Night Sweats & Alcohol: Why Do People Get Night Sweats During Withdrawal?

Sweating excessively, especially at night, can be caused by menopause, low blood sugar, fever, a condition called hyperhidrosis and certain medications (e.g., antidepressants and steroids). If you drink alcohol, night sweats can be a side effect.
man who can't sleep lying in bed

Although night sweats are more common with binge drinking or excessive alcohol use, a single drink can cause a person to sweat. If you experience night sweating frequently, this may be a sign you have a problem with alcohol.

In some instances, alcohol-induced night sweats can be due to an intolerance to alcohol tied to a genetic mutation. In people with this mutation, the body does not produce the necessary enzymes to break down the toxins in alcohol. If this is the case, a person will generally experience additional symptoms such as facial redness, hives, worsening preexisting asthma, nasal congestion, low blood pressure, nausea, vomiting and diarrhea.

Alcohol and Body Warmth

It’s a common myth that alcohol raises body temperature and provides warmth. Alcohol may make one’s skin feel warm, however, it does not provide protective warmth against the cold. A few sips of alcohol causes blood vessels to dilate, moving warm blood closer to the surface of the skin, resulting in feeling warmer temporarily.

Concurrently, the same veins are pumping blood closer to the skin's surface, causing one to lose core body heat. You’ve likely read about people drinking, passing out and being exposed to cold weather elements. While they might not feel the intense cold initially, this effect can lead to fatal hypothermia.

Alcohol Withdrawal Night Sweats

Sweating excessively at night can be a sign of alcohol withdrawal, particularly if you have not imbibed for a day or so. Almost all individuals in acute withdrawal have decreased blood volume as a result of diaphoresis (profuse sweating), hyperthermia (increased body temperature), vomiting, tachypnea (abnormally rapid breathing) and decreased oral intake.

During acute alcohol withdrawal, a person experiences autonomic nervous system hyperactivity and an increased risk of serious symptoms such as delirium tremens (DTs) and seizures. Seizures and tremors typically occur within the first 48 hours following discontinued consumption and peak around 24 hours.

During this period of withdrawal, people experience diaphoresis, which is far more pronounced than typical night sweats after drinking. Some people have used the words “soaking wet” to describe withdrawal sweating. Cold turkey alcohol detox is ill-advised due to the uncomfortable and potentially dangerous side effects of acute withdrawal.

Sweating Out Alcohol Toxins: Fact or Fiction?

The primary function of sweating is to regulate the body’s internal temperature. When internal temperatures are reached, the body perspires to cool down. As sweat evaporates, the surface of skin is cooled.

Sweat consists of 99% water and tiny residues of carbs, salts, protein and urea. If you sweat it out in hot yoga or a sauna, this forces the body to reach elevated temperatures. If you don’t consume adequate water, this can actually impair the body’s detox system and cause a greater degree of water and toxin retention.

According to Dr. Aaron White, senior scientific advisor at the National Institute of Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, 95-98% of alcohol is metabolized by the liver. The remaining 2-5% is expelled unchanged in sweat, saliva, urine, feces, breath and breast milk.

If any residual alcohol remains in the body the day after drinking, a tiny amount will be excreted in sweat. Raising one’s metabolism through exercise has little impact on blood-alcohol levels, however, it releases endorphins that improve overall mood and can reduce day-after malaise. Sweating is a byproduct of exercise but it will not expel toxins from your body any faster nor ease hangover symptoms.

The Importance of Rehydrating

Severe alcohol withdrawal is often associated with fluid and electrolyte status abnormalities. Alcohol already dehydrates the body, therefore sweating can exacerbate symptoms. While research has shown water won’t cure a hangover, drinking it is essential for replacing lost fluids and rehydrating the body. If you choose to exercise or sit in a sauna the day after drinking, it’s even more important to replenish the body with water, otherwise you will feel worse.

Night Sweats Prevention Tips

If you continue drinking alcohol, you may experience far more serious consequences than night sweats. If you aren’t ready to get professional alcohol treatment or you experience night sweats even from light drinking, the following suggestions may help:

  • Replenish lost fluids with water
  • Rinse your skin to remove excess salt from sweating
  • Change bed sheets before turning in for the night
  • Keep your bedroom at a comfortable temperature
  • Avoid using heavy blankets
Posted on July 23rd, 2018
Posted in Alcoholism, Recovery

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