Drug and Alcohol

Alcohol Withdrawal: What You Need to Know About the First Stage of Alcohol Treatment

Alcohol Withdrawal: What You Need to Know

Navigating alcohol withdrawal is a difficult but necessary step when pursuing a sober future. The Edge Treatment Center will make the process easier.

Written by

brian-mooreBrian Moore

Content Writer

Reviewed by

jeremy-arztJeremy Arzt

Chief Clinical Officer

Drug and Alcohol

June 22, 2022

Addiction of any kind is incredibly damaging to the body, mind, and relationships. Overcoming an addiction to alcohol is a trying journey, and the first major hurdle many face is withdrawal symptoms. Alcohol withdrawal presents many difficulties early in recovery, so preparing to navigate this difficult time is essential for processing the difficult emotional and physical symptoms of alcohol withdrawal safely and comfortably.

What Is Alcohol Withdrawal?

Alcohol withdrawal is a medical condition that occurs when someone who has been drinking heavily for an extended period of time suddenly stops or drastically reduces their alcohol consumption. This can cause the body to go into shock, leading to a wide range of physical and mental symptoms such as anxiety, tremors, sweating, nausea, and vomiting.

What Causes Alcohol Withdrawal?

Alcohol withdrawal occurs when the body has become dependent on the alcohol, and suddenly stops receiving it. The sudden absence of alcohol causes a rapid reduction in blood sugar levels, resulting in an imbalance of chemicals in the brain and throughout the body which can lead to various physical and mental symptoms.

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Can You Get Alcohol Withdrawal if You Only Drink Occasionally?

Yes, alcohol withdrawal can occur in people who drink only occasionally. However, it is much more common and severe for those who have been drinking heavily over a long period of time.

Symptoms of Alcohol Withdrawal

Each individual will experience unique symptoms or combinations of symptoms of alcohol withdrawal, depending on several factors. Frequency and intensity of use, the use of other drugs, underlying mental health disorders, and more all impact the detox journey. Some of the more common alcohol withdrawal symptoms include: 

  • Anxiety

  • Depression

  • Panic

  • Nausea

  • Vomiting

  • Insomnia

  • Nightmares

  • Shaking

  • Tremors

  • Sweating

  • Elevated heart rate

  • Fever

For some, these symptoms can set in very quickly after the last use, presenting as soon as a few hours after the last drink. More severe cases of alcohol withdrawal can even include hallucinations and seizures. These withdrawal symptoms can last anywhere from a few days to a couple of weeks. 

Further extreme cases may result in delirium tremens (DT), an incredibly dangerous symptom of alcohol withdrawal. DT can result in further danger to physical and mental health, with potentially life-threatening consequences. Medical attention is paramount for treating DT, and dedicated professionals can recognize the symptoms of DT and provide the necessary care to navigate this dangerous result of withdrawal.  

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Timeline of Alcohol Withdrawal

The most intense symptoms of alcohol withdrawal usually manifest within the first few days and end after about two weeks. However, this does not eliminate the possibility of cravings, lingering symptoms, mental health issues, or relapse. Navigating withdrawal does not mark the end of the recovery journey or treatment; it is only the first step.

After a week or two in a dedicated alcohol withdrawal and detox facility, symptoms should begin to subside, and one can take the next steps at a dedicated residential or outpatient program, depending on one’s needs. However, the first step to sobriety is always managing this initial phase where withdrawal symptoms are present, and working to maintain recovery at this stage is essential.

Urges and cravings to reengage with alcohol can be prevalent at any stage in recovery, lasting for months or years after one discontinues the use of alcohol. These cravings may even be present throughout the rest of one’s life but processing them and emerging with sobriety still in focus is a testament to continued success in their sober efforts.

Everybody experiences alcohol withdrawal differently. However, it's possible to make general assumptions about how long withdrawal from alcohol lasts. Here are some rough estimates on the average phases of alcohol withdrawal:

Alcohol Withdrawal, Phase One: The First Few Hours

The first few hours after abstinence will typically be the most uncomfortable. During this period, most people experience tremors or shakes, nausea, headaches, and increased anxiety levels. These symptoms usually peak around 24 hours after drinking has stopped.

Alcohol Withdrawal, Phase Two: 24 to 72 Hours After Abstinence

During this phase, the body is still adjusting to the lack of alcohol, and symptoms such as anxiety, depression, and insomnia can still be present. In some cases, people may also experience hallucinations or seizures during this period.

Alcohol Withdrawal, Phase Three: 72+ Hours After Abstinence

By now, most physical signs of withdrawal have passed. However, mental symptoms like depression and anxiety can linger for weeks or even months after drinking has stopped. It’s important to seek help from a mental health professional if these symptoms persist.

How Long Does Alcohol Detox Last?

Alcohol detox can last anywhere from five to seven days depending on the severity of your symptoms. However, it's important to remember that this is just the first step in recovery. After you finish detox, you will need to follow up with a treatment program designed to help you learn how to live without alcohol and prevent relapse.

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What Should I Expect After Alcohol Detox?

After alcohol detox, you may feel tired and drained. This is normal as your body needs time to adjust to its new state of sobriety. It's important to get plenty of rest, drink lots of water, eat healthy meals, and talk to a mental health professional about any concerns you have during this period. With proper care and support, you can emerge from alcohol detox feeling better than ever.

How Can You Manage Alcohol Withdrawal Symptoms?

If you are experiencing alcohol withdrawal, it’s important to take steps to manage your symptoms and reduce the risk of complications. Here are some tips for managing alcohol withdrawal symptoms:

  • Talk to your doctor about medications that may help ease the physical and mental effects of alcohol withdrawal.

  • Increase your water intake to reduce dehydration and other potential complications.

  • Avoid drinking caffeinated beverages, as they can worsen some of the symptoms of alcohol withdrawal.

  • Eat small, healthy meals throughout the day to improve your nutrition and energy levels.

  • Get plenty of rest and relaxation to help reduce stress and anxiety levels.

  • Exercise regularly as it can help release endorphins which may improve your overall mood during withdrawal.

Alcohol withdrawal is a difficult process, but it is possible to manage the symptoms with proper medical care and lifestyle changes. Also, withdrawing from alcohol with professional help at a drug detox or other recovery facility will make this process more comfortable, safer, and more likely to be successful.

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Can a Doctor Diagnose Alcohol Withdrawal?

Yes, a doctor can diagnose alcohol withdrawal. Your doctor will likely ask about your medical history and conduct a physical exam to look for signs of withdrawal. They may also order lab tests to check for electrolyte imbalance or other evidence of alcohol dependence.

How Can Alcohol Withdrawal Be Treated?

Alcohol withdrawal can be treated in a variety of ways. Medications like benzodiazepines can be used to ease the symptoms and help prevent severe reactions, while psychotherapy can help address underlying mental health issues that may have contributed to alcohol abuse in the first place. It's important to seek professional help when going through alcohol withdrawal so you're able to receive the most appropriate treatment for your needs.

Can Alcohol Withdrawal Be Dangerous?

Yes, alcohol withdrawal can be dangerous if left untreated. Symptoms like seizures and delirium tremens can be life-threatening and require urgent medical attention. That's why it is essential to seek help from a doctor or drug detox facility when going through alcohol withdrawal. They will provide appropriate care and monitoring to ensure your physical and mental health while you go through the process.

What Is the Best Way to Avoid Alcohol Withdrawal?

The best way to avoid alcohol withdrawal is to stop drinking completely and seek professional help if you are unable to do this on your own. This can be done gradually in a supervised setting such as a drug detox facility, or more quickly under medical supervision. Either way, it’s important to remember that alcohol withdrawal is a difficult process, but it’s possible to get through it safely with the right support.

Alcohol Withdrawal, Abuse, and Binge Drinking

It’s important to remember that alcohol withdrawal is a sign of severe alcohol abuse, and in some cases may be accompanied by binge drinking. Binge drinking is when you consume large amounts of alcohol in a short period of time.

This can be dangerous and lead to long-term health issues, so it’s important to seek help if you or someone you know is struggling with this behavior.

Alcohol Withdrawal: The Need for Dedicated Treatment for Alcohol Abuse

There is no way to predict exactly how one will present withdrawal symptoms or how severe they may be. Having dedicated recovery professionals educating an individual about their symptoms, providing necessary medication or other medical care, providing therapy and emotional processing, and maintaining a safe and supportive sober environment is necessary for success in their recovery efforts.

Because withdrawal from alcohol comes with so many unknowns and poses a risk to physical and mental health, even the most supportive of loved ones can't replace the knowledge and care a professional detox team can provide. Detoxing and managing withdrawal in a facility with professionals who know how to care for someone in that position is essential for the best chance at long-term recovery.

Alcohol Withdrawal: When Should You Look For Help for Alcohol Abuse?

If you are struggling with alcohol abuse, the best time to seek help is as soon as possible. Alcohol abuse can have serious and long-term health consequences, so it’s important to get professional help as soon as you recognize there’s a problem. There are various treatment options available, such as inpatient or outpatient rehab programs, support groups like Alcoholics Anonymous, or medication-assisted treatment.

No matter what type of problem you’re facing, it’s important to remember that help is available and recovery is possible. If you or a loved one is struggling with alcohol abuse, don’t hesitate to reach out for professional assistance.

The Many Forms of Addiction

There may be a number of images that come to mind when words like “addiction” and “recovery” are mentioned. However, there is no single demographic or image of someone that addiction affects.

Those who struggle with alcohol abuse and addiction all struggle in unique ways. Addiction encompasses many different forms of alcohol use, some of which can be more apparent than others, but all can be equally destructive.

Excessive binge drinking and daily trips to the bar can indicate an unhealthy relationship with alcohol. Constant use may become normalized, especially if an individual is operating within a drinking-heavy work or social culture, and they may not realize the extent of their drinking problem.

For some, this means they may not realize how frequently they are over-indulging in alcoholic substances, while others may lose track of the number of drinks had in a given sitting. However, an individual doesn’t have to be wholly intoxicated to develop an addiction, and it is possible to do just as much damage to the body and mind when one doesn't get blackout drunk.

Some may engage with alcohol regularly throughout the day, mixing a drink with their morning coffee, with lunch, and taking sips throughout the day. Hiding alcohol in common spots or drinking while on the job are all common among those struggling with an addiction, even if they don't get outright drunk. However, this frequency of use is just as detrimental, and ending alcohol abuse is essential for physical and mental health.

Regardless of the form of one’s alcohol abuse, the sudden cessation of alcohol can create withdrawal symptoms. While these symptoms may be uncomfortable and difficult, navigating them is a necessary step in pursuing a sober future and indicates the body’s shift back to normal functioning.

The Edge Treatment Center Helps Treat Alcohol Addiction

If you or a loved one is struggling with an addiction to alcohol, The Edge Treatment Center will help you take back control of your life today. We offer an array of proven therapeutic programs to help you understand and overcome addiction, starting with navigating detox and withdrawal.

Our trained and caring staff can help you begin your journey with the right support and educate you each step of the way. We'll personalize your treatment plan to help you learn how to cope with triggers and cravings for a lifetime of recovery. For more information, contact The Edge Treatment Center today.

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If you or a loved one is struggling with addiction, there is hope. Our team can guide you on your journey to recovery. Call us today.