Alcohol Withdrawal Symptoms: What You Need to Know (2023)

Learn how to recognize alcohol withdrawal symptoms, how long withdrawal symptoms can last, and how to get help.

About 14.4 million adults in the United States have alcohol use disorder (AUD), a persistent condition that affects their ability to stop or control alcohol use. When you drink large amounts of alcohol on a regular basis, your brain chemistry adjusts over time to compensate for alcohol's calming properties.Because alcohol depresses the central nervous system, your brain works harder to stay awake and alert to offset the effects of alcohol. If you suddenly stop drinking, your brain can become overstimulated because it stays in that state of alert and physical or mental health symptoms can occur. This is called alcohol withdrawal.

What can I expect after I stop drinking?

The American Academy of Family Physicians and the American Centers on Addiction describe 3 stages of withdrawal someone can experience:

  • Stage 1 (Mild): Symptoms may include headache, sweating, insomnia, anxiety, hand tremors, nausea, vomiting, and palpitations
  • Level 2 (moderate): In addition to the Level 1 symptoms, you may also experience increased blood pressure or heart rate, confusion, rapid breathing, and mild hypothermia.
  • Level 3 (severe): In addition to the Level 2 symptoms, you may also experience hallucinations and visual or auditory seizures

"[Alcohol] differs from other drugs in terms of the dangers associated with withdrawal," says Margie Skeer, associate professor of public health and community medicine at Tufts University School of Medicine.

"While not everyone experiences severe symptoms, others can develop life-threatening seizures or other serious side effects," says Skeer. Because alcohol withdrawal can be fatal for some people attempting to self-detox without medical attention, it's important to talk to your doctor before stopping drinking.

One of the more serious side effects of alcohol withdrawal is mentionedTrembling Delirium (DT). Often requires treatment in an intensive care unit. Alcohol changes the activity of our central nervous system and causes the brain to slow down, so we experience less anxiety and a sense of relaxation when we drink. The brain is always trying to stay in balance and gives off extra excitatory signals to try to get back on track. This leads to tolerance and the need to drink more to get the same relaxing effect. Over time, this adaptation can become extreme, and when someone suddenly stops drinking, the brain continues to release additional arousal signals to compensate for the alcohol's effects. This causes the central nervous system to recoil during withdrawal, and if the rebound is severe it can lead to TD.

This condition can lead to dehydration, rapid heartbeat, high blood pressure, and decreased blood flow to the brain. Symptoms include confusion, loss of consciousness, angry or nervous behavior, hallucinations, sweating, and trouble sleeping. Delirium tremens only occurs in about 5% of people who experience alcohol withdrawal, but it's deadly in up to 1 in 20 people who develop it, according to Harvard Medical School.

Timeline of Alcohol Withdrawal

When your brain has adjusted to the heaviness,long-term alcohol consumptionHere's what you might experience if you stop drinking, according to Harvard Medical School. Symptoms and severity vary from person to person, and you may need medical attention to safely quit alcohol.

5 to 10 hours after your last drink: You may experience tremors (tremors), increased or decreased blood pressure, sweating, trouble sleeping, rapid breathing, vomiting, irritability, anxiety and rapid heart rate. These symptoms usually peak within 24 to 48 hours.

12 to 24 hours:You can hallucinate, which means you see, hear, or feel things that aren't there. This can take up to 2 days or sometimes longer.

24 to 48 hours:You may have withdrawal-related seizures.

72 hours and beyond:Alcohol withdrawal symptoms usually improve within 5 days. However, a small number of people experience withdrawal symptoms that last for weeks.

weeks to several months:Take care of your body and your mind. Don't start drinking again after you've stopped drinking. Treatment in an inpatient or outpatient treatment center greatly increases your chances of staying sober. Also, ask your doctor how long-term alcohol use may have affected your health.

How long does alcohol withdrawal last?

According to the American Addiction Centers, withdrawal symptoms typically peak within 24 to 72 hours after the last drink and resolve within 4 to 5 days. The severity and duration of withdrawal symptoms are influenced by several factors, including:

  • how many years have you been drinking
  • How much alcohol did you consume while drinking?
  • How often have you been drinking?
  • noco-occurring physical or mental illnesses
  • If you fight with other substances

When withdrawal ends, it's important that people continue to seek treatment." Gary Hominick, LPC, tells WebMD Connect to Care. This may seem normalusual therapywith a licensed psychologist, 12-step programs, support groups, and other community resources. Some support group options include Smart Recovery, Dharma Recovery, Sober Mom Squad, and The Luckiest Club. “This includes understanding that for some, recovery is a lifelong process. Taking care of yourself physically and emotionally is a lifestyle choice.” Hominick continues.

Why do you feel so tired when you stop drinking?

According to a 2021 study published inprogress of science, Alcohol consumption decreases glucose metabolism in the brain and increases the use of acetate for energy, which is a metabolite produced when alcohol is broken down by the liver.

For people struggling with AUD,The switch in metabolism from glucose to acetate is long-lasting and can persist after someone has stopped drinking. Once you stop drinking, you are depriving your brain of acetate because your liver no longer breaks down alcohol. Without its preferred energy source, the brain has to remember how to use glucose for energy. This is one of the reasons you might feel drained during withdrawal and early sobriety. The body needs to recover from alcohol, and that takes time.

Alcohol has a major impact on our sleep. Although many of us believe that alcohol helps us fall asleep, the body develops a tolerance to its effects very quickly. A 2018 study published inSleepfound that in people struggling with insomnia, the effect of the sleep medication was lost on the 6th night of treatment with low-dose alcohol at bedtime.

If you drink heavily for years, your sleep suffers. Alcohol reduces the number of REM cycles we enter each night and the time we spend in each cycle. REM is the restorative type of sleep, so years of less REM sleep will leave you feeling tired. According to the American Addiction Centers, during detoxification, deep sleep is reduced, total sleep time is shortened, and it is generally more difficult to fall asleep.

What happens to your emotions when you stop drinking?

"Alcohol withdrawal is a marathon, physically, mentally and emotionally." explains Dr. Jordan Spencer, DO. “In the first few days/weeks after withdrawal, a person will generally pass all of these categories. You feel exhausted and tired and have little motivation to do almost anything. They're also often now missing a key coping mechanism they've used for stress (alcohol) over the years, and even the "little" things can feel like mountains to climb."

However, it's not all challenging emotions. Getting sober can feel like a relief and you can experience high emotional highs in early sobriety, also known as the pink cloud. According to the American Centers on Addiction, these extreme effects can also be dangerous because they can make peopleOverconfident in their recovery, they refuse to do the things that will help them maintain their sobriety. Nothing lasts forever and falling out of the pink cloud and back to reality can lead to disappointment and hopelessness, increasing the risk of relapse.

To a certain extent, alcohol is a way of coping with or forgetting about life's problems; So once someone has been through withdrawal and has become sober, the only way to stay away from alcohol is to identify underlying needs and find healthy solutions. Alternatives to their management. shares dr James Davidson, MBchB Physician in Internal Medicine and Founder of MedCourse. "First, there is a high emotional cost to this, and the recovery journey is a process of discovering who you really are."

How to get help

Detoxification and withdrawal typically takes 2 to 7 days and is done at a hospital or inpatient treatment center, according to the Mayo Clinic. Wait.

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