, is less frequent. Some people may find it difficult to adjust to life following rehab due to PAWS, which are withdrawal symptoms that appear after severe abstinence. PAWS can endure from a few weeks to a year, depending on the extent of your alcohol usage.

Typical signs of PAWS include:

  • Irritability and emotional outbursts
  • Anxiety
  • Low energy
  • Trouble sleeping
  • Memory problems
  • Dizziness
  • Increased accident proneness
  • Delayed reflexes
  • Intense cravings
  • Chronic nausea

PAWS is a leading cause of relapse in those who have completed alcohol addiction treatment. Many individuals with PAWS have symptoms in cyclical waves: one day, they may feel good, but the next, they may have low energy and strong alcohol cravings. It can be difficult to resist temptation during this withdrawal phase due to its spontaneity. It’s crucial to remember that each PAWS episode is frequently only live for a few days at a time. The symptoms will go away as swiftly as they come on if someone can hold on during that period.

Relieving the symptoms of alcohol withdrawal

If you experience withdrawal symptoms, you’ll need medical assistance to cut back and eventually stop drinking. With support, which may include specialised prescription medication to use during your withdrawal, you can then choose the best approach to stop drinking. For those with severe alcoholism, this kind of treatment may be critical to preventing the risk of a seizure during withdrawal, which could result in serious harm or even death.

Although it might take up to a year to fully recover from severe withdrawal symptoms, most people feel better within a week of quitting drinking. Most certainly, the first 48 hours will be the worst.

When you stop drinking, the following will help your symptoms:

  • Make sure you consume enough non-alcoholic beverages to stay hydrated (but avoid caffeine)
  • Try to eat regularly
  • Look for ways to unwind, such as reading, taking a stroll, or listening to music
  • Seek out non-dependent friends and family for support and company
  • Take any given medication exactly as instructed

Insomnia brought on by quitting alcohol might be difficult for some people. It’s crucial to fight the impulse to resume drinking “to help you fall asleep.”

In actuality, giving up alcohol is a good strategy to enhance the quality of your sleep. If you experience insomnia, it’s important to keep in mind that as your brain heals from withdrawal, your sleep patterns will almost surely start to return to normal.

Alcohol Dependence Treatment Options

There are many options available for treating alcoholism. However, most addiction treatments combine counselling with detoxification/withdrawal to address the underlying psychological issues that contributed to the development of addiction while addressing the immediate physical dependency issues.

Alcohol Dependence withdrawal and detox

Alcohol withdrawal can cause some very unpleasant, very upsetting symptoms. Detoxification, however, is a crucial component of treatment if you have developed an alcohol addiction since you need to be free of alcohol and other drugs of abuse before you can start counselling to address your psychological addiction. Only experienced professionals should treat alcohol withdrawal. Never try to quit drinking alcohol on your own.

Alcohol Dependence treatment and rehab

Alcohol addiction is currently treated in several nationwide residential rehabilitation (rehab) clinics. Rehab facilities typically offer detoxification, counselling, and other components of an all-encompassing treatment plan like exercise and food management. There are two types of treatment: inpatient and outpatient, with inpatient periods spanning from one to three months. For addicts who can’t take enough time away from their regular lives to undergo residential treatment, outpatient treatment may be preferable. However, because it does not completely remove the addict from their environment of alcohol abuse, it might be more challenging to overcome addiction with this strategy.

Alcohol Dependence Therapy options

There are many effective approaches to treating alcoholism. The addiction team will determine the treatment plan based on the unique circumstances of each patient; however, the following therapies are some of the most often used to treat alcohol dependence.

  • Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT)
  • Dialectical Behaviour Therapy (DBT)
  • Family Therapy

Medications used in alcohol Dependence treatment

The first step to recovering from alcoholism is detoxification. Medically aided detoxification from alcoholism is advised for a secure withdrawal. Given that significant withdrawal symptoms frequently accompany detox, you could decide against going through it. You can ensure that a medically assisted detox is as relaxing and stress-free as possible by keeping an eye on it. It might considerably minimise withdrawal symptoms throughout the detox phase. You might also be able to avoid relapsing after therapy with the aid of professional monitoring and support.

Different medications have been developed to treat various aspects of alcohol addiction, with some intended to cut back on drinking and eventually stop it completely. Others, on the other hand, focus on particular withdrawal symptoms to reduce the severity of symptoms and make the withdrawal process safer. While some of these medications are available without a prescription, using any addiction medication without a doctor’s guidance is extremely risky. Do not self-medicate. Instead, discuss potential drugs with your doctor or an addiction specialist.

Alcohol Rehab

Alcohol Dependence and Relapse Prevention

Even if you have successfully quit drinking, there is no guarantee that you won’t relapse in the future because rehabilitation is an ongoing process that demands consistent work and attention. If you have previously attended rehab, you might have received some relapse prevention tactics to utilise in your recovery, but if you haven’t, ask an addiction professional (or group) about such strategies. If drinking has become a problem for you, you need to get help from a professional.

Here are a few typical relapse prevention techniques:

  • Being aware of, avoiding, and pinpointing your triggers
  • Putting in place a strong support network
  • Building a variety of healthy distractions (such as regular exercise)
  • Keep in mind the dangers of relapsing into addiction
  • Joining self-help organisations like Alcoholics Anonymous
  • Participating in counselling

It’s important to stress that relapsing does not inevitably result in an addiction comeback. Relapses are severe, but they don’t have to be disastrous if you get the right care. People make mistakes, and it’s important to regain control of your addiction.

Get Help for Alcohol Dependence Today!

You could feel like you’ve lost control of your life if you’re an alcoholic. But with the correct help, you can take back control and resume leading a successful and happy life. Consult your doctor or an addiction specialist to begin the journey to a happier and better life.

Don’t allow another day to go by without admitting you have a drinking problem and getting help. For confidential help, call one of our addiction specialists at 0800 999 1083 today.

Last Edited: September 19th, 2022
Clinically Reviewed: July 7, 2022
Compare Rehab UK | Physical Alcohol Dependence & The Dangers Of Unsupervised Withdrawal
Clinical Reviewer


BACP accredited psychotherapist with 16 years experience working in mental health specialising in psychodynamic person-centred therapies treating those with a range of mental health disorders including anxiety, depression, OCD and Addiction.