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Alcohol Withdrawal

When we touch on the topic of the most dangerous drugs in the world, would you believe that one of them is legal? Did you know that this legal drug kills 88,000 men and women each year? If you guessed alcohol without first seeing the title, you were right. 

Alcoholism is a problem that affects individuals globally, but in the United States, over 15 million men and women struggle with an alcohol use disorder (AUD). It’s fair to assume that this number has grown exponentially since the statistics are not as recent. It is a sad figure that causes more pain than just the person using alcohol.

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The problem with alcohol is its portrayal in the media. It is seen as a fun substance that adds to social events, but the reality is, it is a highly addictive and deadly substance. Alcohol addiction can cause many problems for an individual, which include relationship issues, problems with their health, and legal matters.

What Are the Alcohol Withdrawal Symptoms?

Someone that has developed an alcohol addiction will likely experience withdrawal symptoms when they stop drinking. When you consume alcoholic beverages, be it every night, a few times a week, or only on the weekends, the body develops what is known as a tolerance for the drug. 

What this means is you will need more alcohol to experience the euphoric effects you’ve grown accustomed to feeling. In the past, it may have taken you two beers to feel buzzed, but now your body may require double the amount to feel that.

An increasing tolerance is a reason why withdrawal symptoms will occur when you try to cut back or stop drinking. The more someone consumes, the more intense they can expect their withdrawal symptoms to be.

There is a wide variety of alcohol withdrawal symptoms, which may include:

  • Tremors in the body & hands
  • Headache
  • Sweating
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • A loss of appetite
  • Insomnia
  • Rapid heart rate
  • Twitching eyelids
  • Delirium Tremens (DTs)

Psychological symptoms you can expect include:

  • Nervousness
  • Depression
  • An increase in anxiety
  • Confusion
  • Cravings for alcohol

Delirium tremens is a severe reaction to alcohol withdrawal that can cause death. An estimated one in every 20 persons in withdrawal will experience delirium tremens. Individuals with a severe alcohol addiction must detox under the care of addiction specialists to ensure their safety.

Symptoms of delirium tremens include:

  • High fever
  • Seizures
  • Confusion
  • Severe hallucinations
  • Feeling detached from reality
  • Excessive sleep
  • Tremors
  • Irregular heartbeat

What Are the States of the Alcohol Withdrawal Timeline?

If you have been drinking heavily and decided to stop all at once, you will experience alcohol withdrawal syndrome. There are three stages involving mild, moderate, and severe withdrawal symptoms. 

The length of time withdrawal will last as well as the intensity of the symptoms will vary based on many factors. Some of these include:

  • How much alcohol you consume regularly
  • The amount of time you’ve been consuming alcohol
  • Overall health
  • If drugs are being used in conjunction with alcohol
  • Age
  • Support system
  • Metabolism
  • Dietary habits
  • Mental health

You must be aware of the alcohol withdrawal timeline so that you can prepare yourself mentally. Here is a general timeline of what you can expect:

  • Day 1: The first stage of withdrawal will be mild, and you will feel these symptoms as early as six to eight hours. You may not realize you are experiencing the symptoms and attribute it to stress. The mild symptoms will include headache, anxiety, nausea, fatigue, shakiness, trouble sleeping, or just feeling sick. 
  • Day 2: Around 12 to 48 hours, you will start to feel more intense withdrawal symptoms. At this time, you will be safest being evaluated by a medical team. If you are a heavy drinker, there is more reason for concern. Delirium tremens can occur in this stage.
  • Days 3-4:You will likely feel the worst at this time – this is the stage where moderate and heavy drinkers must be monitored for DTs, as well as seizures. Severe symptoms will include confusion, fever, hallucinations, and irritability. Withdrawal during this time can be intense, and DTs or seizures can both cause death. You must commit to medical detox to save your own life.

You may still encounter withdrawal symptoms at the end of the first week, but they will start to disappear as you move forward. There may be lingering cravings or mood swings, and you must stay focused on your recovery to avoid a relapse.

Why Should I Detox?

There are only a few drugs that pose an imminent danger when going through the detox process – alcohol is one of those few drugs. Detox is the first step on a long path to freedom from alcohol addiction. To ensure your safety, you must detox under the care of addiction specialists and physicians at a hospital or residential treatment center.

During detox, you will be provided with medications that minimize your withdrawal symptoms, and decrease the intensity. In extreme cases, people may be tapered off alcohol over a short period under the care of an addiction specialist.

You should never try to stop using at home alone, as this can cause life-threatening outcomes. You must consult a substance abuse professional for guidance. 

What Is the Next Treatment Step?

After a five to seven day period in detox, the client will be moved to the next step in the continuum of care. It can mean you are placed in a residential treatment center, intensive outpatient center, or outpatient facility.

Treatment will help you contend with the lingering symptoms, such as depression, anxiety, and cravings. Continuing forward with treatment will give the best shot at meaningful long-term recovery. You will take part in therapy that helps you get to the root of your problem, and start on the path to a better life.


National Institute on Drug Abuse. (n.d.). 8: Medical detoxification. from

Harvard Health Publishing. (n.d.). Alcohol Withdrawal. from

Rahman, A. (2018, November 18). Delirium Tremens (DT). from

National Institute on Drug Abuse. (n.d.). 6: Definition of tolerance. from

(2019, August 8). Alcohol Facts and Statistics. from

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