Alcohol withdrawal affects everyone differently. The withdrawal of alcohol depends on how long the drinking problem has occurred and how much alcohol has been consumed. The withdrawal symptoms can be anything from mild to severe. It can also differ between the sexes. When they are severe, the symptoms can be deadly.
Men and women process alcohol in the body differently. This is why alcohol withdrawal will differ as well. The effects of alcoholism has detrimental health effects on people regardless of what sex they are. Withdrawing from alcohol can be dangerous, even deadly. Those addicted to alcohol shouldn’t try to do it on their own. There are distinct differences on how men and women experience withdrawal from alcohol however. A study from Poland found that even though women drink less, they will often be in alcohol rehabilitation for longer.
The struggles and challenges of alcohol withdrawal do vary for men and women. Alcoholism treatment centers will manage the various factors for each sex. Within alcohol treatment, men and women will be treated differently for physical, physiological, social, and environmental factors.
Alcohol Withdrawal for Women and Men
The statistics of men and women and their struggles with drinking can help you to understand why alcohol withdrawal would differ. Women are less at risk of abusing booze but when they do, it has a far greater effect on them. Women aged 18-34 experience more drinking related problems than more mature women. Women that are 35-39 will experience a greater dependency of alcohol however.
Women will experience greater health risks than men when they have a drinking problem. Their physiology puts them at greater risk of death related health problems than men. This include injuries, suicide, circulatory disorders, and liver problems.
A study from Poland found that the onset of women abusing alcohol and the first alcohol withdrawal effort is shorter. Women are generally hospitalized longer than men with alcoholic withdrawal symptoms. It was found that through treatment of alcohol withdrawal, women were more likely to have co-occurring disorders which makes it more challenging to treat alcoholism.
Recent Effort In Studying Alcoholism in Women
It wasn’t until the 1980’s that research began on women experiencing alcoholism. Treatments were geared towards men alone. The same strategies did not work for women. So researchers looked to address how treatment should vary for women. The characteristics and social issues that women face would help offer a bridge to get women into treatment. While there is a greater understanding of gender differences when it comes to alcohol withdrawal, still to this day, women are less likely to get the help they need.
When women do seek out help, they are more likely to get help through mental health programs. While this is a start, it’s important to get specialized treatment programs for alcoholism. The good news is that when women do seek proper treatment, they are more successful than men. The alcohol withdrawal management being developed for 2019 should help to shed light on gender specific treatment.
A study from Warsaw was conducted from 1873 to 1987 to see how alcohol (including delirium tremens) affected men and women differently. This involved medical records of 1179 patients. Of the patients, 13.8% were women while 86.2% were men. Women in the study started drinking heavily later than men but alcohol abuse and the first time they withdrew from alcohol was shorter in women than men. Women spent more time in the hospital even though they consumed much less alcohol than men.
Seizures that occurred from alcohol withdrawal were more frequent than men. For women, they had decreased potassium concentration. Men experienced a condition where their blood became abnormally low with protein.
Alcohol Withdrawal Symptoms
For both men and women, when they have been drinking for a heavy, prolonged time, a physical dependence develops. When abstaining from booze, they will experience alcohol withdrawal symptoms. Each individual will experience it differently based on many variables. The symptoms come in stages. Within the alcohol withdrawal time, the American Family Physician Association says withdrawal will occur between 6-24 hours since the last drink.
Here are the alcohol withdrawal symptoms that men and women will experience:
- Inability to sleep.
- Tremors in the hands.
- Delirium tremens or seizures.
- Extreme anxiety.
- Cravings for alcohol.
Due to the physical symptoms, the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders state a person will experience distress. Women and men have different lifestyles so the withdrawal symptoms will affect them differently. While men are more affected by job and financial changes, women will find their family life being put in jeopardy to be extremely stressful. Alcohol withdrawal should never be done without professional help. This includes the detox process but it should also include the full rehabilitation of holistic therapy also.
Can You Die from Alcohol Withdrawal?
The answer is yes. It is possible to die from alcohol withdrawal. Alcohol withdrawal syndrome varies in its intensity. There are three stages of severity based on how dependent a man or woman is on ethanol.
Stage 1 – Mild
- Anxiety or depression.
- Inability to sleep.
- Pain in the stomach.
- Unclear thinking.
- Heart palpitations.
- An increase in blood pressure.
- Increase in body temperature and breathing.
- Heartbeat can become irregular.
- Delirium or inability to think properly.
- Excessive sweating.
- Heightened mood swings.
- Delirium tremens.
- High fever.
- Severe confusion.
- High levels of agitation.
Alcohol Withdrawal Timeline
Men will often be able to get past the detox phase faster than women will. This is due to how the alcohol metabolizes in the system. The worst day of alcohol withdrawal seems to be the first day. Here is the general timeline in stages:
Stage 1-Usually begins about 8 hours after the last drink.
- An onset of abdominal pain.
Stage 2-Begins 24-72 hours after the last drink.
- An increase in blood pressure and body temperate.
- Heart rate can become erratic.
- Mental confusion.
Stage 3-72+ hours after the last drink.
- Potential seizures.
Physical symptoms will decrease between 5-7 days. Past the first week, there will by psychological symptoms. Before this time, there is a concern of delirium tremens, a potentially deadly symptom of alcohol withdrawal.
Why Men and Women Experience Withdrawal Symptoms
Withdrawal symptoms occur because of the way the brain responds to heavy drinking. The central nervous system contains the ‘fight or flight’ function. This is why we are able to respond to danger by running away from it or fighting it. Drinking alcohol causes the fight or flight response in the brain to become suppressed. This is what gives a person that relaxed feeling when drinking.
For people who drink casually, the alcohol leaves the brain as the body processes it. For those who drink often and excessively, when they try to stop drinking, the “fight or flight’ mode can kick in even when there’s no danger. Any of the alcohol withdrawal syndrome symptoms that occur are all a result of the brain going into ‘fight or flight’ mode. It is most likely going to happen to those who meet or exceed the heavy drinking definition.
The Danger of Delirium Tremens
Excessive drinking for long periods of time takes its toll on the nervous system. When men or women drink every day, the body builds a dependency. The nervous system will not be able to manage the lack of alcohol.
Delirium tremens, also known as the dts is a potentially deadly side effect of alcohol withdrawal. One of the main reasons it is so dangerous for both men and women to stop drinking on their own is the potential of delirium tremens. Often, detox will involve benzodiazepines to reduce the over-activity of the brain while it tries to normalize again. Alcohol detox will involve medications that treat uncomfortable and dangerous symptoms such as nausea, dehydration, seizures, and insomnia.
The issue with using benzodiazepines for detox is that it’s addictive. Some may choose to take the route of tapering off. To prevent delirium tremens, another option is to slowly taper off alcohol while being supervised within a clinic setting. Alcohol can slowly be weaned out of the system so the brain can slowly adapt to the changes of the person no longer drinking.
Heavy Drinking in Men and Women
Delirium tremens don’t occur in everyone who has abused alcohol. It happens to those who are heavy drinkers for a long period of time. This is usually someone who has drank heavily evert day for over a decade.
There are different definitions of heavy drinking for men and women. The Center for Disease Control and Prevention have created a guideline for men and women. Heavy drinking for women is considered more than eight drinks per week. For men, it’s 15 drinks per week. Binge drinking also has it’s definition. For women, it is four drinks or more in a sitting. For men, it is five or more drinks per sitting.
The Psychological Symptoms of Alcohol Withdrawal
Men and women cope with psychological symptoms differently. Drinking booze can start due to problems that the person isn’t willing to deal with. Stress is a factor and because alcohol suppresses the part of us that feels that stress, it is an easy solution for those not willing to face their life. For those who have mental disorders, they may be more prone to drink and it’s harder to manage the withdrawal. Alcohol abuse in women often occur because they have experienced past trauma. Men will often drink to ease the stress of their responsibilities and financial issues.
When one stops drinking, they will have psychological symptoms during withdrawal. They will also have to start managing their past pain. Women are more adapt to managing the feelings that arise once they stop drinking. Research has shown that men are more likely to commit suicide when being faced with the challenges of their own psyche.
When going through alcohol rehabilitation, it’s important for both men and women to receive psychological therapies. This would follow the initial detox phase, which men may get through faster than women. Seeking therapy allows the alcoholic to address the underlying issues that are related to their drinking. The rehabilitation for an alcoholic may take many months to process. Women are more likely to continue seeking out answers to the emotional issues they have.
Regardless of whether a man or woman is dealing with alcohol withdrawal, it is a challenging road for anyone to take. Getting past an alcohol addiction takes commitment and there are many factors to consider. This is why there are a variety of treatments for alcoholics. It may begin with intervention and acceptance on the alcoholic’s part. This then leads to a medically, supervised detox. As discussed, detox should never be attempted alone in case severe side effects occur. It would be hard to know what kind of effects each individual will have.
From there, an alcoholic would want to move on into long-term rehabilitation methods. There are treatment centers that help manage a woman’s needs which do differ from men. The many factors that caused problem drinking in the first place vary between the sexes. It’s important to receive optimal alcohol withdrawal treatment in order to be successful in the recovery process.