Alcohol Withdrawal Timeline And Symptoms

This piece was prepared by an anonymous writer who knows it from both research and personal experience.

How Long Does Alcohol Withdrawal Last?

withdrawAlcohol withdrawal occurs when individuals with a physical dependency on alcohol stop drinking. Physical withdrawal symptoms occur because long-time alcohol abuse causes neuro-adaptation in the brain – in other words, the brain and central nervous system have physiologically changed to become dependent on alcohol.

Once this physiological dependence occurs, a sudden drop in blood-alcohol levels can cause the central nervous system to enter a hyper-excitable state, which causes a number of physical symptoms – some of them potentially deadly. These are what alcoholics experience as withdrawal symptoms.

How long does alcohol withdrawal typically last? For most people, the worst of the symptoms occur around two to four days after the last drink. Most individuals will experience withdrawal symptoms for around a week, though this will depend on the individual.

Let’s take a look at a typical alcohol withdrawal timeline for a long-time, heavy alcohol abuser:

Note: that not all people will experience all of these symptoms. The severity of your symptoms will depend on a number of factors, including the duration and severity of your drinking problem.

1 Timeline
1.1 5-10 Hours After Your Last Drink: Tremors and anxiety
1.2 12-24 Hours After Your Last Drink: Alcoholic Hallucinosis
1.3 6-48 Hours After Your Last Drink: Seizures
1.4 2-3 Days After Your Last Drink: Delirium Tremens

Heavy drinkers who abstain from drinking for 5-10 hours will probably get the shakes. Be extremely wary if you get tremors after a few hours of not drinking – it is highly recommended that you seek out a professional detox facility before continuing. For more information, read “Alcohol Detox At Home – Why It’s A Terrible Idea That Can Kill You”

Other detox symptoms may be;

A rapid heartbeat
Elevated blood pressure
Rapid breathing
Digestive symptoms like nausea or vomiting
Anxiety or hypervigilance
Sleep disturbances. Sleep disturbances can include nightmares and night terrors or lack of sleep.

Distinctive hallucinations may also occur during withdrawal, usually auditory. These hallucinations may continue for up to two days after they begin, and occurs in about 20% of hospitalized alcoholics. They often take the form of accusing or threatening voices. Your odds of developing hallucinations increase if you have been using other drugs or you have been an alcoholic for a long time. This symptom relatively uncommon and is generally not dangerous, but it can be extremely unsettling.

If seizures occur, this is the point at which mortality becomes a possible risk. The risk of seizures peaks around 24 hours, and several seizures over several hours are common.
Only 5-10 % of all detoxing patients get Delirium Tremens, but the mortality rate is 15%, and that is why going to a detox facility is extremely important.

This symptom does not occur in most patients, affecting only 5-10% in total. However, the mortality rate is about 15%. This is why its extremely important to detox in a facility equipped to handle detox patients. While delirium tremens typically occurs within 2-3 days, it may take as long as a week to manifest. The worst of it is generally in full force 4-5 days after your last drink.

Now you have some idea of what to expect from the alcohol withdrawal symptoms timeline. You also should be aware that its important to seek help when detoxing – especially if you’re a long-time alcoholic. Generally in the majority of patients, symptoms peak within the first five days, with dramatic improvement following after that time period. Some patients may have a longer withdrawal process lasting for several weeks.

It is highly advised that you detox under proper medical supervision – especially if you’ve been a long-time alcoholic. If for whatever reason you insist on detoxing on your own (a very bad idea), have a friend or family member around so they can get you to a medical facility if you start experience seizures, or symptoms of delirium tremens.

If you’ve read this far, you might be pretty worried about detox. The good news is that – under proper medical supervision – many of these withdrawal symptoms can be mitigated with the right medication, and the risks are significantly reduced. A medical professional may prescribe benzodiazepines like Librium, Valium, Ativan, or Serax to help you with your withdrawal. These drugs act as temporary substitutes for the alcohol as its effects leave your system, mitigating withdrawal symptoms. This can reduce the harmful effects of the withdrawal and make it easier and safer to undergo.

As scary as it can be, in the grand scheme of things the detox process is extremely short. Don’t forget that it is only the first step in your recovery. Make sure to take active steps to pursue holistic growth and avoid situations that are conducive to relapse.

April 20, 2015


One response to “Alcohol Withdrawal Timeline And Symptoms”

  1. Kris Hayes LPC says:

    I have read other research indicating that seizures can occur up to 2 weeks into abstinence. A very dangerous situation indeed.

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