Alcohol is one of the most universally abused substances, with over 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 habit 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 that can 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, therefore, causing the drinker to become dependent on alcohol to “function” (although not optimally). Because alcohol changes the chemistry of the brain, people who detox off alcohol typically have a period of time where their body goes through adjusting back to its original state. Additionally, depending on how severely the individual abused alcohol, he/she may experience extreme or even life-threatening withdrawal symptoms and, therefore, needs to be under the guidance of a trained medical professional when starting a detox protocol.

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Some of the minor alcohol withdrawal symptoms may include:

  • Anxiety
  • Nausea
  • Sweating
  • Insomnia
  • Headaches

While some of the fatal withdrawal symptoms, especially for someone addicted to alcohol or been a heavy drinker for years, may 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 looks different depending on the person a typical layout of alcohol detox can look like:

  • The first 6 to 12 hours: some of the initial withdrawal symptoms are usually mild. Symptoms may include: nausea, vomiting, headache, shaking, irritability, and/or anxiety.
  • 24 hours: after the first 24 hours, symptoms may start to 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 is trying to adjust to having alcohol out of its system.
  • Days 3 to 7: the above withdrawal symptoms may continue to occur. This is the time when fatal withdrawal symptoms, although rare, are most likely take place. 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, and 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 to mitigate any potential life-threatening detox withdrawal symptoms and set you on the path of lifelong recovery. Furthermore, it would be beneficial to seek counseling and inpatient/outpatient rehab so that you can get to the root of the desire to over consume alcohol in the first place. Remember, seeking help is a sign of strength and courage, not weakness. With the right support, you or a loved one can walk the path of lifelong sobriety that you deserve.

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