Tuesday August 30th 2016

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What are alcohol withdrawal symptoms?

Alcohol can be physically and psychologically addictive.  In fact, alcohol addictive qualities make it difficult to use alcohol daily. So what happens when you stop drinking after long or heavy periods?  You go through withdrawal.  Here, we review why this happens, what to expect, and treatment for alcohol abuse withdrawal.   Then, we invite your questions about alcohol withdrawal symptoms at the end.

Why do alcohol withdrawal symptoms occur?

Alcohol withdrawal symptoms occur when your body builds up a tolerance to and 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. However, binge drinkers also experience alcohol withdrawal symptoms after bouts of drinking. Why?

Chronic alcohol use causes your brain chemistry to change. Does alcoholism cause mental illness?  Experts are still investigating.  However, we do know that after time, 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. Symptoms of alcohol withdrawal include:

  • anxiety or nervousness
  • depression
  • difficulty thinking
  • fatigue
  • headache
  • irritability
  • jumpiness or shakiness
  • mood swings
  • nightmares
  • sweating

Dealing with the psychological symptoms of alcohol withdrawal can be the most difficult in the recovery process. We discuss how to treat these symptoms of alcohol withdrawal below, although seeking help through a professional center can go a long way to help.

Alcohol withdrawal symptoms: How long?

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 medically-based outpatient or inpatient 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: Medline Plus: Alcohol withdrawal
NIAAA: Exploring Alcohol Withdrawal Syndrome
SAMHSA: Quick Guide for Clinicians based on TIP 45 Detoxification and Substance Abuse Treatment 

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5 Responses to “What are alcohol withdrawal symptoms?
2:04 pm June 10th, 2014

Hi there, so my name is Liam and I’m 24 years old, typical bloke who likes a drink with the lads. But after this weekend, I went pretty hard, and have been for the last week or so, drinking through my hangover etc. but I had my last drink on Sunday, now Tuesday I still feel really hazey. Not hungover but I have a headache I can’t shift, I’m forcing myself to eat, and I’m just so tired all the time. Any advice apart from lay of the liqueur?

2:21 pm June 10th, 2014

Hello~ I want to quit drinking all together, but finding it hard to do so. I drink beer, no wine and no hard liquor. Is it easier to get off of beer than the hard stuff? I don’t want to go to rehab, I want to do it on my own. Can you please suggest what will help with the transition when I stop? I want to stop now, but is it better to stop cold turkey or try to decrease my daily intake until it’s at 0? Please help.

Thank you kindly,


6:12 pm February 1st, 2015

I haven’t had a drop of alcohol in now 8 days, but have been having cold sweats, insomnia, anxiety, and nausea that seem to come and go in “episodes” thought the day. Is this normal?

6:19 pm February 2nd, 2015

Hello Branden. Check in with a physician who specializes in addiction medicine. You’ll need an analysis of your former levels of alcohol dependence in order to diagnose and treat the symptoms that are manifesting at the moment.

8:59 am June 5th, 2015

Hi, Had an ambulance come for me early hours of Sunday, spent 11hours in casualty in pain before I was admitted. When the pain came on me it was terrible I thought this is it, heart attack?? Tight cramping from right side up to shoulder and across back upper stomach and back, only the left hand side of my torso was pain free. My bloods showed raised white blood cells? Deranged liver function tests? And raised Amylase (pancreas)? No one explained anything to me. I told the doctor that I liked a drink, I had been abroad For 2 weeks, and had been drinking a lot of red wine, and continued drinking when I returned home for another week. Prior to going away I had not had any drink for about 3months I was put on a yellow iv drip due to my alcohol problem, but was not told what it was they were pumping into me 3 times a day for 4 days? One nurse said it was just vitamins and minerals, other told me it was because of my drink problem and withdrawal symptoms? The hospital treated me like a total reject I felt completely alone. It was suggested either Panceaitis(sorry spelling), or liver problems, gallstones??? FInally had a scan and was confirmed I had gallstones. I heard the person carrying out the scan mention fatty liver to a colleague. When the scan was over I asked and was told it gallstones they never mentioned anything about my liver to me, so I asked did I heR right and she said yes you have a fatty liver. Sorry to ramble on but I have been so desperate to get on the addiction blog for some kind of advice. When the surgeon came to discuss my results he said Gallstones, never mentioned my liver.I mentioned it to him, and the reply I got was well you are very over weight, and you drink a lot, yes it can get worse. I asked his advice on where to start to try and do everything I can to help my liver. He didn’t want to know, he gave me no advice what to do, I felt like a total piece of filth. I was told I need to have my Gallbladder removed but to go home and it would be arranged through out patients. When I was given my discharge letter the nurses last words to me were and lay off the booze, in front of a ward full of people. I have never Been so lonely in my life whilst I was in hospital, I felt so badly treated and not attended to like the other patients. I never want to go through anything like it again, it broke my heart, drained any little confidence I had, left me feeling lost and hopeless. My husband has Parkinson’s Disease, we are full time carers for his brother who is mentally handicapped. I was worried about them left without me to see to them. I am now rock bottom, I will never touch alcohol ever again after this traumatic experience, and I hope none of you have to go through an ordeal like this. I felt like an person from the gutter. Where to start now I don’t know, I thought the idea was they would operate not just send me home, to be refered at a later date for the operation. Now I am on pins waiting for this terrible pain to happen again. I don’t know what to do about a fatty liver? It is obviously going to be Alcohol related. So sorry to harp on just don’t know where to turn. X

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