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Old 05-10-2012, 03:25 AM   #1
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Alcoholism/Withdrawal

Hi,
My mc started drinking regularly (enough to stay drunk about 50-75% of the time) three weeks ago. Now, due to a discovery she has made about people plotting against her who have also been enabling her to drink, she is highly motivated to quit. Prior to the 3 weeks, she wasn't much of a drinker. A series of traumatic events occurred which propelled her into it. Anyway, my question is, what sorts of withdrawal symptoms would she experience? How severe? Does the fact that she hasn't been drinking for longer than 3 weeks make a difference?

Thanks in advance for your input, I greatly appreciate it!

ETA: How long would the worst of the withdrawal last? Are there phases? I imagine that at first she would be able to go without a drink for a while before the symptoms would hit her. Is that accurate?
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Old 05-10-2012, 07:13 AM   #2
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Three weeks seems a rather short period of time to go from light drinker (or teetotaler) to being inebriated most of the time. Can the timeframe of the story be stretched at all?
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Old 05-10-2012, 07:19 AM   #3
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Three weeks could be the start of a long-term problem (when someone finds that they can self-medicate their problem away, at least temporarily), but I think it's too short for how you intend to use it.

Instead of withdrawal, you might think in terms of just getting sobered up completely, which will take a few days if she's been drinking heavily.
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Old 05-10-2012, 07:24 AM   #4
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Three weeks seems a rather short period of time to go from light drinker (or teetotaler) to being inebriated most of the time. Can the timeframe of the story be stretched at all?
Hi BigWords, thanks for the response. To answer your question, no. It's already a long time considering she's got reason to be doing other things. I won't get into it here because it would take explaining my whole plot, but basically she shuts down and uses alcohol to escape her pain. These people she's involved with need her to be numb and easily manipulated, so they make the alcohol readily available and encourage her to drink. I can really only sustain her denial and avoidance for so long, though.
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Old 05-10-2012, 07:32 AM   #5
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Someone doesn't become an alcoholic in three weeks, although it could indicate that they have a tendency for it.

Of course, someone could still get a form of delirium tremens (alcohol poisoning, the "DTs") in that time (but it wouldn't be DT in the classic sense). Getting over it it still more along the lines of sobering up rather than going through a withdrawal phase. In three weeks the body hasn't come to "need" alcohol.
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Old 05-10-2012, 07:36 AM   #6
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In that case, it would probably be alcopops or something (you can't hit the spirits straight off the bat without throwing up at a certain point), so the level of alcohol in her system would creep up rather than her getting really drunk and staying that way. And after three weeks? You're looking at the headache to end all headaches. If she hasn't been eating regularly, she'll probably have horrendous stomach pain as well. Coordination will be shot for a few days, maybe longer.
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Old 05-10-2012, 07:52 AM   #7
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As said earlier, physical dependency after 3 weeks is unlikely. A case might be made for the start of mental dependency, but 3 weeks is still pretty short.

Also--alcohol withdrawal can be lethal. One slang word I've seen used for it is "the shakes." Your central nervous system is so used to being depressed by the alcohol that it compensates by making more neurotransmitter, so when you're sober your nerves are ultra-sensitive. Hence, shaking.

That can lead to heart failure. Mind you, I've only seen it in someone who was an alcoholic over a period of two decades.
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Old 05-10-2012, 07:55 AM   #8
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Off topic . . .

Yeah, seizures can occur with someone who has been drinking for years and then suddenly quits.

I have seen it happen. When it does it's time to call 911.
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Old 05-10-2012, 08:10 AM   #9
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Thanks everyone. Let me see if I have this right.
My character would not be alcoholic in the physical sense, therefore the extent of her "withdrawal" would be a splitting headache and stomach ache (yes, she hasn't been eating much) and clumsiness. This is okay--I wouldn't have minded the withdrawal creating more obstacles, but I also need her to be fairly high functioning. Can you tell me what the timeline is? When would the headache hit? The stomach ache? The lack of coordination? How long would each last?

Thanks again.
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Old 05-10-2012, 08:19 AM   #10
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If I understand your question . . .

If someone has been drinking heavily for three weeks, then suddenly quits it would probably take about three days to get back to normal. It would help if she drank lots of juice and ate right during this period. She will probably also sleep a lot the first day or two.

I'm not sure if I would use stomach aches as part of the story. Basically she's going to feel like crap during this period and not feel like doing much (which is why a lot of people miss work come Monday morning after a wild weekend).
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Old 05-10-2012, 08:22 AM   #11
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Look up really bad hangovers. I can't even describe them. Maybe flu-like?

Apparently, drinking more alcohol is what can stop that feeling, but I've never done that. That's probably more like what your character has been doing -- avoiding all the hangovers, so it would be her first really hideous hangover.

Puking would be rather normal, even if she feels sober or nearly so. Smells are awful due to the nausea. It's hard to eat anything. The body is dehydrated, so she may be thirsty. And just a big honking headache Not a fun way to start the morning
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Old 05-10-2012, 08:32 AM   #12
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Apparently, drinking more alcohol is what can stop that feeling, but I've never done that. That's probably more like what your character has been doing -- avoiding all the hangovers, so it would be her first really hideous hangover.
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Old 05-10-2012, 02:34 PM   #13
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Mild withdrawal symptoms, such as anxiety, depression, restlessness, shakiness, insomnia, nightmares, anorexia, nausea, vomiting, alcohol craving, sensitivity to sound and light, headache, dizziness, fatigue, usually develop within 6-12 hours after the last drink and might last (considering only three weeks of drinking) for 2 days, not likely more (mild constipation or diarrhea could last for few more days due to a diet change). There would not likely be any "lack of coordination," which is a symptom of drunkeness, not withdrawal. Mild withdrawal symptoms resemble hangover in several ways.

She would start to experience withdrawal symptoms when her blood alcohol concentration would fall toward zero (alcohol is eliminated from the blood at the rate about 1 drink/hour). At that point she might be in a temptation to drink something to prevent symptoms.

You can speak about phases only in severe withdrawal syndrome. Severe withdrawal symptoms, such as hallucinations, seizures, severely increased body temperature, "wild agitation," (delirium tremens) are not likely to occur after only three weeks of drinking.

Withdrawal symptoms are much more likely after regular than binge drinking; stopping drinking after even years of heavy binge ("weekend") drinking does not necessary result in withdrawal syndrome. If she had sober periods during those three weeks, she would not likely experience any withdrawal symptoms worth to mention. If you want she has withdrawal symptoms, she should be drunk pretty much constantly (always some alcohol in the blood).

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Old 05-10-2012, 05:53 PM   #14
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I agree with Alleycat. Your character probably would have no symptoms more serious than a headache. A few good meals and nights' sleep would take care off it.

It takes years to develop a dependency on alcoholism, except for the people who have some problem with neuro-transmitters that makes them more likely to develop such a dependence. Most people who have been drinking daily for a few years can stop at any time and have no problems. If you want you character to have major withdrawal from alcohol, then you will have to invent a metabolic condition.

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Old 05-10-2012, 06:02 PM   #15
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Knowing an alcoholic it takes a lot longer than 3 weeks to become an addict, and if you're a long term addict, you can't quit just like that because it can kill you my friend had to see her doctor and get meds to replace the alcohol I think to help her gradually but even then it can kill you because its such a shock to your body (think Amy Winehouse). I'd find it a bit unbelievable that she was an addict after 3 weeks and that stopping involved anything more than a headache and maybe a 3 day hangover as others have suggested.
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Old 05-10-2012, 06:57 PM   #16
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You do not need to be an alcoholic addict to have withdrawal symptoms after stopping drinking. According to emedicine.com:

Quote:
Patients [with withdrawal syndrome] have typically abused alcohol on a daily basis for at least 3 months, or they have consumed large quantities for at least 1 week.
I agree the drinking pattern as described in the OP, would not result in anything resembling withdrawal syndrome, though.

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Old 05-10-2012, 09:21 PM   #17
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Thanks, everyone! And Boron, thanks especially for the time frames you list. This is exacty what I needed to know--I just want to realistically describe how she would feel and at the right time, so I'm not ignoring the fact that she's been drinking and has now quit. Had it been possible to create a larger struggle with severe symptoms it might have been interesting and provided more obstacles, but it's really not essential to the plot. I'll go with the headache and some of the other mild symptoms described. Thanks again all.
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Old 05-15-2012, 08:58 AM   #18
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The worst of withdrawal symptoms are usually present around 48 hourse later. I can tell you mostly how they are treated in a hospital setting. They would be put on what we call CIWA precautions (Clinical Institute Withdrawal Assessment), which have a list of different symptoms and there severity that is based on a point system, with the worst counting the most. Once their score reaches a certain point, we may give them Ativan, Clonidine, or Librium just to name a few to help relieve the symptoms. Usually their blood pressure will start to rise (ex. 168/99), their stomach may be swollen (from ascites, but 3 weeks of drinking would not cause this, this would be a chronic drinker), if they're not eating then we would hang a Banana bag (the fluids are yellow, hence the name) that is made up of about a million different things to help replenish their body. Hope some of this helps.
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Old 05-15-2012, 01:58 PM   #19
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The worst of withdrawal symptoms are usually present around 48 hourse later.
It's true that severe withdrawal symptoms, such as seizures or delirium, would occur with some delay after mild symptoms - in a severe alcoholic after long-term drinking.
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