Alcohol withdrawal refers to the series of symptoms and physical effects that someone who is dependent on alcohol experiences when they stop drinking. The degree to which someone experiences these symptoms depends on how heavily they drink and how long they have been practicing these habits. For someone with a larger alcohol dependency, these symptoms can magnify into life-threatening.

Common symptoms are:

  • Anxiety
  • Depression
  • Irritability
  • Sweating
  • Shakiness
  • Insomnia
  • Loss of appetite
  • Nausea
  • Headache

How Severe are the Symptoms?

Moderate-level alcohol withdrawal symptoms include the same symptoms as those that occur from minor withdrawal, but the individual also will experience tactile, auditory, or visual hallucinations. However, the individual is usually able to tell the difference between hallucination and reality. In addition, the individual will experience a faster heart rate and irregularities in their heartbeat.

If the individual has severe alcohol withdrawal symptoms, their hallucinations will be indistinguishable from reality. The person will also experience extreme anxiety and confusion that may become aggressive. Furthermore, the individual is likely to have a sweat-inducing fever. They will experience severe blood pressure spikes and dramatic increases in heart rate. Seizures and severe tremors also characterize this stage. Some of these severe symptoms, if extreme, can result in death.

The Timeline of Withdrawal

In most cases, alcohol withdrawal symptoms begin 6-12 hours after an individual quits drinking but can take up to several days to start. They are initially mild and gradually increase in severity. After 12 to 48 hours, hallucinations and seizures may begin to occur with the peak of withdrawal occurring between the 24 and 72-hour mark. Seizures are most likely to occur after 24 hours.

Someone who is a consistent heavy drinker might experience delirium tremens and severe alcohol withdrawal symptoms. These symptoms do not typically manifest until 48 to 72 hours after the individual’s last drink, and severe symptoms will continue to worsen until five days after the individual has stopped drinking.

If the withdrawal is minor or moderate in severity, then the acute withdrawal symptoms will usually dissipate five to seven days after the last drink, but severe alcohol withdrawal can continue for weeks. Some people who quit drinking have mild psychological symptoms for months after quitting, which is referred to as post-acute withdrawal syndrome.

Managing Alcohol Withdrawal

If you anticipate alcohol withdrawal after you stop drinking, it is important to seek professional assistance from a rehabilitation center. They will help you choose the best rehabilitation program and can prescribe medications that will reduce the severity of alcohol withdrawal. While alcohol withdrawal can be quite serious, you should never let the fear its symptoms prevent you from quitting and pursuing a healthy lifestyle.