Alcohol Withdrawal Symptoms, Timeline & Detox Treatment
Last Updated: November 17, 2023
When you hear about alcohol misuse and binge drinking, it’s easy to dismiss these topics as social issues that aren’t a big deal. However, these practices can lead to profound health implications over time, including physical dependence on alcohol and addiction.
When dependence develops, your body becomes so accustomed to alcohol that stopping its consumption can lead to withdrawal symptoms. Understanding these symptoms and the subsequent treatments available is crucial for anyone battling alcohol addiction or supporting someone who is.
What Is Alcohol Withdrawal?
So, what exactly is alcohol withdrawal? A series of symptoms can develop when a heavy drinker stops or reduces their alcohol intake. This withdrawal can be potentially dangerous, requiring medical supervision and treatment to complete safely.
What Are the Symptoms of Alcohol Withdrawal?
Everyone’s experience with alcohol withdrawal is unique, shaped by factors such as the duration of alcohol use, the amount consumed, overall health, and even genetic factors. Consequently, the nature and severity of withdrawal symptoms can vary widely between individuals. There are, however, several common symptoms.
Common Alcohol Withdrawal Symptoms
During alcohol withdrawal, people often experience a range of physical and psychological symptoms, including:
- Mood swings
These symptoms are your body’s way of adjusting to the absence of alcohol and will be present in most people going through alcohol withdrawal.
Severe Alcohol Withdrawal Symptoms
In some cases, withdrawal symptoms can become serious, manifesting as hallucinations or seizures. A serious complication called delirium tremens (DTs) can develop, causing psychosis, severe vomiting, high fever, and seizures. This condition is hazardous and requires immediate medical attention, as it can have a fatality rate as high as 37%.
The Alcohol Withdrawal Timeline
The timeline for alcohol withdrawal will be somewhat different for everyone; however, there is a general timeline that most people will experience.
- 6 to 12 hours after the last drink – Initial symptoms such as anxiety, insomnia, and headache appear.
- 12 to 24 hours – More unpleasant symptoms develop, including nausea and tremors. Existing symptoms increase in intensity.
- 24 to 48 hours – Withdrawal seizures may begin in this timeframe. Other symptoms increase in intensity and become more challenging to handle
- 48 to 72 hours – Symptoms often peak, and the most severe symptoms and conditions, like delirium tremens, are most likely to manifest during the peak.
- 72 hours to 7 days – Serious conditions may last for days, but most people will gradually experience a reduction in symptoms as they slowly decrease in intensity.
It is always important to remember that individual experiences with alcohol withdrawal can vary. Influencing factors to the exact timeline can be the duration of alcohol use, the amount consumed, and overall health.
Alcohol Withdrawal Treatment Options
Navigating the tough journey of alcohol withdrawal might seem daunting, but it doesn’t have to be. Multiple treatments exist, each tailored to the unique challenges and needs during withdrawal and recovery. From the medically supervised detox process to the supportive environment of rehab and beyond, a comprehensive network of assistance is available.
Initiating the path to recovery often begins with alcohol detox, a medically supervised process designed to rid your body of alcohol safely. The focus is to manage and alleviate withdrawal symptoms, making the transition to sobriety more bearable. Some may require medications to combat severe symptoms. Overall, detox prepares the foundation for therapy and rehab’s deeper, transformative work.
Once completing detox, the next crucial step is rehabilitation. Whether inpatient or outpatient, rehabilitation programs delve deeper into understanding the roots of one’s addiction. In these settings, you’re not just abstaining from alcohol; you’re learning skills to combat potential relapses and taught to foster a healthier relationship with alcohol. These programs often combine individual counseling, group therapy, and other therapeutic modalities to address addiction holistically.
Therapeutic interventions, especially cognitive behavioral therapy, are integral in treating alcohol use disorder. In therapy, you collaborate with professionals to identify triggers that lead to excessive drinking, work on coping strategies, and reconstruct a healthier mental framework around alcohol use. With the right approach and guidance, therapy can be vital to lasting recovery.
Completing rehab isn’t the end of the recovery journey. Instead, it marks the beginning of a lifelong commitment to sobriety. These programs offer continued resources, like sober living arrangements, group sessions, and periodic counseling, to maintain and reinforce your sobriety. Think of aftercare as a safety net to catch you and provide needed support when challenges arise after rehab.
Alcohol Addiction Support and Resources
Alcohol addiction recovery isn’t something you must go through alone. There are several local and national resources available to help you, including:
- Alcoholics Anonymous
- National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA)
- Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA)
- The Recovery Village Kansas City Drug and Alcohol Rehab
These resources can help provide you with the best chance possible of achieving sobriety and maintaining it long-term.
MedlinePlus. “Alcohol.” March 22, 2022. Accessed October 3, 2023.
Berman, Jacob. “Alcohol withdrawal.” February 28, 2023. Accessed October 3, 2023.
Newman, Richard K.; Gallagher, Megan A. Stobart; & Gomez, Anna E. “Alcohol Withdrawal.” StatPearls [Internet]. July 21, 2023. Accessed October 3, 2023.
Rahman, Abdul & Paul, Manju. “Delirium Tremens.” StatPearls [Internet]. August 14, 2023. Accessed October 3, 2023.
Huebner, Robert B. & Kantor, Lori Wolfgang. “Advances in Alcoholism Treatment.” Alcohol Research & Health. 2011. Accessed October 3, 2023.
Alcoholics Anonymous. “Alcoholics Anonymous.” 2023. Accessed October 3, 2023.
National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. “National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism.” 2023. Accessed October 3, 2023.
Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. “SAMHSA’s National Helpline.” 2023. Accessed October 3, 2023.