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Alcohol is one of the most universally abused substances, with nearly 15 million adults in the United States suffering from an alcohol abuse disorder. With such easy accessibility and social acceptability, many people struggle to stop their drinking or may even become alcohol dependent. Once dependent on alcohol, unpleasant and sometimes fatal withdrawal symptoms can occur if drinking is stopped all at once. Therefore, it is important that an individual suffering from an alcohol abuse disorder seek a professional detoxification program to help mitigate any withdrawal symptoms the individual may face.

Withdrawal Symptoms of Alcohol Detox

Alcohol is a depressant that, when abused, can cause an individual’s brain to stop producing certain vital chemicals. When the brain stops producing these chemicals on its own, it relies on alcohol to fill the void, causing the drinker to become dependent on alcohol to “function” (although not optimally). Because alcohol changes the brain’s chemistry, people who detox from alcohol typically have a period when their body adjusts to its original state. Additionally, depending on how severely the individual abused alcohol, they may experience extreme or even life-threatening withdrawal symptoms and, therefore, must be under the guidance of a trained medical professional when starting a detox protocol.

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Minor alcohol withdrawal symptoms may include:

  • Anxiety
  • Nausea
  • Sweating
  • Insomnia
  • Headaches

Severe symptoms can include:

  • Seizures
  • Hallucinations
  • Tremors
  • Disorientation
  • Delirium tremens (a rapid onset of severe delusions and hallucinations)

Alcohol Detox Withdrawal Timeline

Withdrawal symptoms experienced by an individual can vary case-by-case depending on the severity of the alcohol abuse, the genetic makeup of the individual, or any underlying medical conditions the individual may have. As such, withdrawal symptoms can start as early as two hours after the last drink and last for a week or upwards of months or a year.

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Although the withdrawal timeline varies from person to person, a typical alcohol detox can look like this:

  • The first 6 to 12 hours: Initial withdrawal symptoms are usually mild. Symptoms may include nausea, vomiting, headache, shaking, irritability, or anxiety.
  • 24 hours: After the first 24 hours, symptoms may become more severe. In addition to the symptoms felt in the first 6 to 12 hours after the last drink, disorientation, tremors, and seizures may occur.
  • 48 hours: Hallucinations and panic attacks may occur around the second day of detox as the body tries to adjust to having alcohol out of its system.
  • Days 3 to 7: The above withdrawal symptoms may continue to occur. This is when fatal withdrawal symptoms, although rare, are most likely to occur. One of these life-threatening symptoms is delirium tremens.
  • After the first week: Typically, withdrawal symptoms of alcohol detox will taper off after the first week. However, since the body takes a toll with excessive consumption of alcohol use, the individual may experience anxiety, low energy, delayed reflexes, trouble sleeping, or insomnia for several months after detoxing off alcohol.

Getting Help with Alcohol Withdrawal

Seeking professional, medical help is crucial when detoxing off alcohol. Being under the direct supervision of a trained professional will help mitigate any potential life-threatening detox withdrawal symptoms and set you on the path to lifelong recovery. Furthermore, it would be beneficial to seek counseling and either inpatient or outpatient rehab to get to the root of the desire to over-consume alcohol in the first place. Remember, seeking help shows strength and courage, not weakness. With the right support, you or a loved one can walk the path of lifelong sobriety that you deserve.

Sources:

Infinite Recovery has strict sourcing guidelines and relies on peer-reviewed studies, academic research institutions, and medical associations for our references. We avoid using tertiary references as our sources. You can learn more about how we source our references by reading our editorial guidelines and medical review policy.

  1. National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA). Alcohol Facts and Statistics | National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA). Published March 2022. Accessed June 23, 2022. https://www.niaaa.nih.gov/publications/brochures-and-fact-sheets/alcohol-facts-and-statistics
  2. DiLonardo. Alcohol Withdrawal: Symptoms, Treatment and Alcohol Detox Duration. Published November 26, 2011. Accessed June 23, 2022. https://www.webmd.com/mental-health/addiction/alcohol-withdrawal-symptoms-treatments#1
  3. Medline Plus. Delirium tremens: MedlinePlus Medical Encyclopedia. Published June 23, 2022. Accessed June 23, 2022. https://medlineplus.gov/ency/article/000766.htm
Amanda Stevens, BS

Medical Content Writer

Amanda Stevens, BS

Amanda is a prolific medical content writer specializing in eating disorders and addiction treatment. She graduated Magnum Cum Laude from Purdue University with a B.S. in Social Work. As a person in recovery from disordered eating, she is passionate about seeing people heal and transform. She writes for popular treatment centers such as Ocean Recovery, Ascendant NY, The Heights Treatment, Epiphany Wellness, New Waters Recovery and adolescent mental health treatment center BasePoint Academy. In her spare time she loves learning about health, nutrition, meditation, spiritual practices, and enjoys being the a mother of a beautiful daughter.

Last medically reviewed June 23, 2022

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