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Alcohol Withdrawal Syndrome (AWS)

Alcohol withdrawal syndrome (AWS) refers to a combination of symptoms that arise when an alcoholic addict suddenly cease or reduce the intake of alcohol. The syndrome is a combination of both emotional and physical symptoms including mild anxiety, fatigue and nausea. Some alcohol withdrawal syndromes can be dangerous because they can be severe, resulting in seizures and hallucinations.

 Signs and Symptoms of AWS

Most of the signs and symptoms of AWS are noted from six hours going forward after the last intake of alcohol. The following are some symptoms:

  • Anxiety
  • Headache
  • Tremors
  • Sweating
  • Vomiting
  • Increased heart rate
  • Irritability
  • Nausea
  • High blood pressure
  • Insomnia
  • Confusion
  • Nightmares

These symptoms can worsen after 2-3 days. Also, some milder signs and symptoms can persist for several weeks. They are most likely to be noted when alcohol reduces in the blood. However, some people may experience severe withdrawal syndrome called delirium tremens (DT). The following are the symptoms of delirium tremens:

  • Seizures
  • Extreme confusion
  • Fever
  • Extreme agitation

Tactile hallucinations which include a sense of burning, itching, or numbness. It is worth noting that these feelings do not occur in reality.

  • Auditory hallucinations. This is hearing sounds which do not exist.
  • Visual hallucinations, i.e. seeing imageries that do not really exist

If you experience the above signs and symptoms, you should seek medical help immediately. High fevers, heart disturbances and hallucinations can be quite dangerous if left untreated.

 Causes of AWS

Excessive intake of alcohol harms your nervous system. Drinking alcohol daily makes the body to depend on alcohol all the time. When you abruptly stop taking alcohol, your body cannot adapt easily to the change in the blood that is caused by lack of alcohol. As a result, you are likely to develop alcohol withdrawal syndrome.

 Who is at Risk for AWS?

People who are addicted to alcohol and people who drink heavily daily are at risk of developing AWS.

AWS is more likely to occur in adults but, teenagers and children who drink heavily can also experience the withdrawal symptoms.

People who may have suffered from withdrawal syndrome and didn’t receive medical detoxification.

The CDC offers a clear description of excessive drinking: A woman may be considered as a heavy drinker if she takes alcohol more than 8 times in a week. On the other hand, a man is considered as a heavy drinker if he takes alcohol more than 15 times in a week.

One drink is equivalent to the following:

  • 8 ounces of malt liquor
  • 12 ounces of beer
  • 5 ounces of distilled liquor or spirits including vodka, rum gin, and whiskey
  • 5 ounces of wine

Binge drinking is one of the common practices of excess drinking. Women are considered to have binge drink if they take more than four drinks in a single sitting. For men, binge drinking is when they take more than five alcoholic drinks in a single sitting.

 How to Diagnose AWS?

Your doctor will assess your past medical history and examine you physically. During this time, the doctor will ask you in-depth questions to find out if you have the signs such as dehydration, fever, irregular heart rate or hand tremors.

The doctor may also find it necessary to conduct a toxicology screen. This test helps in revealing the quantity of alcohol in your blood.

The CIWA provides a series of questions that can be used to quantity AWS. You may find your doctor using this test to diagnose your AWS. This test can also indicate how the severity of AWS symptoms. The scale helps in measuring the following:

  • Headache
  • Agitation
  • Auditory disturbances
  • Anxiety
  • Sensorium clouding
  • Vomiting and nausea
  • Tactile disturbances
  • Paroxysmal sweats, uncontrollable or sudden sweating
  • Visual disturbances
  • Tremor

You may find your doctor asking you questions such as:

  • When is today?
  • Who am I?
  • How are you feeling in your stomach?
  • Are there bugs crawling in your body?


Treatment of AWS is based on the severeness of one’s symptoms. Individuals with mild symptoms can receive treatment at home. However, those with an extremely bad condition need to be treated in a health facility where they can receive specialized care. Besides, this will help to avoid seizures or other potentially dangerous complications.

One of the preliminary goals of treatment is to keep a patient comfortable by controlling their symptoms. Another vital goal of treatment is alcohol counselling. Every doctor desires to have a patient stop taking alcohol as safely and as fast as possible.

 Alcohol withdrawal treatment at home

People with minor symptoms of AWS can receive effective treatment at home. A relative or a trustworthy person should stay with the patient to monitor him or her. This importance of monitoring is that a patient is observed every minute. If any symptom worsens, the patient can be rushed to the hospital immediately. Besides, a person who is tasked with monitoring should ensure that the patient visits the doctor often for routine checks. In addition, the patient should be reminded not to miss any counselling appointments.

In cases where the home setting does not promote soberness, the doctor should be consulted to offer professional guidance on the same.


Hospitalization becomes necessary when AWS symptoms are severe. This helps the physician to closely monitor a patient’s condition and address complications that may arise.


  • Alcohol withdrawal syndrome is mainly treated using a type of sedatives known as benzodiazepines.
  • The benzodiazepines that are commonly prescribed are:
  • Diazepam (Valium)
  • Alprazolam (Xanax)
  • Clonazepam (Klonopin)
  • Lorazepam (Ativan)

Besides, vitamin supplements are prescribed to individuals recovering from alcohol addiction to replace vitamins get diminished through alcohol use. Sometimes, additional supplements and medication may be prescribed even after the withdrawal is made. These are meant to address nutritional deficiencies and complications resulting from alcohol abuse.

 Can alcohol withdrawals kill you

Most of the AWS patients recover once they get treated. If you decide to put a stop to drinking, seek treatment and become healthy, you will finally enjoy a good outlook. However, fatigue, irritability and sleep disturbances may go on for some months but will eventually come to an end.

It is dangerous and fatal in cases where symptoms have progressed to a state known as delirium tremens. Therefore, if you start having severe symptoms, it is recommendable to seek medical help urgently. It is also advisable to start treatment once you are identified to have AWS to avoid complications that may arise as a result of this syndrome.

 Prevention Measures

The only way to avoid experiencing alcohol withdrawal syndrome is by avoiding drinking too much alcohol regularly. If you are already addicted to alcohol, seek medical help, and you will be counselled and guided on how to adapt a healthy lifestyle. The objective of preventing AWS is for you to live a healthy life.

 Wrap Up

If you are experiencing the symptoms mentioned above, you need to seek medical help as soon as possible to prevent the worsening of your situation. Individuals who complete withdrawal are highly discouraged from getting into drinking again. Most alcohol treatment programs help people to live without taking alcohol successfully. Stopping drinking completely is a great step towards effective long-term treatment of AWS.