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Tips for Coping With Alcohol Withdrawal

Last Updated: November 3, 2023

Editorial Policy | Research Policy

Excessive drinking can take a toll on both your physical and mental health. Breaking free from alcohol addiction can also come with the difficult phase of alcohol withdrawal. However, individuals can achieve long-lasting recovery with effective coping strategies, such as self-care, trigger avoidance and professional alcohol intervention.

Article at a Glance

  • Suddenly quitting drinking alcohol can lead to a series of symptoms known as alcohol withdrawal.
  • These symptoms can be mild, like restlessness and anxiety, or extreme, such as hallucinations and seizures.
  • Symptoms of alcohol withdrawal typically begin within 8–24 hours of the last drink, peaking around 24 to 72 hours and potentially lasting about a week or two.
  • The withdrawal journey comprises three distinct stages, each with unique symptoms and risks.
  • A serious complication of withdrawal called delirium tremens (DTs) can be deadly and require immediate medical intervention.
  • Preparing for withdrawal involves communicating with a reliable friend or family member, having necessary medical supplies and comfort items on hand, and seeking advice from a healthcare professional.
  • Effective strategies during withdrawal include practicing patience and self-care, getting adequate rest, avoiding triggers, finding support and seeking professional treatment.
  • The road to recovery proceeds even after successful withdrawal. Identifying the root cause of alcohol addiction and opting for long-term treatment is the next step.

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Understanding Alcohol Withdrawal

Alcohol withdrawal includes a range of symptoms that may occur when someone misusing alcohol for an extended period suddenly stops or greatly reduces how much they drink.

Alcohol Withdrawal Symptoms

Alcohol withdrawal symptoms can vary in severity depending on factors such as the individual’s health, the quantity of alcohol consumed and the duration of alcohol abuse. 

In general, the symptoms someone may experience during alcohol withdrawal include:

Mild Symptoms

  • Anxiety or nervousness
  • Depression
  • Fatigue
  • Irritability
  • Jumpiness or shakiness
  • Mood swings
  • Nightmares
  • Unclear thinking

Moderate Symptoms

  • Clammy skin
  • Dilated pupils
  • Insomnia (sleeping difficulties)
  • Loss of appetite
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Palpitations (heart racing)
  • Sweating (especially on the palms of the hands or the face)
  • Tremor in the hands or other body parts

Severe Symptoms

With advanced alcohol misuse, a person can develop delirium tremens (DTs). This life-threatening condition can lead to the following symptoms: 

  • Agitation
  • Fever
  • Hallucinations (seeing or hearing things that are not there)
  • Seizures
  • Severe confusion

It’s important to note that while some of these symptoms might seem mild, they can quickly escalate and become severe or life-threatening. Medical supervision is highly recommended during alcohol withdrawal, especially for those with a long history of heavy drinking. Seek medical attention immediately if you or someone you know is experiencing severe symptoms of alcohol withdrawal.

The Phases of Alcohol Withdrawal

Alcohol withdrawal has three distinct stages. These are not technically medically recognized as individual stages, but they are phases of withdrawal that most people will experience:

  1. Stage 1 (~8 hours after the last drink): This stage is marked by the initial development of symptoms.
  2. Stage 2 (24 to 72 hours after the last drink): This stage is the peak of symptoms and can include symptoms like increased blood pressure, elevated body temperature, confusion and irregular heart rate.
  3. Stage 3 (72 hours+ after the last drink): This stage involves symptom reduction and is marked by improvement in symptoms. 

Potential Risks of Alcohol Withdrawal

The detoxification process from alcohol comes with several risks. Severe complications can occur and, in some instances, be fatal. Therefore, medical supervision is suggested in such cases.

  • Delirium tremens: DTs can be life-threatening without the right medicine and medical help.
  • Seizures: A seizure occurs when the brain experiences abnormal electrical activity. This often causes trembling and muscle spasms. Most seizures caused by alcohol withdrawal happen within the first 48 hours of quitting drinking. The more times a person has gone through alcohol withdrawal, the more likely they are to have seizures. Seizures may even worsen each time.
  • Mental health conditions: Quitting drinking can lead to anxiety, depression and problems with sleep. Sleep issues include frequent waking, restless sleep, inability to sleep (insomnia) and nightmares. 

Getting Ready for Alcohol Withdrawal

Before alcohol withdrawal begins, it’s essential to prepare for all its challenges. This means telling a friend or family member you trust about your plans, ensuring you have the necessary medical supplies and comfort items, and consulting a doctor familiar with addiction.

Strategies To Cope During Alcohol Withdrawal

  • Give yourself grace: This journey is difficult, so be kind to yourself throughout withdrawal and beyond.
  • Focus on self-care: Participate in soothing activities such as meditation, deep breathing and stretching to maintain calm during withdrawal.
  • Get enough sleep: Sleep is essential as your body tries to heal. Ensure you are getting enough rest.
  • Steer clear of triggers: Avoid circumstances or locations that could kindle the urge to drink. This includes avoiding gatherings, bars or any place where alcohol is readily available.
  • Find support: Ensure your loved ones understand your struggle so they can offer support. Seek medical help immediately if you experience severe symptoms, seizures, high fevers or hallucinations.
  • Seek professional treatment: While coping mechanisms can help manage some withdrawal symptoms, they do not treat the underlying causes leading to alcohol misuse. Long-term recovery and treatment should be planned once withdrawal symptoms have subsided.

Supportive Medical Detox at The Recovery Village Kansas City

The Recovery Village Kansas City medical detoxification program provides a supportive and secure environment for individuals navigating the challenges of alcohol withdrawal. Seeking professional assistance can make all the difference in your journey toward a healthier, alcohol-free life. Take the first step today and contact a Recovery Advocate to embark on a path of healing and lasting recovery.