Alcohol is a depressant drug, which is legal in the United States. Obtaining alcohol is easy, and many people use it to relax from stress, socialize, and unwind. Although many people moderately use alcohol, some people develop a disease known as alcohol use disorder (AUD).
AUD in its more severe form involves alcohol dependency or addiction. Once alcohol dependency has developed, quitting alcohol can cause withdrawal symptoms that can be uncomfortable and sometimes even life-threatening. However, it is entirely possible to quit alcohol and beat your AUD with the right medical support and lifestyle interventions.
Drinking advocates for an unhealthy life, putting pressure on the body and the mind. Replacing time spent drinking with exercise helps create a healthy lifestyle that has substantial health benefits. Exercise during alcohol withdrawal will help to keep you feeling strong and motivated during recovery and addiction treatment.
What Is Alcohol Abuse?
Alcohol abuse is characterized by using alcohol in an unhealthy way. Heavy alcohol consumption can result in poor choices, risky behavior, and physical and mental health issues.
Even though many people use the terms ‘alcohol abuse’ and ‘alcohol addiction’ interchangeably, they are separate terms. The two terms are now placed under the umbrella term AUD, which can be mild, moderate, or severe, with the most powerful manifestation being alcohol dependence or addiction.
Alcohol dependency results from changes to the chemical balance in the brain as the body becomes reliant on alcohol. It’s important to remember that, although there are factors contributing to someone developing AUD, such as genes, behavior, environment, and mental health, there is no single cause.
Addiction is a disease and can happen to anybody. It is not a moral failing, and we should all work to eradicate the stigma, judgment, and shame surrounding substance abuse and addiction.
What Causes Alcohol Withdrawal Symptoms?
As a depressant drug, alcohol works by slowing down activity in the central nervous system, leading to relaxation, lower inhibitions, and being more sociable. Frequent and heavy alcohol consumption leads to damage to the production of gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA), a neurotransmitter that relaxes the brain.
Heavy alcohol consumption causes the body to rely on alcohol to produce healthy amounts of GABA, so stopping drinking results in lower neurotransmitter levels. Essentially, this is what causes alcohol withdrawal symptoms.
The type of withdrawal symptoms and severity of symptoms depend on various factors. Everybody has a unique family history, social setting, psychological health, and body chemistry. This means that everyone will experience withdrawal in a way that is personal to them.
Some factors that can affect withdrawal symptoms include:
- Family history and genetics
- The amount of alcohol consumed
- The frequency of alcohol consumption
- Physical and mental health
What Are Alcohol Withdrawal Symptoms?
Some people will only experience mild withdrawal symptoms, but others will experience them much more severely. Alcohol withdrawal can be so intense for some people that it is life-threatening. This is why it is vital to only detox with the support of licensed medical professionals.
Some common symptoms of alcohol withdrawal typically start between six and 12 hours after alcohol is last consumed. They can include the following:
If you suffer from a severe AUD, you may experience more intense symptoms, which can be frightening. The more dangerous symptoms of alcohol withdrawal include:
- Seizures. The risk of having a seizure is highest 24 to 48 hours after your last drink.
- Hallucinations. Hallucinations can be alarming and can cause a lot of anxiety. Hallucinations occur when the brain tricks you into seeing, smelling, feeling, hearing, or tasting things that aren’t really there. It’s most common for hallucinations to occur 12 to 24 hours after the last drink – they can last up to two days and sometimes longer.
- Delirium tremens. Also known as DTs, delirium tremens is a severe withdrawal symptom that can be life-threatening. It happens in around 3% to 5% of people experiencing alcohol withdrawal and can occur 48 to 72 hours after the final drink of alcohol. If you experience DTs, you must seek medical attention immediately. Symptoms can include vomiting, sweats, trembling, seizures, hallucinations, delusions, delirium, fast heart rate, aggression, agitation, confusion, nightmares, fever, and impaired consciousness.
Does Exercise Help Withdrawal Symptoms?
Exercise is one of the most valuable tools you can access when going through alcohol withdrawal. As well as being a positive life choice, it is also beneficial in keeping people on track in their long-term recovery.
Remember, you don’t need to jump into intense workouts straight away. Your body will be recovering, so a light exercise regime is sufficient – you can build up slowly from there. It is entirely safe to exercise during withdrawal for most people. However, people with physical health issues who have led a sedentary life for an extended period should seek professional medical advice before exercising.
It is important to remember to drink lots of fluids and stay hydrated during alcohol withdrawal, as many people experience dehydration. You will need to drink even more if you exercise due to the water lost through sweat.
What Are the Benefits of Exercise During Withdrawal?
There are several benefits associated with exercise during withdrawal. Below, we have shared a few.
Exercise Improves Your Mood
Exercise releases endorphins, which are natural happy feelings. The release of endorphins can be extremely motivating in recovery as this ‘natural high‘ can replace the feelings of happiness induced through drinking.
Exercise is also great for combating negative emotions, such as stress, anxiety, and depression, which often characterize withdrawal.
Exercise Improves Immunity
Physical activity boosts the immune system, which is often compromised through drug abuse. Staying active while tackling alcohol dependence will help your body heal. You’ll also be better equipped to fight off illness.
Self-confidence is often relatively low during alcohol withdrawal. Picking up an old hobby or starting a brand new one in terms of physical exercise will help you to feel accomplished. This is important during detox as the process can be difficult and make you feel like you want to give up. However, physical activity can help you feel more confident in yourself and help you believe in yourself, feel in control, and feel strong during withdrawal.
Insomnia and fatigue are common during alcohol withdrawal. Luckily, exercise can help you sleep better because it helps improve your sleep quality. This is useful during recovery as it boosts healing time and enables you to stay present and focused during detox.
Helps Fight Cravings
When going through alcohol withdrawal, many people will experience alcohol cravings. However, exercise can help to fight cravings.
Whether it’s weight training, a yoga class, or other forms of physical activity, exercise can help you form healthy connections. Alcohol withdrawal can leave you feeling isolated, but creating new bonds with people will help you feel better.
Forming connections can also help you to stay away from your old drinking buddies, which will minimize the chance of relapse during this time.
What Help Can I Get for Alcohol Dependence?
In the United States, there are many addiction treatment options for alcohol addiction. If you or a family member is struggling with AUD, it’s important to detox with medical supervision and then continue addiction treatment in the form of rehab.
Emotional support and support groups are essential for long-term recovery, as are therapy, counseling, and a reliable sober network.
Beating an alcohol dependency can be challenging, but physical exercise can help. It is a great way to feel empowered, positive, and begin your journey toward a healthy life.
For most people, exercise during alcohol withdrawal is hugely beneficial, as it works to counteract many of the uncomfortable and unpleasant effects that accompany the withdrawal process.
However, exercising during withdrawal may be a bad idea for those experiencing physical pain or physical health complications. Always consult a healthcare professional before commencing physical activity if you are unsure about your health.
Recovery from alcohol addiction is a challenge, but it is one of the most worthwhile endeavors you will make, leading to a healthier body, mind, and healthier life.