Individuals who drink heavily on a regular basis develop a physical dependence on alcohol.  When alcohol recovery is attempted, the experience can be similar to withdrawing from a narcotic drug.  Depending on the extent of the alcohol addiction and other health issues, alcohol withdrawal can be very dangerous and even life-threatening.  For heavy drinkers, getting sober safely requires medical supervision and a controlled environment.

The milder symptoms of alcohol withdrawal symptoms can include headache, sweating, shaking, stomach cramps, intestinal disorders, insomnia, and elevated blood pressure and heart rate.  Psychological discomfort in the form of anxiety and restlessness can occur.  The more serious symptoms of withdrawal, often referred to as delirium tremens, require immediate hospitalization.  They include severe vomiting, extreme agitation, confusion and hallucinations.  The worst-case scenario involves potentially fatal seizures and convulsions.

If there is any risk of serious withdrawal symptoms, alcohol recovery should begin with medically supervised detoxification.  It may be done on an outpatient or in an inpatient hospital program or rehabilitation facility.  In some cases, medication is prescribed to help relieve the symptoms of withdrawal.

Once the initial physical symptoms of alcohol withdrawal have passed, many people continue to experience psychological discomfort during the early days of alcohol recovery.  This is where an alcohol rehab program can help.  For many, drinking was a form of self-medication for anxiety or depression.  Psychological counseling will be needed to help deal with these and any other psychological disorders that were masked by alcohol.

Cognitive behavior therapy can be very effective in reducing anxiety and depression during alcohol recovery.  This form of therapy helps to change unhealthy behaviors by changing thought patterns.  Those who are getting sober learn to stop blaming their alcohol abuse problems on external circumstances and to take responsibility for their behavior.  They also learn new skills that will help them build a new life, free from addiction.