Alcohol addiction affects millions of people in the US. Deciding to stop drinking is a big step towards recovery - but not everyone can go cold turkey.
Alcohol withdrawal symptoms occur when someone stops drinking or significantly decreases their alcohol intake after long-term dependence.
In some cases, withdrawal from alcohol can be fatal.
When someone with alcohol dependence stops drinking, the sudden absence of alcohol in their body shocks their nervous system, which causes withdrawal. Symptoms can range from mild like shaky hands, insomnia or irritability, or in severe cases, seizures or stroke.
The severity of these symptoms depends on the length of time the individual has been drinking, the frequency of drinking, the amount of alcohol consumed and other factors.
Alcohol Withdrawal Symptoms Requiring Medical Attention
While the majority of alcohol withdrawal symptoms are NOT fatal, the following symptoms require immediate medical attention:
Low blood pressure
Spikes in blood pressure
Most Common Alcohol Withdrawal Symptoms
Decrease in appetite
When Do Alcohol Withdrawal Symptoms Start?
Generally, alcohol withdrawal symptoms start within 4 to 12 hours after the last drink. Not all chronic alcohol users have withdrawal symptoms when they stop drinking, and one person may not experience all the symptoms, nor all at once.
How Long Does Alcohol Withdrawal Last?
Alcohol withdrawal symptoms can last anywhere from a few days, to a few weeks. The most severe symptoms generally occur around the second day of sobriety. Some symptoms, such as anxiety and insomnia, may continue at a lower intensity for up to 6 months.
4-12 hours after the last drink: As the blood alcohol level declines significantly, the most common symptoms of alcohol withdrawal like anxiety, insomnia, nausea and vomiting appear.
24-72 hours after the last drink: Symptoms tend to be the most severe around the second day of sobriety, like high blood pressure, irregular heartbeat, elevated body temperature, and mental confusion.
72+ hours after the last drink: During this time frame symptoms may include fever, seizures, agitation, and hallucinations.
Alcohol withdrawal should be taken seriously by anyone dependent on alcohol or anyone who has been abusing alcohol for a long period of time. Inpatient or medical detox are often recommended for those with a history of addiction. However, there are other options like ambulatory detox.
If you or a loved one need help for an addiction or want to know if you need assisted detox, contact us for a confidential assessment: 630-402-0144
National Library of Medicine (NCBI)
National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism