Alcohol withdrawal occurs as a result of the brain’s neurotransmitter levels returning to normal. We are each born with a genetic code that determines the chemical make-up of our brain – including the amount and balance of its neurotransmitters. When the balance of neurotransmitters deviates from its natural balance, due to drug or alcohol use, the brain will automatically work to return to its innate balance, despite the painful symptoms that occur while doing so. Therefore the brain of an individual undergoing alcohol withdrawal is experiencing this process of up-regulation, a manifestation of homeostasis.
The severity of alcohol withdrawal symptoms during detoxification depends on the extent of the imbalance of their glutamate and GABA neurotransmitter levels, not on the amount of alcohol ingested. Of course there are other factors involved that contribute to determining the overall severity of the alcohol withdrawal, such as malnutrition, mixed encephalopathy, and dehydration. Basically, any factors that are related to the patient’s imbalance of neurotransmitters, determine the severity of alcohol withdrawal and progression of each individual’s detoxification.
You can learn more about alcohol withdrawal and the safest way to assist an individual going through detoxification in Dr. Fred Von Stieff’s book, Brain in Balance: Understanding the Genetics and Neurochemistry behind Addiction and Sobriety, or check out his lectures on YouTube.