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Alcohol Detox: Symptoms, Withdrawal & Treatment

Alcohol Detox: Symptoms, Withdrawal & TreatmentPhoto from Pixabay


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Alcohol withdrawal symptoms occur when binge drinkers suddenly quit drinking after chronic alcohol use. These symptoms can vary in severity, from mild to severe. Severe withdrawal symptoms can be dangerous and, in rare cases, deadly.

Because symptoms of alcohol withdrawal might worsen with time, it is crucial to know whether your withdrawal symptoms are becoming more severe so you can get treatment. The more serious symptoms often appear two to five days after you quit consuming alcoholic drinks, which means that the first two days may not be a good indicator of your risk of developing serious health problems.

In this post, you can learn about alcohol detox, its symptoms, and treatment options available to help you through alcohol withdrawal.

What is Alcohol Detox?

The best way to overcome an addiction to alcohol or any other substance is to stop using it. When someone goes through alcohol detoxification, they abstain from drinking alcoholic beverages on purpose to allow their body time to adjust to life without alcohol.

Alcohol detox can be an unpleasant, stressful, and dangerous process as it requires a person to experience various withdrawal symptoms. Withdrawal often leads to relapse, but detox allows individuals to stop drinking safely and comfortably. Someone who decides to go through withdrawal and does not suppress it by having another drink will take the process very seriously, but the gain is lost if they risk their life by using it again.

Since some alcohol withdrawal symptoms are dangerous, people should detox from alcohol at a treatment center under medical supervision. People who undergo alcohol detox with professional help are more likely to complete the process safely and effectively. A detox may not be a pleasant process, but it is an essential first step for recovering from alcoholism. After detox, an individual in recovery might begin therapy in a treatment program.

Alcohol Detox Symptoms

The severity of symptoms of alcohol withdrawal that you experience depends on a variety of personal factors, including how much and how often you have been drinking, as well as your overall health.

Alcohol withdrawal symptoms can range from mild, unpleasant physical and psychological sensations to severe, life-threatening ones. Aside from withdrawal, there are several additional signs and symptoms of alcohol use disorder (AUD) to be aware of.

Alcohol Withdrawal Syndrome

Alcohol withdrawal syndrome (AWS) is the set of symptoms that develop when a heavy drinker suddenly stops or lowers their alcohol intake.

AWS can cause a variety of physical and mental symptoms, ranging from mild anxiety and exhaustion to nausea. Some AWS symptoms are severe, such as hallucinations and seizures. AWS can be fatal in its most severe form.

Because of the life-threatening health consequences that can occur during AWS, you are strongly advised never to attempt to quit drinking on your own and instead seek treatment at a hospital or specialized treatment facility. Medical professionals can monitor your physical and mental health throughout the day to ensure that symptoms do not worsen.

Common Symptoms of Alcohol Withdrawal

Symptoms of alcohol withdrawal usually appear 8 hours after your last drink, but they can show up days later. Withdrawal symptoms usually peak in 24 to 72 hours but can last for weeks.

  • Headaches
  • Intense cravings for alcohol
  • High temperature and/or chills
  • Irritability and agitation
  • Decreased appetite
  • Mood swings
  • Abdominal pain
  • Depression and anxiety
  • Shaking and shivering
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Tics and tremors (‘the shakes’)
  • Irregular or increased heart rate
  • Confusion
  • Insomnia
  • Excessive sweating
  • Unpleasant, vivid dreams
  • Fatigue
  • Difficulty concentrating


Severe Symptoms of Alcohol Withdrawal

The most severe symptoms of alcohol withdrawal are known as delirium tremens (DTs) and can be fatal. While withdrawal symptoms are normal for many people who reduce their alcohol intake, a study shows that severe symptoms in the form of delirium tremens occur in around 3-5 percent of those experiencing withdrawal.

If you or someone you care about is struggling with delirium tremens, take it as a medical emergency and seek immediate medical attention.

Delirium tremens symptoms include:

  • High blood pressure
  • Seizures
  • Fever
  • Extreme agitation
  • Severe disorientation and confusion
  • Visual and/or auditory hallucinations

It is important to know that everyone’s experience with alcohol withdrawal will be different. Your personal history, as well as your mental and physical health, will play a part in the symptoms you experience, their severity level, and the risk they pose to you.

Post-Acute Alcohol Withdrawal Syndrome (PAWS)

Some people may develop long-term side effects after the initial alcohol withdrawal symptoms have faded. This stage, known as post-acute withdrawal syndrome (PAWS), is less common. PAWS refers to those withdrawal symptoms that appear after acute withdrawal and can make post-rehab living difficult for certain people. PAWS can persist anywhere from a few weeks to a year, depending on the severity of your alcohol abuse.

PAWS symptoms commonly include:

  • Delayed reflexes
  • Intense cravings
  • Anxiety
  • Trouble sleeping
  • Increased accident proneness
  • Chronic nausea
  • Irritability and emotional outbursts
  • Dizziness
  • Low energy
  • Memory problems

PAWS is a leading cause of relapse in those who have completed alcohol addiction treatment. Many people experience PAWS symptoms in cyclical waves: one day, you feel good, and the next, you’re tormented with poor energy and excessive alcohol cravings.

The spontaneity of this withdrawal period might make resisting cravings difficult. However, it is essential to note that each episode of PAWS is usually limited to only a few days at a time. If a person can hang on throughout that time period, the symptoms will fade just as quickly as they started.

Alcohol Detox Treatment

Alcohol is a CNS depressant that your body becomes addicted to over months or years of drinking. Your brain gradually quits generating specific neurotransmitters that it receives from alcohol, and you become addicted to alcohol. That is why it takes time for your body to adjust once you stop drinking. Withdrawal symptoms include headache, fever, nausea, irregular heartbeat, and hallucinations.

The alcohol detox stage is the initial phase in alcoholism treatment. During this period, alcohol is entirely flushed from your system. Symptoms of withdrawal normally fade after 1-2 weeks of beginning detox; however, depending on the severity of your AUD, this might take longer. After detox, you can concentrate on other aspects of your rehabilitation process, such as different activities, treatments, therapy sessions, and support groups.

Alcohol Detox and Withdrawal Timeline

Detox is the first step in the treatment process for those suffering from alcoholism. Detox is the removal of alcohol from the body after the body has chemically adjusted to having the substance on a daily basis. It can be done in either an outpatient or an inpatient medical detox environment. Detox is performed to help the body in overcoming withdrawal symptoms.

Withdrawal symptoms can vary in severity from mild to severe, depending on factors such as how much the individual drank, how often they drank, and whether they have any co-occurring mental disorders. While treatment does not ensure life-long sobriety, alcohol detox might be the first step toward staying sober when combined with rehabilitation or therapy.

Withdrawal symptoms might appear as early as two hours after you had your last drink. While the most severe symptoms usually go away within a week, certain milder symptoms might persist anywhere from a few weeks to a year. There is no exact alcohol withdrawal timeline for when or what withdrawal symptoms you may experience, but there is a basic outline of what to expect.

The following is a breakdown of the alcohol detox process:

First Six to Twelve Hours

The initial symptoms of alcohol withdrawal are mild, but they can quickly worsen as time passes. Some early withdrawal symptoms are headaches, anxiety, shaking, nausea, and irritability.

Day One

As you near the end of the first 24 hours of alcohol detox, your symptoms may worsen. In addition to the effects seen during the first 12 hours, disorientation, hand tremors, and seizures may also occur.

Day Two

The most painful symptoms will persist on the second day of detox, as they did on the first. Hallucinations and panic episodes are normal during this period when your body detoxifies from alcohol.

Day Three to Seven

Different withdrawal symptoms may appear and disappear over the rest of your first week of detox. This is also the moment when you are most vulnerable to life-threatening symptoms like delirium tremens.

After One Week

Many withdrawal symptoms will begin to fade by the end of your first week of detox. While some symptoms may last for a few weeks, most are mild and treatable with medications.

Even after the most severe withdrawal, symptoms have subsided, some people may have post-acute withdrawal syndrome (PAWS), which is characterized by prolonged detox symptoms. Anxiety, poor energy, difficulty sleeping, and delayed reflexes are common symptoms that might continue for several months to a year.

Alcohol Detox Medications

In some cases, medication is necessary to lessen withdrawal symptoms to manageable levels. The doctor monitors the withdrawal process and prescribes alcohol detox medications.

Medications used in alcohol detox are available in a wide variety, and what works for one person may not work for another. As the client’s needs change, the type and amount of medication may be adjusted throughout detox.


There are both short-acting and long-acting benzodiazepines that can be used in a detox program. These medications are used to alleviate withdrawal symptoms such as anxiety, sleeplessness, and muscular spasms.


This medicine helps to lessen alcohol cravings. Because it might worsen withdrawal symptoms, naltrexone is typically not recommended or given until a few days into the detox process. Naltrexone is available in pill and injectable forms, and the doctor in charge of your detox and rehabilitation can advise you on which is best for you.


Anticonvulsant drugs may be used for those who have a history of withdrawal-induced seizures during detox. Anticonvulsant medications that are used to treat withdrawal seizures include carbamazepine, divalproex sodium, phenobarbital, levetiracetam, and clonazepam.

Anti-Nausea Medication

Anti-nausea medication is sometimes used during the withdrawal phase of addiction recovery since nausea is a common symptom during detox. Ondansetron and metoclopramide are two anti-nausea medications that are often prescribed during detox.


These drugs alleviate psychotic symptoms such as hallucinations, delusions, and paranoia. Individuals experiencing these symptoms as a result of alcohol withdrawal may be prescribed antipsychotic medications such as olanzapine and risperidone. Because these drugs are also used to treat medical conditions such as schizophrenia and bipolar disorder, people undergoing detox may continue to take them throughout and after rehab.


Individuals going through alcohol detox who have clinically diagnosed depression may be prescribed antidepressants. These medications also help in the reduction of anxiety, which is another potential sign of alcohol withdrawal.

In certain cases, persons with a co-occurring mental health issue may continue to take depression or anxiety medication after the completion of treatment to control their symptoms. Treating mental health disorders is part of rehabilitation since these conditions, if left untreated, increase the chance of relapse later on.


Disulfiram is often used in the later phases of therapy rather than during detoxification. When used with alcohol, this medication has undesirable side effects. The goal of disulfiram is to make alcohol use so uncomfortable that you don’t want to drink anymore. If you consume alcohol while taking disulfiram, you may have nausea, headache, weakness, flushing, and low blood pressure.


Acamprosate may be prescribed to those who have been drinking heavily for a long time. This medication helps to lessen alcohol cravings and supports the brain in recovering to normal functioning after long-term alcohol addiction.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

What symptoms will I have if I stop drinking?

A set of symptoms that occur when a person physically dependent on alcohol suddenly quits drinking or lowers their alcohol intake.Signs and symptoms of the various phases of alcohol withdrawal include:
mood changes
gastrointestinal disturbances
increased blood pressure or heart rate
rapid abnormal breathing
heart palpitations
tremors or shakes

What physically happens when you stop drinking?

If you’re a heavy alcohol drinker, your body may revolt at first if you suddenly stop drinking. You may have cold sweats, a racing pulse, nausea, vomiting, and severe anxiety. Some people even experience seizures or see things that are not there (hallucinations).To help you get through it, your doctor or substance abuse therapist can give medical advice and may prescribe medications such as benzodiazepines or carbamazepine.

What is the best way to treat alcohol withdrawal?

The best way to treat alcohol withdrawal is to start with medically-supervised detoxification. After detox, enroll in an inpatient treatment program. In the end, get additional support from aftercare programs.Because alcohol has so many negative effects on the body, the typical first step in treating alcoholism is detox. Detox is a process of getting alcohol out of your system. This stage might be somewhat irritating or severe, depending on the severity of the alcohol use disorder (AUD).
After the completion of detox, patients are often sent to a residential inpatient facility for alcohol rehab. Here, you can fully focus on long-term addiction rehabilitation by engaging in counseling, support groups, and other types of treatment to achieve long-term success.
Addiction recovery is a lifetime struggle. Aftercare programs continue to support individuals after they have completed their original course of medical treatment. Aftercare programs allow patients to benefit from a support network of sympathetic people, which helps in the maintenance of abstinence in the long term.

Find Comfortable Sobriety at The Haven Detox

Alcoholism does not have to rule your life any longer. The first step in reclaiming your life and finding joy again is alcohol detox. Although alcohol detox can be a painful experience, it is an important phase in the recovery process. Alcohol withdrawal is a safer and easier process when performed under the supervision of professionals.

The Haven Detox believes in providing individualized care to each patient’s specific needs. We offer medically-supervised detox in a safe, comfortable, and supportive environment. Along with a detox, we also offer residential treatment for alcohol and drugs.

We also offer a number of evidence-based therapies, such as cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT), dialectical behavior therapy (DBT), eye movement desensitization and reprocessing (EMDR), relapse prevention therapy, and many others.

For more information, contact our compassionate medical staff at 888-576-5042 today!

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