Q: Why do alcohol withdrawal symptoms occur?

A: There are two main reasons why alcohol withdrawal symptoms occur:

1) Neurotransmitter Imbalance: Heavy drinking over a long period of time creates an imbalance in the brain’s neurotransmitters. There are no longer enough calming GABA neurotransmitters to counteract the effects of the agitating glutamate neurotransmitters. Eventually the drinker must drink alcohol not only to relax, but also to bring his neurotransmitters to a level where he feels comfortable. If he stops drinking long enough, the level of the brain’s GABA neurotransmitters plummet, resulting in extreme agitation and other dangerous alcohol withdrawal symptoms.

2) Receptor Site Damage: Over-drinking also causes damage to the brain’s neurotransmitter receptor sites. As the receptor sites are consistently inundated with extremely high levels of neurotransmitters (due to the alcohol consumption), the brain’s neuroreceptors begin to shut down, becoming disabled. This is a result of tolerance. Once tolerance is built, if the person decides to stop drinking, those neuroreceptors start to reactivate. This is a very painful process and a key reason for alcohol withdrawal symptoms.