What Are the Effects of Stopping Drinking?

The effects of stopping drinking, especially cold turkey and on your own, may be deadly

Alcohol abuse is an example of how something that is legal can have extremely harmful effects when a person abuses it. Alcohol is not only addictive, it can create changes in the brain and body that cause dependence on alcohol. When a person stops drinking, they will experience withdrawals. While the effects of stopping drinking can be very harmful, they are little compared to the short- and long-term dangers of chronic alcohol abuse. However, because alcohol withdrawal symptoms can have severe consequences, it is important that a person seek professional medical treatment to prevent the likelihood they will experience potentially life-threatening effects.

When a person drinks alcohol on a daily basis, the body naturally suppresses the action of the neurotransmitter glutamate. This is the body's primary "excitable" neurotransmitter that creates feelings of alertness, but also of anxiety. Over time, the amount of glutamate in the body increases beyond that of a normal person's because the body is trying to compensate for the suppressed glutamate. When a person who drinks every day stops drinking, the glutamate system is no longer suppressed and a person has much more than the body can handle. As a result, they will experience withdrawal symptoms that are usually the opposite of the effects that alcohol has on most people.

What Happens When You Stop Drinking Alcohol Cold Turkey?

Those who have been heavy drinkers for many years will experience alcohol withdrawal symptoms. These symptoms can range in terms of severity. The effects of stopping drinking can include:

  • Shaking
  • Anxiety
  • Fatigue or difficulty sleeping
  • Difficulty thinking clearly
  • Sweating
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Tremors
  • Fever

However, it is also possible that a person could experience a more severe form of alcohol withdrawal symptoms called the delirium tremens or DTs. This condition causes severe symptoms, such as:

  • Seizures
  • Rapid heart rate
  • Hallucinations, which includes seeing, hearing, or smelling things that aren't there
  • Severe confusion

These symptoms will usually appear anywhere from 48 to 72 hours after a person has had their last drink. The symptoms can onset quickly and with little warning.

According to WebMD, an estimated 1 to 5 percent of people who go through DTs will die as a result of their symptoms. The potentially deadly nature of what happens when you stop drinking alcohol cold turkey is why it is so important that a person seek professional, medical rehabilitation when they suffer from a drinking problem. This is especially true if a person wishes to stop drinking and has undergone the DTs before or if they have a history of chronic health conditions.

Help for the Effects of Stopping Drinking

Because the possibility of experiencing the DTs is there for anyone who chronically abuses alcohol, a person should always seek professional medical treatment. For example, a medical rehabilitation program can administer medications like Xanax and Ativan, which reduces the likelihood that a person would have a seizure. Other medications can help control the shaking that can be difficult for a person to tolerate when they are undergoing alcohol withdrawals. While it's not always possible to prevent the DTs from occurring, medical treatment can reduce the risks that a person will go through DTs.


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