Alcohol Withdrawal Symptoms

Signs of Alcohol Withdrawal
Alcohol Withdrawals
Treatment for Alcohol Withdrawals
Severe Alcohol Withdrawal



Alcohol Withdrawal Symptoms
Learn the possible complications of alcohol withdrawals, as severe alcohol withdrawal can be fatal




Alcohol withdrawal symptoms occur when someone reduces or stops alcohol consumption after prolonged periods of excessive drinking.

The process of cleaning the body from the alcohol substance to overcome its addiction is called alcoholism detox. Detox is the first (necessary) step in overcoming alcohol dependence

Not everyone who stops drinking experiences withdrawal symptoms, but most people who have been drinking frequently will experience some form of withdrawal symptoms if they stop drinking suddenly.

Understanding the alcohol withdrawal symptoms that may follow the short term or long term stopping of drinking is critical for avoiding unnecessary complications. (For more on the treatment of alcohol withdrawals read Diazepam and alcohol withdrawals)


What Causes the Signs of Alcohol Withdrawal?

When a drinker consumes large quantities of alcohol over weeks, months or years - his body attempts to safeguard its internal stability.

The body, particularly the brain, adapts to the presence of alcohol by compensating for alcohol’s effect on the central nervous system (CNS).

Alcohol has an overall suppressing effect on CNS activity. Most of the clinical effects can be explained by the interaction of alcohol with various neurotransmitters and neuroreceptors in the brain. If you are interested in learning more about this process, here is a good source.


The Severity Of Alcohol Withdrawal...

...depends on various factors including age, genetics, and, most importantly, degree of alcohol intake, length of time the individual has been misusing alcohol and number of previous alcohol detoxifications

The period of time in which the symptoms occur and peak range from 5 - 10 hours after the last drink (drinkers in the early stage alcoholism) up to 48 - 72 hours (for alcoholics in the advanced stages) and may persist for weeks and even months. 



Mild to Moderate Psychological Symptoms

  • Alcohol withdrawal anxiety or nervousness
  • Depression
  • Difficulty thinking clearly
  • Fatigue
  • Irritability or easy excitability
  • Jumpiness or shakiness
  • Nightmares
  • Rapid emotional changes

Mild to Moderate Physical Symptoms

  • Clammy skin
  • Enlarged (dilated) pupils
  • Headache
  • Insomnia - Sleeping difficulty
  • Loss of appetite
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Pallor - An abnormal loss of color from normal skin
  • Rapid heart rate
  • Sweating
  • Tremor of the hands or other body parts

The Severe Alcohol Withdrawal Symptoms

  • Agitation - An unpleasant state of extreme arousal (stirred up or excited), increased tension, and irritability.
  • Delirium tremens known as DT. A state of severe confusion and visual hallucinations.
  • Fever
  • Alcohol Withdrawal Seizures - The physical findings or changes in behavior that occur after an episode of abnormal electrical activity in the brain.

If you think you might be suffering from signs of alcohol withdrawal then it is essential you call for medical assistance as soon as possible. Alcohol withdrawal seizures can be life-threatening.





Prolonged Alcohol Withdrawal

Prolonged alcohol withdrawal syndrome occurs in many alcoholics where alcohol withdrawal symptoms continue beyond the acute withdrawal stage (the first 72 hours) but usually at a sub acute level of intensity and gradually decreasing with severity over time.

Some withdrawal symptoms can linger for at least a year after discontinuation of alcohol. Symptoms can include:

  • Craving for alcohol.
  • Inability to feel pleasure from normally pleasurable things (also known asanhedonia).
  • Clouding of sensorium.
  • Disorientation
  • Nausea and vomiting or headache.
  • Insomnia

In addition to the amount of alcohol consumed and the duration of the alcohol intake just before cessation of drinking - a history of withdrawal episodes appears to be a critical factor in the intensity of withdrawal symptoms.



The Kindling Graph

Many alcoholics experience numerous withdrawal episodes during the course of their illness (Hillbom 1990). Kindling is the phenomenon where repeated alcohol detoxifications lead to an increased severity of the alcohol withdrawal symptoms.

For example, binge drinkers may initially experience no withdrawal symptoms but with each period of resumption of drinking followed by abstinence, their withdrawal symptoms intensify in severity and may eventually result in full blown delirium tremens with convulsive alcohol withdrawal seizures.


Alcohol withdrawals

Given the high rate of regressions among alcoholics, each withdrawal episode may perhaps best be viewed not as an isolated event but as part of a potentially long-term process that can lead to dangerous exacerbation of withdrawal symptoms with each subsequent episode.



Treatment for Alcohol Withdrawals

If alcohol withdrawal symptoms are not treated correctly or in time - they may rapidly become life threatening.

Call your health care provider or go the emergency room if you think you might be in alcohol withdrawal, especially if you were using alcohol often and recently stopped. 

Call for an appointment with your health care provider if symptoms persist after treatment.

Go to the emergency room or call the local emergency number (such as 911) if seizures, fever, severe confusion, hallucinations, or irregular heartbeats occur.

It is essential that you only attempt to withdraw from alcohol under medical supervision.

Your physician will provide you with medication for alcohol withdrawals such as Diazepam.

This which will help you relax ensuring that you do not have alcohol withdrawal anxiety and, more importantly, you don't suffer from alcohol withdrawal seizures which can be fatal.




Give Up Alcohol

Do you want to stop drinking without having to attend 12 step meetings? I highly recommend Rahul Nag's E-book, in which he outlines the steps you need to take to moderate your drinking or give up entirely. A great alternative to the way of AA and the expense of a treatment center. Take a risk-free look at his method and return to social drinking.










If you found this page helpful, then the following may be of interest to you:



Return from Alcohol Withdrawal Symptoms to Alcohol Abuse Effects 

Return from Alcohol Withdrawal Symptoms to Alcoholism Help Homepage


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Deborah Morrow, M.S. Addiction Psychology, is the director of treatment programs for The Alcoholism Guide website. In her practice Deborah provides on-line coaching and support for those dependent on alcohol or who require other services such as relapse prevention or court mandated services. (Read More)


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