Alcohol use disorder — often referred to as alcoholism — is a difficult thing for all involved. Defined by a person’s inability to control the amount of alcohol1 they drink, their preoccupation with alcohol, their continued consumption of alcohol in spite of the many problems drinking causes in their life and their need to drink more and more to get the same effects as others, alcoholism sets itself apart from other substances because of its troublesome side effects and its hard withdrawal symptoms.

One such withdrawal symptom is what’s known as the kindling effect2 Hard for a medical professional to diagnose and even harder for someone with an alcohol use disorder to cope with, the kindling effect remains one of the most pertinent issues in a detoxing person’s journey to recovery and a primary reason why alcohol withdrawal should be done under the supervision of an experienced medical professional.

The kindling effect is the term given to the phenomenon detoxing people experience after repeated attempts to detox from alcohol or other sedative-hypnotic substances. The kindling effect is defined by an oversensitivity to the symptoms of alcohol withdrawal3 and is described as a post-traumatic stress response that the body initiates as it remembers a person’s past attempts at detoxing.

In order to better understand the kindling effect, it’s important to first define what the short and long-term effects of alcoholism are, what the symptoms of alcohol withdrawal are and how these factors can lead to the kindling effect. Once this is understood, it’s easier to explain how to deal with the kindling effect.

Short-Term Effects of Alcoholism

Alcohol use disorder is defined by many trademark short and long-term effects, all of which can prove to be quite hard not only on the person drinking but also on the people in their lives. In the moments following an extreme amount of alcohol consumed, alcoholism brings a set of short-term symptoms including:

  • Impaired judgment and slurring of speech.
  • Blurred vision and distorted hearing.
  • Nausea, vomiting, upset stomach and diarrhea.
  • Decreased coordination and loss of perception.
  • Severe headaches.
  • Difficulty breathing.
  • Loss of consciousness.
  • Entering a comatose state.
  • Loss of red blood cells, also known as anemia.
  • Lapses in memory, also known as blackouts, where the drinker isn’t able to remember the events that occurred while they were intoxicated.

These short-term effects only bring on more trouble when the user is subjected to them repeatedly over the long term. For this reason, it’s important to be aware of them.

Long-Term Effects of Alcoholism

Through binge drinking and continued consumption of alcohol in large quantities, prolonged exposure to the side effects of alcohol use disorder can bring on a whole new set of troubles and even result in permanent health problems. The long-term effects of alcoholism are not to be taken lightly. These lasting symptoms can include:

  • Ulcers or gastritis from the inflammation of the stomach walls following the consumption of too much alcohol.
  • The development of amnesia, apathy or disorientation from a deficiency of vitamin B1.
  • Cancer — whether it be of the mouth, the throat, the stomach, the liver, or any other vital organ — following extended consumption of alcohol.
  • Malnutrition from prolonged lack of proper food and drink.
  • Lasting damage to the brain4
  • Problems with sexual performance.
  • Damage to the nerves following unhealthy amounts of drinking.
  • The development of liver disease because of consuming too much alcohol.
  • High blood pressure, bringing on the potential for a stroke or other heart-related illnesses or diseases.
  • The development of lasting family problems and permanently damaged relationships because of drunkenness.
  • Alcohol poisoning from the consumption of too much intoxicant.
  • Accidental injuries to the drinker and even innocent bystanders because of large falls, severe burns, deadly car crashes and possibly even drowning.
  • Deliberate injuries to one’s self or others because of firearm misuse, sexual assault or domestic violence.
  • The potential for on-the-job injuries or loss of productivity from drinking on the job or before heading into work.

Clearly, the effects of alcoholism — either short or long-term — should not be dismissed or ignored. Alcohol use disorder is a serious ailment with serious consequences both immediate and permanent. Also, the hardship doesn’t end when the drinking stops. There are also alcohol withdrawal5 symptoms to consider.

Alcohol Withdrawal Symptoms

Because alcohol has a depressive effect on the body,6 slowing down the brain’s ability to function and disrupting the messages the brain sends, the central nervous system eventually works to adapt to these high levels of alcohol consumed by those suffering from alcohol use disorder.

For this reason, if a sufferer of alcohol use disorder suddenly stops drinking, the brain and the central nervous system will still expect those high levels of alcohol — and this is when withdrawal symptoms begin to show. In fact, alcohol withdrawal symptoms have been known to appear as soon as six hours after ceasing consumption of alcohol.

These symptoms range anywhere from extremely mild to quite serious, depending on how much alcohol is typically consumed and how long the person has been dealing with alcoholism. They include:

  • Anxiety, shaking hands, sweating and insomnia.
  • Headache, nausea and vomiting.
  • Hallucinations, confusion and seizures.
  • Rapid heartbeat, high blood pressure, fever and profuse sweating.

Simply put, withdrawal can be a very traumatic experience for a person, both physically and mentally. It’s why alcohol withdrawal should be done under the supervision of an experienced medical professional, and it’s why the kindling effect is something that anyone with an alcohol use disorder hoping to detox should be aware of.

What Causes the Kindling Effect?

As defined above, the kindling effect is the term used to describe the body’s oversensitivity to the symptoms of alcohol withdrawal7 after repeated attempts at detoxing. The kindling effect can be viewed as a post-traumatic stress response of sorts that the body starts as it remembers a person’s past attempts at detoxing, which, in turn, only makes each attempt at detoxing harder than the last.

Scientifically, the kindling effect is caused by neurological synapses in the brain that react more violently to symptoms of withdrawal because they’ve experienced them several times before. The response — really an overreaction of sorts — is widely believed to come from probable brain damage caused by alcoholism and subsequent withdrawals.

Dealing With the Kindling Effect

Simply put, the best way to cope with the symptoms of the kindling effect is to detox at a treatment center. Even the mildest of cases of the kindling effect can be incredibly difficult for a person to deal with, and it’s important to be in the presence of medical professionals who know what they’re doing and what they’re dealing with.

Not to mention, if a detoxing person experiences seizures, panic attacks or a total loss of consciousness (all of which can be experienced because of the kindling effect), a person in a treatment center can receive the care and attention they need much faster than if they were attempting to detox from home. For this reason, the importance of proper care at a treatment center during detox cannot be overstated.

How Windward Way Recovery Can Help Treat Issues With Alcohol Withdrawal

For those who have tried to detox from alcohol before, the kindling effect can make things even more difficult than expected. Thankfully, there are professionals who know how to help in even the most extreme instances of alcohol withdrawal. If you or someone you know or love is going through alcohol withdrawal or wants to seek help with detoxing, consider turning to Windward Way Recovery.

Windward Way Recovery is proud to provide clinical assessments to anyone who wants one, free of charge. After completing the clinical assessment, Windward Way Recovery will provide the chance to speak to a specially trained admissions coordinator who can discuss the wide range of treatment options. After discussing treatment options, it’s up to the patient whether they’d like to enter Windward Way Recovery’s treatment center. There’s no pressure or obligation — the choice is always the patient’s and the patient’s alone from start to finish.

Ensuring a comprehensive, customizable addiction recovery treatment plan tailor-made to the patient’s needs is the top priority at Windward Way Recovery. This comprehensive plan is defined by evidence-based, holistic therapies in combination with small, intimate group settings to promote acceptance and privacy on the journey to recovery.

What’s more, Windward Way Recovery is proud to be a dual-diagnosis treatment center. This means that treatment for alcohol and drug addiction is placed hand-in-hand with addressing anxiety, depression, trauma, and any other underlying mental health issues that have been known to develop as a result of substance use disorders.

For additional information on treatment for alcohol withdrawal and the kindling effect, contact Windward Way Recovery to speak with a professional. Individuals can call anytime, day or night, and speak with someone who can help them find the treatment plan they need to detox. People can also speak with Windward Way Recovery over chat 24/7, reach out via email, or even conduct a 15-minute assessment over the phone — whatever is most convenient and most helpful for a person’s unique journey to recovery.

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