The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism estimated in 2015 that over 15 million men and women struggle with alcohol use disorder, or alcoholism, in America. Since then, it is likely that those numbers have risen, which is unfortunate because alcoholism tends to cause a lot of hurt in the entire family unit.

Alcohol may be portrayed in the media as a substance that adds fun to social events, but the reality is that many people become addicted to alcohol.  This addiction can cause a series of problems for the individual, including health problems, trouble with the law, relationship issues, financial problems, and a host of emotional issues.

What Are Alcohol Withdrawal Symptoms?

If you have become addicted to alcohol, it is likely that you will experience withdrawal symptoms when you stop drinking. As you drink, whether that is every night, a few times a week, or just on the weekends, the body begins to develop a tolerance for alcohol.  This means that it takes more alcohol to produce the euphoric feeling you desire to feel. Whereas maybe it used to take two beers to feel buzzed, it might now take four or six.

This increased tolerance is the reason that withdrawal symptoms will arise when you try to cut out drinking or go long periods without it.  The heavier the drinker will experience more intense symptoms.

There is a wide range of alcohol withdrawal symptoms, including:

Physical symptoms:

  • Headache
  • Shakiness in the body
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Sweating
  • No appetite
  • Trouble sleeping
  • Rapid heart rate
  • Twitching eyelids
  • Hand tremors
  • Delirium Tremens

Psychological symptoms:

  • Whether you are a mild, moderate, or heavy drinker
  • How long you’ve been drinking
  • Overall health condition
  • Whether not other drugs are being used
  • Support system
  • Age
  • Metabolism
  • Mental health
  • Dietary habits

Delirium tremens (DTs) can be very dangerous and in some cases, can cause death. About one in 20 people who are detoxing from alcohol addiction will experience DTs.  For those with a moderate to heavy addiction to alcohol, a medical detox under the care of a physician is always recommended to ensure a safe detox.

Delirium tremens symptoms include:

  • Fever
  • Seizures
  • Confusion
  • Hallucinations
  • Tremors
  • Irregular heartbeat
  • Excessive sleep

What Are the Stages in the Alcohol Withdrawal Timeline?

If you’ve been drinking heavily for a while and stop, you will go through alcohol withdrawal syndrome (AWS). Generally, there are three stages involved that involve mild, moderate, and severe withdrawal symptoms.

The pace at which you go through the timeline, as well as the intensity of symptoms,  will vary from person to person, depending on the following factors:

  • Whether you are a mild, moderate, or heavy drinker
  • How long you’ve been drinking
  • Overall health condition
  • Whether not other drugs are being used
  • Support system
  • Age
  • Metabolism
  • Mental health
  • Dietary habits

It is helpful to understand the alcohol withdrawal timeline so you can mentally prepare yourself.  The following is a general timeline:

Stage 1: Mild (Day 1)

The first stage of AWS involves mild withdrawal symptoms.  You may begin to feel these symptoms as early as 6 to 8 hours after your last drink. You might not realize that you’re experiencing these symptoms at first or you might chalk them up to another reason, such as job stress or illness.  Mild symptoms include anxiety, nausea, headache, vomiting, fatigue, trouble sleeping, shakiness, and just a general “sick” feeling.

Stage 2: Moderate (Day 2)

Within 12 to 48 hours after your last drink, you may begin feeling more intense withdrawal symptoms.  This is the stage where you will want to have some medical monitoring, as some of the symptoms may need medical care.  The heavier the drinker, the more concern here, because DTs can occur in this stage for heavy drinkers.

Common symptoms in this stage include fever, increase in blood pressure, sweating, agitation, cravings, heart arrhythmia, and confusion.

Stage 3: Severe (Day 2-3)

This is the stage where you will likely feel the worst, and it is the stage where moderate to heavy drinkers need to be watched for DTs, as well as seizures. Severe symptoms can include fever, confusion, hallucinations, seizures, and extreme irritability. This stage is severe and intense, as DTs and seizures can both cause death. This is why a medical detox under the care of addiction specialists is always recommended for alcohol withdrawal.

You may still experience some uncomfortable symptoms the rest of week one, but usually, by the end of the first week, many of the symptoms dissipate. You may have some lingering cravings and mood swings, so be sure you continue on with treatment and recovery efforts so that you don’t relapse.

Why Should I Detox?

When you decide to quit drinking, your body will have to go through a detox period where the toxins associated with alcohol leave the body. Detox is simply the first step toward getting free from alcohol addiction. To be safe, you should always detox under the care of a physician or addiction specialist at a hospital or residential treatment center.

When you choose a medical detox, experts will be able to continually monitor you physically, keeping an eye on physical withdrawal symptoms. You may also be given certain medications that can help decrease the intensity of the symptoms. Some people may be tapered off alcohol over time under the care of an addiction specialist, as this can also help reduce or minimize withdrawal symptoms.

You should not try cutting out alcohol cold turkey at home, as this can be very dangerous and in some cases, cause death.

Even if you think you’re drinking is not that bad, consult a substance abuse professional for an assessment.

What Is the Next Treatment Step?

The detox process for alcohol usually lasts between five to seven days. Treatment should not stop there, as you may still be contending with lingering symptoms like anxiety, depression, or cravings. Continuing treatment in the form of residential or outpatient treatment gives you a far better chance of staying free from alcohol addiction long-term.

Residential Treatment

If you are a moderate to heavy drinker, it is best if you commit to longer-term treatment at a residential treatment center at a hospital or rehab. You’ll be able to pack up and leave home for the duration of treatment, which can be anywhere from 30 to 120 days depending on your needs and progress. Some people prefer this type of treatment, so they can take the time to solely focus on themselves and their lives, rather than have to contend with people at home or work.

At a residential treatment center, you will receive individual and group counseling, learn a lot about the disease of alcoholism and recovery, perhaps attend some support groups, and learn how you can successfully live life without drinking. You will also be assessed for any co-occurring disorders like anxiety, depression, PTSD, and more.

Outpatient Treatment

If you cannot leave home and live at the treatment center, outpatient treatment is a great option for you.  Here you will live at home and attend a certain number of sessions per week at the facility. Many people start off with between four and six sessions per week, but this number can vary depending on your needs.  Over time, you will reduce the sessions because you will be getting stronger in your recovery.

At an outpatient treatment program, you will have much of the same care as you would at a residential program, including counseling, access to a physician, and medication that can be administered to help curb withdrawal symptoms.

The type of treatment you decide upon may depend on your level of addiction to alcohol, funds, and personal needs.  The important thing is to commit to a longer-term treatment program so that you can build a solid recovery foundation.

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