What are alcohol withdrawal symptoms?

Alcohol withdrawal is characterized by physical and psychological symptoms such as difficulty thinking, depression, mood swings, or (in severe cases) seizures and delerium. Learn more about alcohol withdrawal symptoms here.

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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.

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
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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