What to Expect During Alcohol Withdrawal

Alcohol withdrawal typically happens when someone who is dependent on alcohol suddenly stops drinking or limits their alcohol use.

It can cause uncomfortable and potentially life-threatening symptoms, such as:

  • Anxiety
  • Tremors
  • Sweating
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting 
  • Anxiety
  • Insomnia
  • Hallucinations
  • Seizures
  • Delirium tremens (DT)

Alcohol withdrawal requires medical supervision to manage symptoms and prevent complications.

If you or someone you know is experiencing alcohol withdrawal, contact medical help immediately.

Alcohol addiction at young age. Caucasian male cannot stop drinking alcohol, drunken lonely male drinks wine from bottle. Loneliness, depression and alcoholism during Christmas and New Year holidays

Why Understanding Alcohol Withdrawal Matters

As mentioned before, alcohol withdrawal can be dangerous and potentially life-threatening.

Withdrawal symptoms can range from mild to severe and require medical supervision. 

Fortunately, there are tools like CIWA-Ar to determine the withdrawal’s severity and help guide treatment.

It’s also important to check for any other physical or mental health issues that can worsen withdrawal.

Without proper medical care, your condition may worsen. Because of this, doctors need to understand withdrawal to provide effective treatment.

What is Alcohol Use Disorder?

Alcohol use disorder (AUD) is a chronic brain disease that causes you to continue drinking alcohol despite its negative side effects. Long-term alcohol use can affect your brain, leading to a strong urge to drink.

Symptoms of AUD include:

  • Strong cravings or urges to drink
  • Inability to limit alcohol use
  • Unsuccessful attempts at quitting alcohol 
  • Neglecting personal responsibilities to drink
  • Continuing to drink despite social and health problems
  • Drinking in unsafe situations, such as driving or swimming
  • Giving up on hobbies and social activities to drink
  • Increased alcohol tolerance
  • Withdrawal symptoms

Understanding AUD’s complexity can better help those struggling with it. It can also reduce the stigma around addiction and seeking treatment.

How Common Alcohol Use Disorder Is

According to the National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH), almost 29 million Americans ages 18 and older had AUD in 2022.

Certain factors can increase your risk for AUD, including:

  • Genetics: You may have a predisposition to AUD if your family has a history of alcohol addiction
  • Environment: Factors like lower socioeconomic status and easier access to alcohol can increase the likelihood of AUD
  • Mental health: Certain mental health conditions can lead to AUD, such as depression and anxiety

AUD can lead to long-term physical health problems such as heart disease, liver problems, and cancer.

It can also contribute to mental health conditions like depression, anxiety, and cognitive impairment.

Levels of Alcohol Withdrawal Severity

The severity of alcohol withdrawal depends on factors like the frequency and duration of drinking, your age, and your overall health.

Long-term heavy drinking typically results in a more severe case of withdrawal.

The most dangerous and potentially fatal side effect of alcohol withdrawal is delirium tremens (DT). This may happen because the nervous system becomes hyperactive without alcohol’s depressant effects.

If you or someone you know is experiencing symptoms of DT, contact emergency medical care. These symptoms include:

  • Agitation
  • Profound confusion or disorientation
  • Tactile or auditory hallucinations
  • Fever
  • Hypertension
  • Diaphoresis
  • Autonomic hyperactivity

How Long Does Alcohol Withdrawal Last?

The early symptoms of alcohol withdrawal typically begin 8-24 hours after your last drink. Severe symptoms may begin after 12-24 hours. 

These symptoms are typically at their worst for the first 48 hours. However, after 48 hours, your symptoms may subside as your body starts adjusting to the lack of alcohol in your system.

Overall, the withdrawal process can last for three to seven days. However, the duration may vary depending on the severity of your withdrawal. 

Seeking Medical Care for Alcohol Withdrawal

If you need help with withdrawal, reach out to a medical professional, especially if you’re experiencing the following:

  • High blood pressure and pulse
  • High body temperature
  • Seizures
  • Hallucinations

During the examinations, your doctor will ask questions about your drinking history and when you stopped. They’ll also want to know if you’ve gone through withdrawal before. 

Your doctor will assess the situation and determine the appropriate treatment. They might suggest inpatient care and medication.