Alcohol Withdrawal Symptoms

Alcohol withdrawal symptoms can include fatigue, profuse sweating and hallucinations. Initial withdrawal symptoms can occur six hours after the last drink, while more severe effects can take place anywhere from 48 hours to 10 days after the last drink.
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Alcohol withdrawal occurs when a person who regularly drinks heavily suddenly stops using alcohol. The more regularly someone drinks, the more likely they are to experience withdrawal symptoms when they quit.

Alcohol Withdrawal Symptoms & Effects

Symptoms of alcohol withdrawal can be minor, moderate or severe. Mild withdrawal can cause headaches, while major withdrawal can lead to delirium or death. People suffering from alcohol addiction have an increased risk of experiencing life-threatening withdrawal symptoms.

Common withdrawal symptoms include:

  • Nightmares
  • Fatigue
  • Irritability
  • Anxiety
  • Depression
  • Mood swings
  • Shakiness or jumpiness

Additional symptoms of alcohol withdrawal include headaches, insomnia, rapid heart rate, loss of appetite and enlarged pupils.

Severe withdrawal symptoms include delirium tremens, a major type of alcohol withdrawal characterized by sudden and severe psychological or nervous system changes.

The condition can lead to effects such as:

  • Sudden or severe confusion
  • Body tremors
  • Excitement or fear
  • Stupor or sleepiness
  • Sudden mood changes
  • Hallucinations
  • Sensitivity to light, sound or touch

According to a 2014 report published in the New England Journal of Medicine, about 1 to 4 percent of people who experience delirium tremens die. Deaths related to delirium tremens are usually caused by hyperthermia, seizure complications or cardiac arrhythmias, or associated medical disorders.

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Alcohol Withdrawal Timeline

Physicians recognize three levels of alcohol withdrawal, with each level comprising its own set of symptoms. These effects can begin six hours after a person’s last drink. The most severe symptoms can occur as late as seven to 10 days after the last drink.

Minor withdrawal symptoms

    The following symptoms can occur 6 to 12 hours after the last drink:

  • Sweating
  • Insomnia
  • Mild Anxiety
  • Headache
  • Nausea

Moderate withdrawal symptoms

    The following symptoms can occur 12 to 48 hours after the last drink:

  • Poor memory
  • Hallucinations
  • Irregular heartbeat
  • Racing pulse
  • Possible seizures

Major withdrawal symptoms

    The following symptoms can occur 48 hours to 10 days after the last drink:

  • Delirium
  • Heavy sweating
  • Fever
  • Possible death
  • Severe blood pressure spikes

Mild or moderate withdrawal symptoms, often seen within the first two days of cessation, are rarely life-threatening. The effects can peak about 72 hours after the last drink, and they begin to lessen between days five and seven.

Seizures are common in people with past complications from alcohol withdrawal, and they generally occur 12 to 48 hours after the last drink. Delirium tremens typically begin about three days after the last drink. Symptoms can last between one and eight or more days, though they generally lessen within two to three days.

However, emotional mood swings, sleeplessness or fatigue caused by alcohol withdrawal can last for more than a year.

Treatment for Alcohol Withdrawal

Failing to seek treatment for alcohol withdrawal can be dangerous. The withdrawal effects can be extremely painful. Over the years, countless individuals have tried managing their alcohol withdrawal symptoms at home, and some people have not survived.

People battling alcohol addiction should immediately seek treatment and support if they decide to stop using alcohol and get sober. Rehab facilities offer 24/7 medical care to people as they detox from alcohol, and the treatments they offer can alleviate the effects of alcohol withdrawal.

A physician can also create an alcohol detox diet plan to help clients regain vitamins and minerals lost during withdrawal. Once they are stable enough to eat, people should have well-balanced meals filled with nutrient-heavy foods such as lean red meats, fish and breads.

After completing alcohol rehab, committing to a healthy lifestyle is important. People who overcome their physical dependence to alcohol but do not fully commit to recovery are often known as dry drunks. These people may be sober, but they have not properly addressed all of the unhealthy emotions and behaviors associated with alcohol addiction. Signs of a dry drunk can overlap with symptoms of alcohol withdrawal, which include depression and loneliness.

Participating in Alcoholics Anonymous can help dry drunks succeed in alcohol recovery. The support group program allows individuals with drinking problems to share stories and support with others in similar situations. Regularly attending AA can reduce the risk for alcoholic relapse.

Author
Matt Gonzales
Content Writer, DrugRehab.com
Matt Gonzales is a writer and researcher for DrugRehab.com. He graduated with a degree in journalism from East Carolina University and began his professional writing career in 2011. Matt covers the latest drug trends and shares inspirational stories of people who have overcome addiction. Certified by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in health literacy, Matt leverages his experience in addiction research to provide hope to those struggling with substance use disorders.
@bymattjgonzales
Editor
Joey Rosenberg
Joey Rosenberg,
Editor, DrugRehab.com
Medical Reviewer
Ashraf Ali
Psychiatrist, Los Angeles County Department of Mental Health

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