Alcohol Withdrawal Symptoms & Timeline

According to the 2019 National Survey of Drug Use and Health (NSDUH), alcoholism, also known as alcohol use disorder (AUD) affects an estimated 14.5 million Americans over 12 years old.1 People with AUD often develop a physical dependence to alcohol. This means that when someone with AUD ceases or reduces drinking, they may experience withdrawal.2

Alcohol withdrawal symptoms occur when a person with alcohol dependence suddenly stops or drastically reduces their drinking after prolonged and heavy use (anything from weeks to years).3

Withdrawal symptoms may range from mild and uncomfortable to severe and potentially physically dangerous.3

How Long Does It Take to Detox from Alcohol?

The full spectrum of alcohol withdrawal symptoms may last only a few hours or persist for several weeks. Symptoms begin anywhere from 6 to 24 hours after a patient consumes their last drink. However, it’s difficult to outline an accurate alcohol withdrawal timeline because of the many factors that may influence it.3

These factors include:3

  • How long and how heavy a person has been drinking.
  • The person’s unique physiology and broader health.
  • If other substances have been used.
  • Previous withdrawal experiences.

Symptoms are often their most unpleasant and potentially most dangerous between 24 and 72 hours, however they may persist for several weeks.4

Symptoms of Alcohol Withdrawal

Common withdrawal symptoms include:3,4,5

  • Restlessness, anxiety or irritability.
  • Loss of appetite.
  • Nightmares.
  • Fatigue or insomnia.
  • Increased heart rate.
  • Vomiting.

More severe symptoms of alcohol withdrawal may include:3,4,5

  • Nausea and vomiting.
  • Sweating profusely.
  • Tremors.
  • Hallucinations (seeing, hearing or feeling things that aren’t there)
  • Profound confusion.
  • Seizures.

In rare instances of severe alcohol withdrawal, people can develop a syndrome known as “delirium tremens.”4

Complications of Alcohol Withdrawal

Delirium tremens (sometimes called “DTs”) appear between 48 to 96 hours after a person stops consuming alcohol.6

Delirium tremens requires medical attention. When present, symptoms of DTs include:5,6

  • Marked autonomic hyperactivity (e.g., tremors, fever, sweating, anxiety, agitation, increased heart rate).
  • Visual, tactile, and/or auditory hallucinations.
  • Diminished level of consciousness.
  • Severe confusion.
  • Seizures.

Other potential complications of alcohol withdrawal include:3,7

  • Poor or compromised nutritional status.
  • Hypoglycemia.
  • Dehydration.
  • Bleeding in the stomach or intestines.
  • Pancreatitis.
  • Poor regulation of body temperature, heart rate, and blood pressure.
  • Arrhythmias (heart beating too fast, too slowly, or with an irregular rhythm).

Treatment of Withdrawal Symptoms

When someone enters medical detoxification for alcohol withdrawal, great care is taken to both safety (e.g., minimize the risk of seizures and other dangerous severe withdrawal symptoms) and comfort.

For many attending detox facilities, patients may first be evaluated through questioning and blood tests to determine the severity of their condition.10 Relevant information gained through evaluation includes:3,10

  • The presence and severity of any withdrawal signs or symptoms the patient is already experiencing.
  • The patient’s history with substance misuse of any kind.
  • Family history of alcohol or drug abuse.
  • If the patient suffers from any co-occurring disorders or comorbid health conditions.
  • The concentration of alcohol or drugs in their bloodstream.
  • Prior experiences with alcohol withdrawal and detox.

There is no sure way to predict whether or not a person will experience severe alcohol withdrawal symptoms, but this evaluation helps medical staff determine if a person is at heightened risk of serious complications and guides them to the most effective course of action to keep a person stable, safe and comfortable during withdrawal.10

Benzodiazepines may be prescribed to reduce the risk of or control seizures and prevent delirium tremens. While long-acting benzodiazepines like chlordiazepoxide or diazepam are generally used, others may be administered in cases where a patient suffers from certain comorbidities.10

At Sunrise House Treatment Center’s detox facility, the licensed medical staff is experienced and knowledgeable about the withdrawal process for all major substances of abuse.

After Detox from Alcohol

Detoxification from alcohol is only the beginning of rehabilitation treatment.3 Alcohol use disorder is a treatable chronic brain disease marked by the compulsive, uncontrollable use of alcohol despite negative consequences.11

Once a patient completes medical detox, they should progress to addiction treatment.3 Treatment may be at a variety of settings, including residential or outpatient facilities based upon a person’s needs and resources. There, they will learn to recognize the patterns that led them to misuse alcohol and gain better coping to skills through various forms of therapy.

Following formal treatment at an alcohol rehab or similar facility, a person in recovery from AUD may also benefit from aftercare programs to help them readjust to life outside treatment and maintain sobriety.

Sunrise House can ensure you withdraw safely, set you up for a successful recovery, and provide a supportive aftercare network that will help you lead a fulfilling life while maintaining your sobriety. Please reach out to an admissions navigator at .


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