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Alcohol Withdrawal Symptoms & Timeline

Alcohol withdrawal syndrome is a set of symptoms that are associated with drinking too much alcohol for an extended period. When drinking alcohol, the body creates certain chemicals (neurotransmitters) that make the drinker feel good. These neurotransmitters are called endorphins. It triggers the brain into making the body feel euphoria.

The brain eventually adjusts to produce more endorphins when alcohol is consumed, which is why some people become dependent on it.

Alcohol withdrawal syndrome can cause serious health problems, like:

  • Seizures
  • Hallucinations
  • Increased heart rate
  • Stopping breathing
  • Trouble breathing

A person may also experience nausea, confusion, and shaking

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    Effects Of Alcohol Withdrawal

    People who drink too much alcohol for an extended period will experience withdrawal symptoms when they stop drinking.

    These effects of withdrawals include:

    TREMORS

    Tremors are uncontrolled shaking of the hands, arms, legs, jaw, and other parts of the body. There are many possible causes for tremors such as caffeine withdrawal or low blood sugar. It is also a common symptom associated with alcohol withdrawal syndrome.

    NAUSEA

    Nausea is the sense of unease, discomfort, or queasiness that makes one feel as if they are going to vomit. Many people experience nausea when coming off alcohol due to its depressive effects on the nervous system.

    CONFUSION

    Confusion is a loss of insight into what’s happening around you and why. It can also involve disorientation.

    HALLUCINATIONS

    Hallucinations are sensory experiences with no basis in reality, such as seeing things that aren’t there or hearing voices when there is nobody else present. They can be frightening and most often occur with schizophrenic disorder. However, they are also common symptoms of alcohol withdrawal syndrome.

    RAPID HEART RATE

    An elevated pulse also feels like the heart is racing for no apparent reason.

    INCREASED BLOOD PRESSURE

    High blood pressure, or hypertension, is a common ailment in which the arteries are chronically narrowed so that the heart must pump harder to circulate blood vomiting

    IRRITABILITY

    This is a heightened state of agitation and easily brought frustration. If you find yourself snapping at friends and family, you may be experiencing withdrawal symptoms.

    HEADACHE

    A headache that is severe enough to interfere with daily life may be an alcohol withdrawal symptom.

    INSOMNIA

    It is common for people who drink to have disrupted sleep patterns. This problem will continue into the first few days of withdrawal, making it difficult to get enough rest at night or sleep through the night.

    RESTLESSNESS

    You may feel more agitated than usual if you are going through alcohol withdrawal.

    DELERIUM TREMENS (DTs)

    Symptoms of alcohol withdrawal can range from mild to life-threatening and include anxiety, seizure, and delirium tremens (DTs). DTs are extremely dangerous can be fatal. For this reason, it is essential for anyone considering quitting alcohol to do so under the care of a health professional.

    Alcohol Withdrawal Timelines And Symptoms

    After 6 hours, you may notice mild symptoms like nausea, vomiting, shakiness, and irritability. After 12-48 hours, you could develop more serious problems including seizures (convulsions), hallucinations, or delirium tremens (DTs).

    If these problems occur, they usually show up two to three days after your last drink but can appear as early as 24 hours after you stop drinking. Some people will not experience any withdrawal symptoms when they quit drinking, while others will start having serious problems around 36 hours after the last drinks.

    Delirium tremens are the most severe complication of alcohol withdrawal that causes changes in your mood and behavior, confusion, disorientation (memory loss), fever, seizures, and hallucinations. If you experience delirium tremens, it typically starts two to three days after you stop drinking. Delirium tremens can be life-threatening if not treated by a doctor or in a hospital.

    DTs are a complication of alcohol withdrawal that may develop when you stop drinking after a period of heavy or long-term drinking. You can typically reduce your risk by slowly reducing the amount you drink over time.

    Treatment, Coping, and Techniques

    The first stage of therapy is often referred to as detox. It is performed in a hospital or addiction treatment center where medical staff can monitor, diagnose and treat any problems that occur.

    The second stage of therapy consists of psychological counseling to help you manage cravings, handle stress and deal with other factors that may contribute to your alcohol use disorder.

    A variety of treatment methods including individual therapy, family therapy, or both are typically used to address these issues. Once you have been through detox and treatment, you will need to continue learning to cope with your disorder daily.

    Long-term sobriety requires a strong support system and personal commitment. Relapse is common in the first year of rehab from alcohol use disorder, so you should know that setbacks and slips can happen. Part of your overall treatment will ensure that you have the resources to get back on track.

    Reward yourself for sticking with your recovery plan by setting realistic goals and celebrating each milestone. Keep in mind that your recovery is not a destination; it’s an ongoing process. Maintaining long-term sobriety requires making smart choices about how you live your life, learning to handle challenges, and surrounding yourself with the right people and overcome obstacles.

    Frequently Asked Questions: Alcohol Withdrawal

    If I drink wine instead of liquor will I still go through withdrawal?

    Sadly, there is no evidence that weaning down or switching drinks has a positive effect on alcohol withdrawal. That may be true because withdrawal symptoms differ greatly from person to person and it is impossible to compare the outcomes of everyday, heavy, or binge drinkers.

    Will I get wet brain?

    A brain condition known as wet brain, also known as Wernicke-Korsakoff syndrome (WKS), is linked to both the acute and chronic stages of thiamine (vitamin B1) deficiency. Thiamine depletion is a typical side effect of chronic heavy drinking and is evident in those with inadequate nutrition. When treated, wet brain can prevent irreparable disorientation, problems with motor coordination, and even hallucinations. The symptoms can be reversed when discovered early.

    How long does it take to get alcohol out of your system?

    The amount of time it takes to detect alcohol varies depending on the body system and test employed. In most circumstances, depending on the type of detection test utilized, alcohol can remain in your system for 6 to 72 hours. Alcohol can remain in the body for up to 6 hours in the blood, 12 to 24 hours on the breath, 12 to 24 hours in the urine (72 or more hours with more sophisticated detection methods), 12 to 24 hours in the saliva, and up to 90 days in the hair. Alcohol has a half-life of 4-5 hours.

    What determines the severity of alcohol withdrawal?

    The Clinical Institute Withdrawal Assessment for Alcohol (CIWA-Ar) scale may potentially be used by your doctor to gauge the severity of your symptoms. The following symptoms are measured by this scale's 10 questions:
    • Nausea and diarrhea
    • Tremor
    • Sweating
    • Anxiety
    • Tremor
    • Tactile disruptions, or unusual sensations in, on, or under the skin
    • Hearing abnormalities are known as auditory disorders
    • Visual alterations
    • Headache
    • Confusion
     

    What is the most effective way to treat alcohol withdrawal syndrome?

    The best way to treat alcohol withdrawal syndrome is with professional medical help. Rehabilitation centers offer medical care and support to help you through detox and withdrawal, and they can provide you with the tools you need to stay sober.

    Is going through alcohol detox and withdrawal safe to do at home?

    No, detoxing at home is not safe. Alcohol withdrawal can cause severe symptoms like seizures and delirium tremens, which can be fatal. Detoxing at home also puts you at risk of relapsing, as there is no professional supervision or support. If you are fighting alcohol addiction, it is best to seek professional help.

    DANGERS OF ALCOHOL WITHDRAWAL

    Alcohol withdrawal can be life-threatening. Many people who try to quit drinking experience mild withdrawal symptoms that are uncomfortable but not life-threatening. If you experience severe alcohol withdrawal, it can lead to delirium tremens (DTs), an extreme form of alcohol withdrawal that causes changes in your mood and behavior, confusion, seizures, and hallucinations.

    People who are addicted to alcohol may need to undergo medical detox before participating in an outpatient treatment program. This process involves slowly reducing the amount of alcohol you drink over some time so that your body can begin to heal. During detox, doctors and nurses monitor your condition and treat any problems that develop.

    If you have experienced withdrawal symptoms in the past when quitting drinking, talk with your doctor about whether you should receive medication during detox to prevent or ease these symptoms. You may need a different medication than a person who does not have a history of alcohol withdrawal symptoms.

    Safe tapering of alcohol may be difficult for some people with severe dependence. In this case, the best option may be an inpatient stay at a rehab center where medications can be closely monitored and given as needed. This is particularly important if you are taking benzodiazepines because tapering off these medications can be dangerous.

    Even if you do not need medication during detox, doctors usually recommend that you remain under medical supervision for some time after your symptoms have subsided before going on to participate in an outpatient treatment program.

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    This content is verified and moderated by Dr. Brendan Bickley

    This content is verified and moderated by Dr. Brendan Bickley

    Dr. Bickley graduated from U.C. Irvine with honors: Phi Beta Kappa, Golden Key International Honor Society, Cum Laude. He has been featured on national radio and print media. He is also a frequent lecturer at National Conferences. He holds an A.S. degree in Drug & Alcohol Studies, and two B.A. degrees in Criminology & Psychology, and masters and doctoral degree in Clinical Psychology. He is a licensed California Drug & Alcohol Counselor Level II, a licensed Clinical Supervisor and is certified in treating Eating Disorders.

    Struggling With Alcohol Withdrawal Symptoms: Timeline & Side Effects?

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