Can you experience alcohol withdrawal from participating in a dry January?

Austin (KXAN) – The holiday season has officially ended. In order to start 2023 a little healthier, many people agree to a dry January, meaning they commit not to drink alcohol in the first month of the year. But for people who have been drinking consistently over the past few weeks, is there any concern about alcohol withdrawal?

What is alcohol withdrawal?

Alcohol withdrawal occurs when a heavy drinker drastically reduces or completely abstains from alcohol consumption.

“Over time, the brain compensates for the depressing effects of alcohol by operating in a kind of hyperactive state. So when someone stops drinking, the brain is suddenly left in a state that causes alcohol withdrawal symptoms,” says Chelsea Cohen, a behavioral therapist at Ascension Medical Center.

These symptoms can vary depending on the severity of the alcohol addiction, Cohen says.

“Mild symptoms of alcohol withdrawal are things like tremors or anxiety, insomnia, heart palpitations and headaches. This usually happens 6 to 12 hours after the person has had their last drink,” she said.

Moderate and severe symptoms are more worrying. The results of this level of withdrawal can lead to seizures or a medical condition called delirium tremens, which can cause confusion, high blood pressure, and hallucinations and can be fatal.

Who is at risk of developing withdrawal syndrome?

The higher the amount and the longer someone drinks, Cohen said, it can affect whether a person will have withdrawal symptoms and the severity of symptoms.

“For women, that would be more than three standard drinks a day or seven drinks a week,” she said. “For men, more than four servings a day or 14 servings a week,” she continued.

Certain health conditions also increase your chances of withdrawal, such as an eating disorder or seizures, heart or liver disease, or old age.

Is a “dry January” worrying after a few weeks of drinking?

“The practice of abstaining from alcohol during the first month of the year has gained popularity in recent years as a way to reset your relationship with alcohol after the holidays,” Cohen said.

“Most people who abstain from alcohol for a month do not experience any alcohol withdrawal symptoms,” she continued.

But people who drink regularly — those who have developed tolerance to the substance and physiological dependence — may be at risk for alcohol withdrawal symptoms.

“Many people don’t realize that alcohol withdrawal can be medically dangerous,” Cohen said.

Quitting alcohol can vary depending on a variety of factors. Because of this, Cohen advised people to be open with their doctors about how much they drink and whether they plan to quit.

“Your doctor may recommend a short-term, controlled detox or medication before you stop drinking to manage your symptoms,” Cohen said.

“People can always call Ascension Seton Behavioral Health Care and speak with one of our qualified behavioral health navigators who can help connect you to resources that can support a safe and effective dry January,” Cohen said.

Is dry January a good idea?

If people ensure that it’s safe for them to take a break from drinking, Cohen said, it could be a good opportunity for people to take a step back from drinking and observe the intensity of their urge and the potential benefits of sobriety.

“The environment is kind of set up to support you in that more of your friends and family members are also likely to abstain,” Cohen added.

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