How long does alcohol withdrawal last?

Alcohol withdrawal lasts from several hours to several days, but should be resolved within 7 days after your last drink. More on what affects the length of alcohol withdrawal symptoms here.

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Why do people go through withdrawal?

Alcohol withdrawal is caused when you interrupt constant exposure of alcohol to the central nervous system.  Sometimes, withdrawal can be confused with a hangover, especially when hangover duration lasts more than a couple of days.  However, withdrawal is distinct and separate from a hangover and occurs after long, heavy periods of drinking.  But how do you know when alcoholism, alcohol abuse, and addiction have become problems?

People who drink more than a few drinks every day, or who drink large amounts of alcohol consistently over time end up affecting their brain chemistry. In fact, regular alcohol intake “slows down” some brain cell activity and responsiveness, making others work harder to keep up normal functioning. So when you remove alcohol, the brain becomes hyperactive until these parts of the brain (the neurotransmitters) balance out again. This period of balancing out is called withdrawal.

Duration of withdrawal symptoms

Alcohol withdrawal severity and length vary by person. Experts thinks that the different factors contribute to withdrawal include:

  • age
  • central nervous system mechanisms
  • coexisting illnesses
  • genetic influences
  • neurochemical mechanisms
  • pattern of alcohol use

Most people are able to reduce or stop drinking with only minimal withdrawal symptoms. And although the symptoms of withdrawal vary, the time course for withdrawal symptoms can be predictable. Withdrawal usually begins 6 to 8 hours following a reduction in alcohol use, peaks 24 to 28 hours after the last drink, and can last up to 7 days. After you withdraw from alcohol, however, you can and may experience disrupted sleep patterns or changes in attention and concentration days to months after the last drink.

Some people stop drinking on their own (how to stop drinking alcohol on your own). But if you are thinking about detox for alcohol, SEEK MEDICAL HELP. If you stop drinking cold turkey, you can provoke serious side effects in the body such as seizures, hallucinations, or you may even become temporarily delirious. Also, there are medications that can help ease the discomfort of withdrawal.

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Alcohol withdrawal questions

Please ask any other questions about alcohol detox or withdrawal below. We are here to help.

Reference sources: NIAAA publication on Alcohol Withdrawal and Alcohol Withdrawal Protocol for Treatment
About the author
Lee Weber is a published author, medical writer, and woman in long-term recovery from addiction. Her latest book, The Definitive Guide to Addiction Interventions is set to reach university bookstores in early 2019.
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