If you are a teen looking to quit drinking, the prospect of going without alcohol can feel overwhelming. If you are used to heavy drinking, your body may not feel right when you try to suddenly quit drinking. Many times, these uncomfortable feelings are the result of alcohol withdrawal syndrome (AWS). Up to 80% of people who struggle with drinking are at risk for AWS. Learning about how to manage AWS is key to getting through it safely.
What are the Symptoms of Alcohol Withdrawal?
Symptoms of AWS can be mild, moderate or severe. However, just because you have mild symptoms to start with does not mean they will stay that way. Even mild symptoms can worsen and become life-threatening. Symptoms of AWS include:
- Mild symptoms include:
- Trouble sleeping
- Pounding heartbeat
- Stomach trouble
- Moderate symptoms include:
- High blood pressure
- Fast breathing
- Fast heartbeat
- Mild fever
- Severe symptoms include:
- Delirium tremens
- Trouble paying attention
- Hearing or seeing things that are not there
Hangovers vs. Alcohol Withdrawal
Hangovers are different from AWS because they occur as a result of drinking more than you are used to. AWS occurs from not drinking as much as you are used to. Additionally, hangovers last around 24 hours, while AWS can last for days. Although some symptoms of the two conditions are similar, their causes are different. Hangover symptoms include:
- Feeling tired
- Being weak
- Dry mouth
- Head and body aches
- Nausea and vomiting
- Trouble sleeping
- Being sensitive to light and sound
- Trouble focusing
- Mood changes
- Fast heartbeat
Managing Mild Alcohol Withdrawal Symptoms at Home
Even if your AWS symptoms are mild, experts recommend seeing a doctor to have them treated. The reason for this is that if you go through AWS in the future, your symptoms may end up being much more severe. This phenomenon is called kindling.
Kindling happens when mild chemical signals in the brain, like in mild AWS, make the brain more sensitive and excitable. Your brain then becomes primed to respond more strongly to future AWS episodes.
Some tips for managing withdrawal symptoms at home include:
- Replenish fluids: Drinking alcohol causes dehydration. A person becomes dehydrated because alcohol stops the brain from making the antidiuretic hormone, or ADH. This chemical stops you from losing too much water through urine. By blocking your body from making ADH, drinking alcohol makes you lose a lot more water in your urine than you otherwise would. In turn, this water loss causes dehydration. Even though drinking water is important when you quit drinking, you should ask your doctor how much water you can safely have. If you have health problems, the amount of water you can safely drink may be different from other people.
- Take a cool shower: Taking a cool shower can distract you from cravings or unpleasant symptoms. It can also kickstart your central nervous system and help you feel more alert.
- Prepare to push past cravings: If you drink heavily, you will likely get cravings when you stop drinking. Many coping tactics exist to get through cravings, and you need to find what works best for you. For example, you may find it useful to have a glass of water or do something to take your mind off the craving.
- Eat healthy foods: When you drink a lot, the nutrients in your body get depleted. Drinking alcohol spikes your blood sugar. Eating healthy foods after you quit drinking can help to refresh your nutrients and can also control your blood sugar.
- Consider vitamins: Heavy drinking causes low levels of many vitamins, like fatty vitamins A, D, E and K, as well as B vitamins and folate. Taking a supplement to replete these levels in your body can make you feel better after you quit drinking.
- Exercise: Not only is exercise a healthy lifestyle change to make after drinking, but it can also make you feel better. Exercise stimulates the body to release endorphins, chemicals that make you feel good. This stimulation can help to ease symptoms of anxiety that are common when you quit drinking.
- Stay busy: If you spend a lot of time drinking, you may suddenly have a lot of free time. To avoid being pulled back into drinking, you will need to develop new habits. Fill your free time by starting new activities, hobbies and relationships.
- Commit to lifestyle changes: By changing your daily habits, you can help to keep yourself healthy and prevent triggers that may cause you to relapse. One lifestyle change to consider is joining a group of other people working on their sobriety. People who join groups have more success in quitting drinking than those who do not.
- Tell someone: If your body relies on drinking to feel normal, you are likely to have urges to start drinking again. Having a safe person to talk to can help you ride out these urges. Talking to a parent, school counselor or teacher may help.
- Create roadblocks to prevent setbacks: It can be easy for triggers to send you back into drinking. If you associate certain people, places or activities with drinking, you should try to avoid them.
When to Seek Help
Doctors recommend seeking help as soon as you start to have AWS symptoms. Further, because AWS can worsen unpredictably, it is safest to detox with a doctor’s supervision. The more serious your AWS symptoms get, the more important it is to seek prompt medical attention. Special alcohol detox centers exist that can also help you through the process.
Addressing Alcohol Withdrawal
Living with an alcohol use disorder is dangerous. Teens and their parents should recognize the danger and seek professional medical help as soon as they recognize the negative side effects of alcohol use.
If your teenager struggles with alcohol use, contact Next Generation Village to speak with a representative who can help your teen get the treatment they need to live a healthier life.