Alcohol Withdrawal

WHAT YOU SHOULD KNOW:

Alcohol Withdrawal (Inpatient Care) Care Guide

Alcohol withdrawal is a physical or mental sickness that happens when you drink alcohol daily and suddenly stop drinking. It can begin within 10 hours of your last drink and gets worse over 2 to 3 days. Withdrawal may also happen if you suddenly reduce the amount of alcohol that you normally drink.

CARE AGREEMENT:

You have the right to help plan your care. Learn about your health condition and how it may be treated. Discuss treatment options with your caregivers to decide what care you want to receive. You always have the right to refuse treatment.

RISKS:

You may act out violently when you go through alcohol withdrawal. You may harm yourself and others. You can have high fevers, abnormal heartbeats, and hallucinations. Severe alcohol withdrawal can be life-threatening.

WHILE YOU ARE HERE:

Informed consent

is a legal document that explains the tests, treatments, or procedures that you may need. Informed consent means you understand what will be done and can make decisions about what you want. You give your permission when you sign the consent form. You can have someone sign this form for you if you are not able to sign it. You have the right to understand your medical care in words you know. Before you sign the consent form, understand the risks and benefits of what will be done. Make sure all your questions are answered.

Psychiatric assessment:

Caregivers will ask if you have a history of psychological trauma, such as physical, sexual, or mental abuse. They will ask if you were given the care that you needed. Caregivers will ask you if you have been a victim of a crime or natural disaster, or if you have a serious injury or disease. They will ask you if you have seen other people being harmed, such as in combat. You will be asked if you drink alcohol or use drugs at present or in the past. Caregivers will ask you if you want to hurt or kill yourself or others. How you answer these questions can help caregivers decide on treatment. To help during treatment, caregivers will ask you about such things as how you feel about it and your hobbies and goals. Caregivers will also ask you about the people in your life who support you.

An IV

is a small tube placed in your vein that is used to give you medicine or liquids.

Medicines:

  • Sedative: This medicine is given to help you stay calm and relaxed.

  • Anticonvulsant medicine: This medicine is given to control seizures. Take this medicine exactly as directed.

  • Antinausea medicine: This medicine may be given to calm your stomach and prevent vomiting.

  • Glucose: This medicine may be given to increase the amount of sugar in your blood.

  • Vitamin supplements: You may need to take supplements because alcohol kept your body from absorbing enough vitamins from food. Vitamins can also help prevent alcohol-related brain damage.

Monitoring:

  • Vital signs: Caregivers will check your blood pressure, heart rate, breathing rate, and temperature. They will also ask about your pain. These vital signs give caregivers information about your current health.

  • Pulse oximeter: A pulse oximeter is a device that measures the amount of oxygen in your blood. A cord with a clip or sticky strip is placed on your finger, ear, or toe. The other end of the cord is hooked to a machine. Never turn the pulse oximeter or alarm off. An alarm will sound if your oxygen level is low or cannot be read.

  • Intake and Output: Caregivers will keep track of the amount of liquid you are getting. They may also need to know how much you are urinating. Ask your caregiver how much liquid you should have each day. You may need to increase or decrease the amount of liquid you usually have every day. Ask caregivers if they need to measure or collect your urine before you dispose of it.

  • Neurologic exam: This is also called neuro signs, neuro checks, or neuro status. A neurologic exam can show caregivers how well your brain works during alcohol withdrawal. Caregivers will check how your pupils react to light. They may check your memory, balance, and hand grasp.

  • ECG: This is also called an EKG. An ECG is done to check for damage or problems in your heart. A short period of electrical activity in your heart is recorded.

Tests:

  • Blood tests: You may need blood taken to test for the amount of alcohol in your body. The tests can also show if you have low levels of vitamins and electrolytes, or organ damage. The liver and pancreas are commonly damaged by alcohol.

  • Urine sample: A sample of your urine is tested for alcohol.

  • Chest x-ray: Caregivers use these pictures of your lungs and heart to look for signs of infection, such as pneumonia.

  • CT scan: This test is also called a CAT scan. An x-ray and computer are used to take pictures of your skull and brain. You may be given dye, also called contrast, before the test. Tell the caregiver if you are allergic to dye, iodine, or seafood.

Treatment:

  • Breathing support:

    • Oxygen: You may need extra oxygen if your blood oxygen level is lower than it should be. You may get oxygen through a mask placed over your nose and mouth or through small tubes placed in your nostrils. Ask your caregiver before you take off the mask or oxygen tubing.

    • Ventilator: This machine breathes for you. A tube is put into your airway through your mouth or nose, or through a small incision in your throat. The machine gives you oxygen through the tube.

© 2013 Truven Health Analytics Inc. Information is for End User's use only and may not be sold, redistributed or otherwise used for commercial purposes. All illustrations and images included in CareNotes® are the copyrighted property of A.D.A.M., Inc. or Truven Health Analytics.

The above information is an educational aid only. It is not intended as medical advice for individual conditions or treatments. Talk to your doctor, nurse or pharmacist before following any medical regimen to see if it is safe and effective for you.

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