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What are alcohol withdrawal symptoms?

Drinking alcohol daily can lead to alcohol dependence.  In fact, if you experience withdrawal when you stop drinking, this is one of the signs of alcohol addiction.  So what happens during withdrawal from alcohol?  And where can you get alcohol addiction help?  We review here and invite your questions about alcohol withdrawal at the end.

Why do alcohol withdrawal symptoms occur?

Alcohol withdrawal symptoms occur when your body builds up dependence on alcohol. Typically, drinkers experience withdrawal symptoms after extended use of alcohol or a binge. People who use alcohol on a consistent basis for years will face withdrawal symptoms that are a lot more severe than a recent drinker, which make treating alcohol addiction more risky. However, even binge drinkers also experience alcohol withdrawal symptoms after bouts of drinking. Why?

Chronic alcohol use causes your brain chemistry to change. Your brain begins to function normally under the altered state that alcohol provides, causing dependence. After you are dependent on alcohol, your body will then need alcohol in the system to function. So when you stop drinking, the brain needs time to re-adjust to its previous non-alcoholic state. The “rebound” symptoms which occur as the body seeks homeostasis characterize dependence and cause withdrawal symptoms to occur when you stop using alcohol.

What are symptoms of alcohol withdrawal?

The symptoms of alcohol withdrawal have both physical and psychological affects. Physically, you may feel like you have the flu, or another illness. Psychologically, you more subtle symptoms can surface. These are the symptoms that have the most affects on long-term sobriety. However, the initial symptoms of alcohol withdrawal may include:

  • agitation
  • anxiety
  • difficulty concentrating
  • disorientation
  • headache
  • heightened sensitivity to light and sound
  • irritability
  • nausea
  • sweating
  • transient hallucinations (in more serious cases)
  • tremor
  • vomiting

Other symptoms of alcohol withdrawal include:

  • depression
  • fatigue
  • jumpiness or shakiness
  • mood swings
  • nightmares

Alcohol withdrawal symptoms: How long?

The signs and symptoms of alcohol withdrawal typically appear between 6 and 48 hours after heavy alcohol consumption decreases. These initial symptoms of intensify and then diminish over 24 to 48 hours. Still, alcohol withdrawal symptoms can last anywhere from days to weeks, and even months depending on the severity of use. Physical symptoms tend to subside before psychological symptoms. Physical alcohol withdrawal symptoms will typically last for a few days but can persist for a week or two if alcohol use was heavy. Psychological symptoms, however, can last months. It is important to treat both physical and psychological symptoms when seeking treatment for alcohol withdrawal.

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Alcohol withdrawal symptoms treatment

The most common treatments for alcohol withdrawal symptoms are administered in a medically-based inpatient treatment programs. The goal of these programs is to reduce withdrawal symptoms, prevent complications and provide therapy to obtain abstinence from drinking. While both outpatient and inpatient programs can provide sedatives or benzodiazepine medications to ease withdrawal symptoms, inpatient facilities monitor you more closely to ensure there are no complications with alcohol withdrawal symptoms (24 hours, 7 days a week).

Still, keep in mind that the most important alcohol withdrawal symptoms to treat are psychological. These symptoms are the most common cause for relapse. Another option for alcohol withdrawal symptoms treatment is attending support groups. Support groups, such as Alcoholics Anonymous or SMART Recovery. These groups do not treat physical withdrawal symptoms, however they can be useful for psychological withdrawal symptoms. They provide long-term treatment for addiction and provide a means for abstinence from alcohol.

Alcohol withdrawal symptoms questions

Still have questions about withdrawing from alcohol and accompanying symptoms? Please write us in the comments section below. We try to respond to all questions personally and promptly.

Reference Sources: NIAAA: Treatment of Alcohol Withdrawal
NIAAA: Exploring Alcohol Withdrawal Syndrome
Medline Plus: Alcohol withdrawal
Brown University: Alcoholism and Alcohol Abuse

Photo credit: NIAAA

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10 Responses to “What are alcohol withdrawal symptoms?
Karen
9:14 am July 18th, 2014

I have been a binge drinker for twenty years – I binge 1 or 2 times per week – I am now 7 days without alcohol – yesterday I started to feel really ill – flu like symptoms and shaking and total malaise – I can’t get put of bed today – feel terrible – could this be withdrawal? It has happened 6/7 days after my last binge

Maria
8:47 pm July 18th, 2014

I am 51 yrs.old. Been a daily drinker of approx. 2 of the large bottles of wine nightly for 30 yrs. Longest period of not was during 2 pregnancies. I suffer from depression and anxiety but depression was intensifying. Wouldn’t be surprised if I were able to discontinue anti depressant and anxiety after time in sobriety. Probably the cause all along. I stopped and am on my 4th.day. I knew I had my Ativan available should I need it during this detox period. I have not really been anxious but will take 1-2, 2 mg. ea. just to ensure heart rate, any anxiety or chance of complications be reduced. HOWEVER…I feel so tired, exhausted, sleeping last 4 days, don’t want to get up, change clothes, do anything, except to get something to eat…..I haven’t an ounce of energy! I feel so weak! Why is this the symptom I seem to be suffering the most from? How long will this last? Thank god I am not working at this time. I am not going to take anymore ativan because I don’t feel I need it. Prescribed PRN. I don’t want it to contribute to this fatigue! Uggg!

Tony
8:39 pm December 9th, 2014

Its been two days since I gave up on alcohol and I have drank almost all kinds of it for years and almost either neat or with water like 2 bottles in 6 hours time(My routine). I had seen a doctor 8 months coz I had some issues with the liver pricking me but the doctor said its just fatty liver.
Since the last two days my kidneys have started to react and I get a burning sensation and some times pain.
Is this one of alcohol withrawal systom which is common or should I see a doctor for this?Please advise

11:48 am December 12th, 2014

Hello Tony. Yes, it’s best to see a doctor and get examined. Your doctor will be able to determine the origin of your symptoms and treat them accordingly.

viola
1:34 am January 10th, 2015

My blood pressure has recently ben high. i believe its frm drinking. when i stop drinking it gets high, howevier when i drink it stabelizes. will my blood pressure eventually be normal if i stop drinking? What do i do? I am scared

2:55 pm January 16th, 2015

Hi Viola. Blood pressure isn’t something to be left unattended, especially high blood pressure. It can cause many harms to your organs and general health. Drinking, also, isn’t a remedy. Please see a doctor about your condition. I’m sure you’ll have to give up drinking and will receive some medication to regulate the blood pressure.

Jackie
10:26 pm February 25th, 2015

I have been a heavy drinker, at least a bottle of rose per night. I had my last rose Friday night. Had three vodka and cokes Saturday and Sunday, Nothing Monday Tuesday and so far today but I feel awful. Dreadful flu like symptoms, headache, runny nose etc etc. What to do, have a small drink? I just don’t know…

12:44 am March 12th, 2015

Hi Jackie. It’s best to see a doctor. Alcohol withdrawal symptom is potentially dangerous in some cases and I believe you can get a proper examination and medical help form a professional. You will be feeling much better soon, but medical treatment is a life-saver sometimes.

R.B.
11:01 pm October 27th, 2015

Pretty much hits the nail on the head. However I; at a period of my life would suffer quite severe withdraw symptoms after as little as 2 hours:; but NEVER more than 4 hours.
I was a 145 pound 5′ 9″ person drinking 1/2 gallon (of hard alcohol) a day without ANY food (but maybe 1-2 crackers a day) for up to 12-14 days. I was hospitalized finally after over a year of this consistency & put into “Critical Care” with the Doctors (Plural) telling my family that I MAY have a 50%/50% chance of living or dying at my states leading/best hospital equipped with 2 Lifeline Helicopters.
I could write a book about that experience. I had Asites to which my stomach distended to a 54″ inseam. They took 16 liters of of that fluid out in what I think they called a “Paratenial Tap” with about a 8″-10″ needle inserted into my abdomen moving it slowing forwards & backwards.
Like I said, I could almost write a book about that one alone. (and there where more!)
My best advise to anyone: do NOT EVER drink!!!!

8:29 pm November 10th, 2015

Hello R.B. I am really happy for you that you managed all harsh withdrawal symptoms, and quit drinking. If you want, you may share some of your experiences.

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