If you’ve ever drank more than the safe drinking limit (1 drink for a woman and 2 drinks for a man), then you’re probably familiar with the dreaded hangover. As a recovering alcoholic, I remember hangovers well and hope I never experience one again.
As a former nurse who worked in the addictions and mental health field, I want people to know more about what alcohol does to their bodies. Alcohol is a toxin that causes serious changes in the nervous system and puts pressure on all the organs to complete their functions.
But what I want people to understand is that a hangover is not just the haphazard fallout of drinking alcohol. It’s actually alcohol withdrawal. Whenever you drink past the safe limit, you set yourself up for alcohol withdrawal as soon as you stop drinking.
Alcohol withdrawal has many symptoms depending on how much alcohol was consumed and the person’s drinking history. The symptoms range from mild headache, nausea, and anxiety. More severe symptoms are vomiting, hallucinations, and seizures.
Most people are aware of these mild and severe symptoms. However, there are some common symptoms of alcohol withdrawal that people may not know about. I think it’s important to talk about this so people can make more informed decisions about their alcohol use.
A feeling of tingling in the hands and feet after drinking is a sign of nervous system damage. Alcohol is toxic to the nervous system and can cause damage even after one night of heavy drinking. Although these effects often subside and the damage reverses, repeated withdrawals may make it more difficult for the body to recuperate over time.
Once a person stops drinking, their nervous system becomes hyper-excitable, which affects how the brain functions. This hyper-excitability can cause changes in behavior, perceptions, and processing of information. These toxic changes in the brain can result in symptoms like nightmares.
Alcohol has long been known as a migraine trigger. Migraines are worse than regular headaches as they affect the nerves and blood vessels in the brain. Alcohol’s effect on the blood vessels and nerves of the brain often triggers a new migraine. Also, some people who have an allergy to red wine will get a migraine within minutes of drinking. Alcohol often causes the blood vessels in the brain to dilate, which can set off a new migraine attack. People who suffer from chronic migraines shouldn’t consume alcohol at all.
4. Anxiety and panic attacks
Anxiety and panic disorders affect about 284 million people worldwide. Because this is a relatively common condition, it can be challenging to figure out what triggered the anxiety or panic attack. Many other issues and conditions overlap, so many people wouldn’t think of alcohol as a significant trigger. However, the number one symptom that happens in virtually everyone that drinks past the safe limit is — anxiety. Again, this is due to alcohol’s detrimental effect on the nervous system. The anxiety of alcohol withdrawal is often accompanied by the following two symptoms: depersonalization and flushing/sweating.
Depersonalization is described as feeling “not real.” It’s as if the world is going on around you, but you don’t feel a part of it. This symptom is often accompanied by anxiety and can trigger a full-blown panic attack. Again, this is a result of alcohol’s toxic effect on the nervous system. This symptom can progress to more serious withdrawal symptoms depending on the amount of alcohol consumed and how long the person has engaged in heavy drinking.
6. Flushing and sweating
Flushing, which is often accompanied by sweating, is a feeling of heat rushing to the face. Afterward, the sweating is often described as a “cold sweat.” This is due to the effects of alcohol on the nervous system as well as the blood vessels. For some people, alcohol use can trigger big swings in blood pressure, often producing a cold sweat feeling. Many people experience this symptom along with anxiety, panic, and a sense of depersonalization.
7. Blurry vision
Blurry vision often happens due to alcohol-related nervous system changes in the area of the brain that deals with vision. Also, alcohol is very dehydrating, which can also exacerbate blurry vision.
Because alcohol is a toxin, the liver, kidneys, and digestive tract must work hard to process and remove the toxin. If alcohol was consumed in large amounts, it may be difficult for the organs to keep up. This is especially problematic if a person has other comorbid conditions that cause stress on the organs. These conditions are things like diabetes, cardiovascular issues, renal disease, autoimmune problems, etc. If the body struggles with processing the alcohol, there can be swelling in the face, hands, and feet.
9. Lack of concentration
Having difficulties with concentration is another mild and relatively common symptom of alcohol withdrawal. I draw attention to it because many people don’t realize that alcohol use may be the culprit. Difficulties with concentration can be due to many other issues with physical and mental health. However, many people who drink past the safe limits struggle with this symptom more than others.
All 9 of these symptoms can happen to anybody, especially if they drink past the safe limits (1 drink for a woman and 2 drinks for a man). It’s essential to know these symptoms as many people may be confused by them and mistake them for a different condition. Although most people know about hangovers and serious withdrawal, most don’t recognize the relatively common symptoms that can happen to anyone.
The more we learn about how alcohol affects our body and mind, the more we can make better decisions around alcohol use.