When a person drinks heavily over a period of time and abruptly stops, their brain and central nervous system take time to recalibrate from a lack of alcohol in the system.
The physical and emotional effects of this rebalance in the body is called alcohol withdrawal syndrome (AWS).
How long it takes to withdraw from alcohol (the alcohol withdrawal timeline) varies by person according to a number of different factors.
Timeline For Alcohol Withdrawal
Alcohol withdrawal symptoms may last a few hours, months, or even years depending on the severity of the addiction, length of time drinking, and amount of alcohol ingested.
A heavy drinker will typically experience their first symptoms of withdrawal within a few hours and progressively get worse over the course of a few days.
Stage One Of Alcohol Withdrawal
Stage one begins in the first six to 12 hours after the last drink. People may experience headaches, nausea, anxiety, and insomnia.
Stage Two Of Alcohol Withdrawal
Approximately 12 to 48 hours after initial symptoms begin, withdrawal escalates to more severe symptoms such as hallucinations, intense cravings, paranoia, and seizures.
Stage Three Of Alcohol Withdrawal
Withdrawal symptoms reach their most dangerous level at 48 to 72 hours. Symptoms may include fast heart rate, high blood pressure, fever, and disorientation.
A serious side effect of stage three is the onset of delirium tremens (DTs). DTs symptoms are potentially life-threatening and may include vivid auditory hallucinations, violent seizures, and dramatic drop in body temperature.
Stage Four Of Alcohol Withdrawal
Symptoms peak at around the 72-hour mark and gradually dissipate in the following days and weeks. This gradual return to normal is known as stage four of alcohol withdrawal.
People with severe alcohol addiction may experience post-acute withdrawal syndrome (PAWS) for months or even years after initial withdrawal ends. PAWS symptoms include cyclical headaches, depression, and anxiety.
Factors That Influence The Alcohol Withdrawal Timeline
Each person experiences withdrawal symptoms on a different timeline, depending on a range of factors.
Factors that influence the alcohol detoxification timeframe include:
- heavy drinking over a long period
- pre-existing health problems
- binge drinking habits
- mental health disorders
- amount of alcohol consumed
- other substances ingested
Treatment Services For Alcohol Use Disorder
Evidence-based treatment programs for alcohol abuse are best equipped to handle symptoms of alcohol withdrawal and post-detox care.
Treatment options may include:
- medication-assisted treatment (MAT) using benzodiazepines and naltrexone
- support groups for substance abuse
- dual diagnosis treatment for co-occurring disorders
- medical detox for alcohol
- individual and family counseling
- 12-step programs such as Alcoholics Anonymous
- inpatient and outpatient treatment settings
While mild symptoms of alcohol withdrawal may be treated at home. More severe withdrawal symptoms such as withdrawal seizures can turn into a medical emergency.
The effects of alcohol differ for everybody. If you or someone you care about are in need of addiction treatment, it’s important to seek help from medical professionals.
Learn more about treatment for alcohol withdrawal.
Find Substance Use Disorder Treatment At Bedrock Recovery Center
Call our helpline at Bedrock Recovery Center. Our residential treatment program offers the evidence-based services you or your loved one need to achieve sobriety from alcohol.
At our Massachusetts treatment center, you can get help for alcohol dependence, opioid use, and more. Our team can also provide referrals for medical advice.
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) https://www.cdc.gov/chronicdisease/resources/publications/factsheets/alcohol.htm
- National Institute of Health (NIH) https://www.niaaa.nih.gov/alcohols-effects-health
- Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) https://www.samhsa.gov/data/taxonomy/term/91