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Regular and chronic drinkers may experience alcohol withdrawal if they suddenly stop drinking. One of these withdrawal symptoms is a fever.
A fever happens when the body temperature exceeds 99.5 degrees F (37.5 degrees C). It’s usually the result of the body fighting an infection.
Alcohol withdrawal fever is not like the typical fever; It’s the result of the body adjusting to the absence of alcohol. It can have other causes like a kidney infection due to dehydration.
Fever is a very common symptom of alcohol withdrawal. Delirium tremens (DTs), a severe form of alcohol withdrawl, can also include fever.
In a study involving 110 cases and 98 people recovering:1
Alcohol is a central nervous system (CNS) depressant. It disrupts the balance of certain neurotransmitters, forcing the brain to work hard to counter alcohol’s effects.
When a person stops drinking, the body will adjust and return to a normal state. However, the brain will still work hard to counter the substance (alcohol) that isn’t present anymore.2 This hyperactivity leads to withdrawal symptoms, which may include a fever.
Alcohol withdrawal fever is not like the usual fever that happens when the body fights an infection. It results from the body adjusting to the absence of alcohol.
Several metabolic functions are upregulated during the adjustment period. This upregulation is a known source of increased body temperature.
If a fever becomes severe, healthcare providers will look for other underlying causes. For example, the fever may be due to a kidney infection from alcohol-related dehydration or vein inflammation from an IV line.6
A high-grade fever that persists for more than 72 hours is likely connected to delirium tremens (DTs).3, 4, 5, 6
Acute alcohol withdrawal symptoms may kick in within 6 to 24 hours after the last drink. Among these symptoms are nausea, tremors, anxiety, and insomnia.2, 4, 5, 6, 7
Roughly 10% of people will show additional symptoms like rapid breathing, sweating, and low-grade fever.5
Delirium tremens is the most severe form of alcohol withdrawal. It may happen 1 to 4 days after the onset of acute symptoms. DTs symptoms include:3, 4, 6
Severe DTs symptoms like seizures, hallucinations, and disorientation are typically more dangerous than fevers related to DTs.
DTs is life-threatening and is considered a medical emergency that requires admission to the hospital for treatment.
Here are some tips on how to manage an alcohol withdrawal fever:8
There’s no one-size-fits-all approach for treating alcohol use disorder (AUD). Discuss treatment options with your doctor to determine the best fit.
Here are a few common treatment approaches:
People with severe symptoms or at high risk of complications often require inpatient rehab.
Inpatient treatment involves staying in a rehab facility. Medical staff will provide 24/7 care and supervision.
Inpatient addiction treatment usually lasts for 30, 60, or 90 days. People with prolonged alcohol use problems may need a longer stay.4, 9
This approach is less expensive and intensive than inpatient treatment.
People with mild or moderate alcohol withdrawal symptoms can often be treated in outpatient alcohol rehabs. They can go home to continue their normal daily routines after attending treatment sessions.2, 4, 9
People with moderate to severe alcohol withdrawal symptoms may need medication(s).
Benzodiazepines and anticonvulsants can reduce psychomotor agitation and prevent alcohol withdrawal symptoms from worsening.
Thiamine and folic acid may also be given. These essential vitamins are typically depleted in people with alcohol withdrawal.2, 4, 6, 10
One-on-one counseling focuses on reducing or stopping alcohol use.
The counselor may also encourage the person to join a 12-step program, like Alcoholics Anonymous (AA), or refer them to additional medical and psychiatric services.9
Recovery continues long after treatment. Support groups can help people maintain abstinence, prevent relapse, and achieve successful recovery.
Some examples of alcohol-focused support groups are Alcoholics Anonymous and Al-Anon.9
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