is alcohol withdrawal syndrome (AWS)?
Alcohol withdrawal syndrome (AWS) is the name for the symptoms
that occur when a heavy drinker suddenly stops or significantly reduces their
alcohol intake. With AWS, you may experience a combination of physical and
emotional symptoms, from mild anxiety and fatigue to nausea. Some symptoms of
AWS are as severe as hallucinations and seizures. At its most extreme, AWS can
are the symptoms of alcohol withdrawal syndrome?
The signs and symptoms of AWS may appear anywhere from six hours
to a few days after your last drink. These usually include at least two of the
- an increased heart rate
- high blood pressure
The symptoms may worsen over two to three days and persist for
weeks. They may be more noticeable when you wake up with less alcohol in your
The most severe type of withdrawal syndrome is known as delirium
tremens (DT). Its signs and symptoms include:
- extreme confusion
- extreme agitation
- a fever
- tactile hallucinations, such as having a sense
of itching, burning, or numbness that isn’t actually occurring
- auditory hallucinations, or hearing sounds that
- visual hallucinations, or seeing images that
If you have severe AWS symptoms, it’s a medical emergency. Call
for help or go to the emergency room. A high fever, hallucinations, and heart
disturbances are all reasons to seek immediate help.
causes alcohol withdrawal syndrome?
Excessive drinking excites and irritates the nervous system. If
you drink daily, your body becomes dependent on alcohol over time. When this
happens, your central nervous system can no longer adapt easily to the lack of
alcohol. If you suddenly stop drinking or significantly reduce the amount of
alcohol you drink, it can cause AWS.
is at risk for alcohol withdrawal syndrome?
People who are addicted to alcohol or who drink heavily on a
regular basis and cannot gradually cut down are at high risk for AWS. AWS is
more common in adults, but children and teenagers who drink excessively may
also experience the symptoms. You’re also at risk for AWS if you’ve previously
had withdrawal symptoms or needed medical detox for a drinking problem.
The Centers for Disease Control and
Prevention define heavy drinking as more than eight drinks per week for
women and more than 15 drinks per week for men. The following are the equivalent
of one drink:
- 1.5 ounces of distilled spirits or liquor,
including gin, rum, vodka, and whiskey
- 5 ounces of wine
- 8 ounces of malt liquor
- 12 ounces of beer
Binge drinking is the most common form of heavy drinking. For
women, it is defined as four or more drinks in one sitting. For men, it is
defined as five or more drinks in one sitting.
is alcohol withdrawal syndrome diagnosed?
Your doctor will review your medical history, ask about your
symptoms, and conduct a physical exam. Some signs your doctor will look for
- hand tremors
- an irregular heart rate
- a fever
Your doctor may also perform a toxicology screen. This tests how
much alcohol is in your body.
The Clinical Institute withdrawal assessment of alcohol
is a series of questions used to measure AWS. Your doctor may use this test to
diagnose AWS. It can also be used to determine the severity of your symptoms.
The scale measures the following 10 symptoms:
- auditory disturbances
- clouding of sensorium, or the inability to think
- paroxysmal sweats, or sudden, uncontrollable sweating
- tactile disturbances
- visual disturbances
Questions your doctor may ask include:
- Who am I?
- What day is this?
- Does it feel like there is a band around your
- Do you feel sick to your stomach?
- Do you feel bugs crawling under your skin?
is alcohol withdrawal syndrome treated?
Treatment for AWS depends on how severe your symptoms are. Some
people can be treated at home, but others may need supervised care in a
hospital setting to avoid potentially dangerous complications such as seizures.
The first goal of treatment is to keep you comfortable by
managing your symptoms. Alcohol counseling is another important treatment goal.
Your doctor will want you to stop drinking as quickly and safely as possible.
Mild symptoms of AWS can often be treated at home. A relative or
friend must stay with you to monitor your condition. Their job is to make sure that
if you develop any worsening of symptoms, they get you to a hospital or call
911 immediately. They should also help you to get to your counseling appointments
and visit the doctor regularly for any routine blood tests that may be ordered.
You may also need tests for alcohol-related medical problems.
If your home environment isn’t helpful for staying sober, talk
to your doctor. Your doctor may be able to connect you with shelter programs
for people recovering from alcohol addiction.
If your symptoms are more severe, you may need to stay in the
hospital. This is so your doctor can monitor your condition and manage any
complications. You may need to get fluids through your veins to prevent
dehydration and medications to help ease your symptoms.
Symptoms of AWS are often treated with sedatives called
benzodiazepines. Commonly prescribed benzodiazepines include:
In addition, vitamin supplements may be given to replace
essential vitamins that are depleted by alcohol use. Once withdrawal is
complete, additional medications and supplements may be needed to address
complications and nutritional deficiencies that occur as a result of chronic
for alcohol withdrawal syndrome
Most people with AWS fully recover. If you stop drinking, get
treatment, and are otherwise healthy, the outlook is usually good. However,
sleep disturbances, irritability, and fatigue may continue for months.
If AWS has advanced to delirium tremens, it can be fatal. If you
begin experiencing severe symptoms of AWS, it’s important to seek immediate
medical attention. The sooner you begin treatment, the better your chances are
of avoiding life-threatening complications.
alcohol withdrawal syndrome
best way to prevent AWS is to avoid regular heavy drinking. If you’re already
dependent on alcohol, seek counseling and medical care. The goal is to safely
and gradually decrease your dependence on alcohol so that you can resume a