Alcohol is a depressant that makes your brain work harder to send neurotransmitter signals back and forth throughout the body.
When people drink alcohol occasionally and in moderation, symptoms of withdrawal will probably not be present when they stop.
If alcohol abuse occurs over a period of time, the central nervous system will go into withdrawal when alcohol is suddenly not in the body.
This is due to the heightened state the brain must be in to maintain normal bodily functions while drinking.
What Is Alcohol Withdrawal Syndrome?
Alcohol withdrawal syndrome, or AWS, is the name for the symptoms that occur when a heavy drinker abruptly stops drinking. Symptoms may be physical and emotional in nature.
Management of alcohol withdrawal syndrome by experienced clinicians is highly recommended to avoid potentially life-threatening side effects.
Learn more about acute alcohol withdrawal syndrome.
What To Expect During Alcohol Withdrawal
During the alcohol withdrawal process, you can expect to feel ill — many have described alcohol withdrawal as feeling like they have the flu. This is largely due to the headaches, nausea, and vomiting that occur.
Other symptoms may arise during the different stages of alcohol withdrawal, but all will wane with time with support and adequate treatment.
Learn more on what feelings and experiences to expect during alcohol withdrawal.
Signs And Symptoms Of Alcohol Withdrawal
When heavy drinkers suddenly stop drinking, they’ll start to notice symptoms of withdrawal within the first few hours of their last drink.
The severity of symptoms will depend on a variety of factors, including the severity of their addiction, the amount of alcohol ingested, and how long they’ve been drinking alcohol in excess.
Find out more about signs of alcohol withdrawal.
Alcohol Withdrawal Nausea
One of the common and uncomfortable symptoms of alcohol withdrawal is nausea. The sick feeling in the stomach may or may not be accompanied by vomiting and other symptoms.
Learn more about alcohol withdrawal nausea.
Alcohol Withdrawal Fever
Alcohol withdrawals may lead to fevers when the person suddenly stops drinking. When the body establishes a physical dependence on alcohol, the fever can kick in.
A fever can be a way of the body learning to readjust to functioning normally again without the substance. It can also be an indicator of more serious alcohol withdrawal symptoms.
Read more about alcohol withdrawal fever.
Alcohol Withdrawal Headaches
Alcohol withdrawal headaches will typically be one of the first symptoms that show up in the hours after drinking stops. Headaches are often accompanied by an intense feeling of anxiety.
Alcohol Withdrawal Itching
When you stop drinking, some of the skin-related health conditions such as redness, inflammation, and acne that may have developed as a result of alcohol consumption will likely go away over time.
During withdrawal, however, skin conditions often get worse before they start to get better.
Learn more about itching caused by alcohol withdrawal.
Alcohol Withdrawal Timeline
The timeline for alcohol withdrawal will vary for every person depending on how much they drank and for how long.
Typically, mild symptoms such as headache and nausea start in the first four to six hours after the last alcohol intake.
At the 12- to 48-hour mark, people may start to experience hallucinations, hand tremors, and seizures in severe withdrawal.
At the 72-hour mark, the withdrawal will likely peak with delirium tremens (DT). DT is characterized by vivid hallucinations, delusions, fever, and heavy sweating.
While rare, untreated DT may turn into a medical emergency if not addressed by a medical professional promptly.
Side Effects Of Alcohol Withdrawal
There are several side effects that may occur during the alcohol withdrawal process. These side effects will vary in severity and be both physical and psychological in nature.
Learn more about the side effects of alcohol withdrawal.
Alcohol Withdrawal Insomnia
Insomnia is a common symptom for people during alcohol withdrawal. Insomnia usually occurs during withdrawal due to the brain readjusting to not having chemicals in the body.
Read more about alcohol withdrawal insomnia.
Alcohol Withdrawal Seizures
Alcohol withdrawal seizures are a rare but serious complication that occurs during alcohol detox.
Typically, seizures occur in conjunction with delirium tremens symptoms at around the third or fourth day of alcohol withdrawal.
Learn about alcohol withdrawal seizures.
Anxiety And Panic Attacks From Alcohol Withdrawal
Anxiety and panic attacks from alcohol withdrawal is a relatively common side effect that occurs within the first few hours of withdrawal. In more severe cases, anxiety may lead to a feeling of a total loss of control and result in a panic attack.
These side effects are due to the way alcohol affects the levels of serotonin in the brain. Over time, the feelings of anxiety will pass as the brain recalibrates.
Read more about anxiety and panic attacks from alcohol withdrawal.
Night Sweats From Alcohol Withdrawal
Night sweats usually start on the first day of alcohol withdrawal and may persist for several days. Contrary to popular belief, night sweats do not contribute to expelling alcohol faster from your body.
Read more about night sweats from alcohol withdrawal.
Alcohol Withdrawal Diarrhea
Diarrhea from alcohol withdrawal occurs due to the brain’s efforts to regulate the system during the detoxification process.
The severity and duration of diarrhea will depend on the amount of alcohol consumed, the diet of the recovering person, and more.
Learn about alcohol withdrawal diarrhea.
Alcohol Withdrawal Delirium
Alcohol withdrawal delirium (AWD) is a very serious side effect of alcohol withdrawal. Symptoms of AWD occur within three days of decreasing alcohol use and may include delusions, disorientation, seizures, hallucinations, and more.
Read more about alcohol withdrawal delirium.
Can You Die From Alcohol Withdrawal?
Yes. Serious symptoms of alcohol withdrawal such as delirium tremens, hallucinations, and seizures can cause heart attack, depressed breathing, and death.
Read more about deaths related to alcohol withdrawal.
Treatment For Alcohol Withdrawal
There are several ways to treat mild to severe symptoms of alcohol withdrawal. Some treatments can be conducted at home while others require medical supervision.
Common treatments for alcohol withdrawal at home include:
- electrolyte replacement
- plentiful rest
- low light environments
- healthy diet
- limited contact with other people
In a hospital setting, people may receive medication-assisted treatment (MAT) using anticonvulsants or benzodiazepines such as diazepam and lorazepam for treatment of alcohol withdrawal.
MAT will help alleviate severe withdrawal symptoms in a safe and secure environment.
Read more about treatment for alcohol withdrawal.
Treatment Options For Alcohol Use Disorder
If you or a loved one are addicted to alcohol, there are several evidence-based treatment services that will help put you on the path to long-term sobriety.
Alcohol treatment programs may include:
- 12-step programs for addiction recovery
- medication-assisted treatment (MAT)
- medically monitored alcohol detox
- group and individual counseling
- dual diagnosis treatment for co-occurring mental health disorders
- inpatient and outpatient addiction treatment
- support groups for people with alcohol dependence
- intervention services
While some symptoms of alcohol withdrawal are mild and can be treated at home, it’s highly advisable for people with alcohol addiction to get help from a healthcare provider.
Find Alcohol Addiction Treatment At Bedrock Recovery Center
For more information on alcohol or drug abuse treatments, call Bedrock Recovery Center. Our team can help you or those you care about get on track to an alcohol-free life.
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) — Excessive Alcohol Use https://www.cdc.gov/chronicdisease/resources/publications/factsheets/alcohol.htm
- National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA) — Alcohol's Effects on Health https://www.cdc.gov/chronicdisease/resources/publications/factsheets/alcohol.htm
- National Institute of Health (NIH) — Clinical Institute Withdrawal Assessment for Alcohol https://www.cdc.gov/chronicdisease/resources/publications/factsheets/alcohol.htm
- National Institute of Health (NIH) — Effects Of Gamma-Aminobutyric Acid (GABA) https://www.cdc.gov/chronicdisease/resources/publications/factsheets/alcohol.htm
- Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) — Alcohol Misuse https://www.cdc.gov/chronicdisease/resources/publications/factsheets/alcohol.htm