How to Cope with Alcohol Withdrawal Symptoms
Last Updated: August 28, 2023
Alcohol withdrawal is a challenging process, but it’s a crucial step on the path to recovery. If you’re reading this, you’re likely considering or have already decided to quit drinking. We commend your courage and are here to provide information and support as you navigate this journey.
Article at a Glance
- Alcohol withdrawal is a series of symptoms that occur when a person who has been drinking excessively stops or significantly reduces their alcohol intake.
- Symptoms of alcohol withdrawal can range from mild, such as anxiety and restlessness, to severe, including seizures and hallucinations.
- Alcohol withdrawal usually begins within 8 hours after the last drink and can peak between 24 to 72 hours, potentially continuing for weeks.
- The withdrawal process can be broken down into three stages, each characterized by different symptoms and risks.
- Severe symptoms, known as delirium tremens (DTs), can be fatal and require immediate medical attention.
- Preparation for withdrawal includes informing a trusted friend or family member, stocking up on medical supplies and comfort items, and consulting with a healthcare provider.
- Coping strategies during withdrawal include practicing patience and self-care, getting plenty of rest, avoiding triggers, seeking support, and finding professional treatment.
- After navigating the withdrawal process, the journey to recovery continues with identifying the underlying causes of alcohol dependence and seeking long-term treatment.
What Is Alcohol Withdrawal?
As anyone who has ever tried to stop drinking after a long period of using alcohol knows, stopping alcohol can be unpleasant. These uncomfortable and even dangerous symptoms happen when you suddenly stop or significantly reduce your alcohol intake. These symptoms can range from mild (anxiety and restlessness( to severe (seizures and hallucinations). While these symptoms can be unpleasant, you don’t have to go through them alone.
Alcohol Withdrawal Timeline
Alcohol withdrawal usually begins within 8 hours after the last drink but can begin as late as a day later. Physical symptoms typically peak by 24 to 72 hours and continue for a week to a week and a half. In some rare situations, symptoms may last for even longer.
Stages of Alcohol Withdrawal
Alcohol withdrawal comprises three distinct stages:
- Stage 1 (Intensification): This stage starts 8 hours after the last drink. Symptoms may include anxiety, insomnia, nausea, and abdominal pain. During this stage, the number and intensity of symptoms increases.
- Stage 2 (Peak): Starting 24-72 hours after the last drink, this stage includes elevated blood pressure, heightened body temperature, irregular heart rate, and cognitive confusion. During this stage, all symptoms will be present and at their worst.
- Stage 3 (Improvement): This stage begins 72+ hours after the last drink and results in symptoms gradually dissipating, becoming fewer and less intense over time.
Risks of Alcohol Withdrawal
When going through alcohol detox, there are some potential risks to be aware of. Complications can be severe and even life-threatening, so medical supervision is recommended in these cases.
Delirium Tremens (DTs)
Delirium tremens, often referred to as DTs, is a severe manifestation of alcohol withdrawal that typically develops one to four days after the onset of acute alcohol withdrawal in individuals who have been drinking excessively for years. DTs are characterized by extreme hyperactivity of the autonomic nervous system, causing symptoms like hallucinations, mental confusion, and disorientation. In severe cases, DTs can lead to death, particularly if not properly managed with adequate medication and medical support.
Seizures are another serious risk associated with alcohol withdrawal. These seizures usually consist of generalized convulsions alternating with spasmodic muscular contractions. Alcohol withdrawal seizures typically begin within 48 hours after the individual stops drinking and will continue until symptoms peak and begin to subside. The likelihood of experiencing withdrawal seizures, along with their intensity, increases with each withdrawal.
Mental Health Conditions
Alcohol withdrawal can also lead to various mental health conditions. These can include anxiety, depression, and sleep disturbances. Anxiety disorders are manifested by extreme fear and anxiety, accompanied by heart palpitations, rapid breathing, sweating, and dizziness. Depressive symptoms often are observed in patients who are undergoing alcohol detoxification. Sleep disturbances—including frequent awakening, restless sleep, insomnia, and night terrors—are among the most common complaints of individuals undergoing alcohol withdrawal. Anxiety and depression may continue once physical withdrawal symptoms have stopped.
Preparing for Alcohol Withdrawal
Before you begin the withdrawal process, it’s essential to prepare. The single most important thing that you can do to prepare for detox is to speak with a healthcare provider experienced in addiction disorders. Alcohol withdrawal is the most dangerous form of withdrawal there is, making it absolutely essential that you seek medical help before attempting it. Due to the risk of potentially deadly complications, those who will experience moderate to severe symptoms should typically detox with the help and supervision of trained healthcare professionals.
Coping Strategies During Alcohol Withdrawal
Patience is key during withdrawal. Acknowledge that this is a challenging process, and be compassionate with yourself.
Engage in relaxing activities like deep breathing, meditation and stretching. These can help keep your body calm during withdrawal.
Get Plenty of Rest
Rest is crucial as your body works to repair itself. Make sure you’re getting enough sleep.
Stay away from situations or places that may trigger your desire to drink. This includes parties, bars, or any environment where alcohol is present.
Ensure your loved ones understand what you’re going through so they can provide support. If your symptoms become unbearable or you experience seizures, high fevers, or DTs, seek medical attention immediately.
Find Professional Treatment
While coping strategies can help manage withdrawal symptoms, they do not address the underlying factors contributing to alcohol abuse. Long-term recovery and treatment should be implemented after withdrawal symptoms have subsided.
After Alcohol Withdrawal
Once you’ve navigated the withdrawal process, the journey to recovery continues. It’s important to identify what caused your dependence on alcohol and seek treatment to ensure sustainable recovery.
We’re Here for You During Detox
Remember, you’re not alone in this journey. Reach out to professionals and support networks who can provide the help you need. Your courage to seek recovery is the first step towards a healthier, alcohol-free life.
At The Recovery Village Atlanta, we realize the challenges that you face when considering detox and are here to help you succeed. Our experienced, caring staff can help you achieve lasting sobriety as safely and comfortably as possible. Contact us today to learn how we can help you get started.
Start Your Recovery Today
Our Recovery Advocates are standing by to walk you through your treatment options and help you get your life back.
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Newman, Richard K.; Gallagher, Megan A. Stobart; & Gomez, Anna E. “Alcohol Withdrawal.” StatPearls [Internet]. August 29, 2022. Accessed July 21, 2023.
Berman, Jacob. “Delirium tremens.” MedlinePlus. February 28, 2023. Accessed July 21, 2023.
Hillbom, Matti; Pieninkeroinen, Ilkka; & Leone, Maurizio. “Seizures in alcohol-dependent patients: epidemiology, pathophysiology and management.” CNS Drugs. 2003. Accessed July 21, 2023.
National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. “What Types of Alcohol Treatment are Available?” 2023. Accessed July 21, 2023.