What Does Alcohol Withdrawal Feel Like?

Mild to severe withdrawal symptoms are an expected part of coming off prolonged alcohol abuse. Alcohol withdrawal is influenced by factors such as genetics, environment, and more.

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Dr. Manish Mishra, MBBS

Medically Reviewed By: Manish Mishra, MBBS


Most people who experience alcohol withdrawal syndrome (AWS) report a wide range of symptoms from mildly unpleasant to excruciatingly painful.

The physical and emotional effects of alcohol withdrawal will differ depending on several factors, including the severity of addiction, amount of alcohol used, physical ailments, mental health issues, and more.

What People May Experience During Alcohol Withdrawal

Drinking alcohol heavily over time will cause changes in the brain that affect dopamine and gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA) neurotransmitters, both of which affect a person’s sense of well-being and excitement.

When a heavy drinker stops alcohol intake, the brain and central nervous system may take days or even months to recalibrate, which leads to severe or mild symptoms of alcohol withdrawal.

Nausea And Vomiting

Nausea and vomiting are two of the most common symptoms of alcohol withdrawal. They are caused by alcohol’s effect on the mucous lining of the stomach.

Some people describe the feeling as a general nauseous feeling without vomiting, while others have reported nausea accompanied by severe vomiting and constant dry heaving.


Headaches are another common symptom of withdrawal. They can range from mild to debilitating and are caused by either dehydration or inflammation of the brain.

Read about alcohol withdrawal-induced headaches.


Delirium tremens, or DTs, is a less-frequent but extremely dangerous side effect of withdrawal that typically occurs between 48 to 72 hours after a person has their last drink.

Symptoms of DTs include severe hand tremors, cravings, high blood pressure, visual or auditory hallucination, withdrawal seizures, disorientation, and more.

Other Issues

Other symptoms that people may experience during withdrawal include vivid nightmares, profuse sweating, insomnia, irritability, and elevated heart rate.

While some people opt to treat their withdrawal from alcohol at home, healthcare professionals recommend seeking a medically monitored detox program to avoid life-threatening side effects.

Factors That Influence The Severity Of Alcohol Withdrawal

There are several factors that may contribute to the severity of alcohol withdrawal symptoms. Factors may be genetic, environmental, or attributable to negative drinking habits.

Genetic Factors

People who have genetics that predispose them to develop substance use disorders may experience severe alcohol withdrawal.

This is due to the inherited genes that make them susceptible to heavy drinking. Their physiological makeup may also be predisposed to experience severe withdrawal.

Environmental Factors

Genetically inherited behaviors may be heavily influenced by the environment. For example, if you’re highly susceptible to substance abuse and constantly in a state of stress, you may turn to alcohol for relief.

Over time, the environmental risk factors will play a large part in how much and how often binge drinking occurs, and how severe the eventual withdrawal symptoms will be.

Frequency Of Alcohol Abuse

Perhaps the biggest factor in the severity of alcohol withdrawal is how often chronic drinking occurs.

Withdrawal symptoms will typically be less severe for someone who has only been abusing alcohol for a short period, whereas long-term alcoholism will take the body longer to recover from.

Treatment Options For Alcohol Abuse

If you or a loved one are addicted to alcohol, evidence-based treatment services will help put you on the path to long-term recovery.

Treatment programs for alcohol use disorder include:

  • medical detox for alcohol abuse
  • mental health treatment such as psychiatry services or family counseling
  • support groups
  • medication-assisted treatment using benzodiazepines and anticonvulsants
  • 12-step programs such as Alcoholics Anonymous
  • dual diagnosis treatment for co-occurring disorders
  • inpatient or outpatient treatment plans

Addiction treatment for alcohol dependence at a reputable rehab center is the safest way to get the medical attention you need to quit drinking permanently.

Find A Rehab Program For Alcohol Addiction At Bedrock Recovery Center

Call the medical professionals at Bedrock Recovery Center today for more information about alcohol detoxification and our evidence-based residential treatment program.

  1. National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA) https://www.niaaa.nih.gov/alcohols-effects-health/alcohols-effects-body
  2. Identification and Management of Alcohol Withdrawal https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4978420/
  3. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) https://www.samhsa.gov/sites/default/files/alcohol-use-facts-resources-fact-sheet.pdf

Written by Bedrock Recovery Center Editorial Team

© 2024 Bedrock Recovery Center | All Rights Reserved

* This page does not provide medical advice.

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