Mental Health Complications
People with AWS also undergo mental health complications while detoxing from alcohol. Anxiety disorders are especially common. Extreme fear and anxiety, along with heart palpitations; shallow, rapid breathing; sweating; and dizziness, manifest these disorders.
Alcohol has anti-anxiety properties that promote its use to self-medicate. However, prolonged alcohol use can increase anxiety levels. Marked signs of anxiety commonly appear between 12 and 48 hours after alcohol consumption ends. Hyperventilation may occur during acute withdrawal, leading to disturbed blood chemistry. This results in alcohol detox symptoms that may be indistinguishable from those that occur in anxiety disorders. Some researchers hypothesize that repeat alcohol withdrawal may predispose patients with AUD to certain anxiety disorders.
Patients who are intoxicated or undergoing alcohol detoxification often show depressive symptoms. As many as 15% of AUD patients are at risk for death by suicide. Plus, recent consumption of alcohol appears to increase the danger of a fatal outcome from self-harm. This may be attributed to the release of behavioral inhibition due to alcohol intoxication. It may also be due to the depression that accompanies the drop from peak intoxication. In addition to the depressive feeling, the social, psychological, and physical problems of alcoholism may cause the development of depressive disorders.
Other Mental Complications
Alcohol withdrawal exacerbates anxiety and depression. However, there are two other significant mental complications due to alcohol withdrawal: Sleep disturbances and hallucinations.
Sleep disturbances — including frequent waking, restless sleep, insomnia, and night terrors — are among the most common complaints of AUD patients. Sleep problems persist into withdrawal, with insomnia and sleep disturbances. In addition, an increase in incidents of interrupted breathing during sleep is more common among AUD patients than in the general population. These sleep disturbances can cause daytime drowsiness, reduce the efficiency of daytime tasks, and increase the risk of car crashes.
Patients with acute alcohol withdrawal symptoms or DTs also frequently experience visual, auditory, and tactile hallucinations. In the alcohol detox timeline, hallucinations without DTs occur in 3% to 10% of patients during severe withdrawal from 12 hours to seven days after drinking alcohol stops. In one study, 10% of 532 male patients in a Veterans Affairs Hospital for alcohol withdrawal developed hallucinations. Patients who hallucinate tend to be younger at the onset of their alcohol problems and consume more alcohol per drinking occasion. They also create more alcohol-related life problems and have higher rates of other drug use than patients who don’t hallucinate.