Alcohol Withdrawal Timeline

More than 15 million Americans are clinically addicted to alcohol, meaning that if they were to suddenly stop drinking, they would likely experience some level of withdrawal. When struggling with a substance use disorder, any obstacle (no matter how small it is) can drive a person to keep drinking as a means of coping. So, it is understandable that when a person tries to stop drinking and starts experiencing withdrawal symptoms, they start drinking again to help reduce the physical and mental pain they are experiencing. When withdrawing from alcohol in a professional setting, however, withdrawal does not need to be so difficult or last nearly as long.

What is Alcohol Withdrawal?

Alcohol withdrawal occurs when someone who abuses alcohol suddenly limits the amount they consume or ceases their drinking entirely (known as going “cold turkey”). Alcohol withdrawal does not develop in those who drink responsibly, as withdrawal happens in response to the sudden absence of alcohol in those who are physically dependent on it. Being dependent on alcohol is not something that happens overnight, as dependence takes time to build. By the time someone is experiencing alcohol withdrawal, they have already been abusing alcohol frequently and have developed a tolerance for it. As their tolerance to alcohol increases, physical dependency starts to set in, triggering withdrawal symptoms to occur if a person does not continue to drink as much as they are accustomed to.

Alcohol withdrawal is notoriously distressing, as during this time, many physical, mental, and emotional symptoms occur. The pain associated with these symptoms is often what drives people with alcohol use disorder back into drinking, as doing so will alleviate the symptoms they are struggling with. It is an insidious cycle of destruction that most people tend to need help breaking free from. Thankfully, help is available in the form of detoxification programs that can make the process of alcohol withdrawal more bearable.

Timeline of Alcohol Withdrawal 

The period of time it will take for a person to fully withdraw from alcohol is dependent on several factors. These factors include, but are not limited to, the following:

  • Length of time alcohol has been abused
  • How much alcohol is being abused
  • If alcohol is being abused alongside other addictive substances
  • If the individual has a mental health and/or physical health condition
  • If there is a family history of substance use disorders

Typically, the more severe the alcoholism is, the more severe the withdrawal is, however these and other factors can influence how intense withdrawal from alcohol can become. 

Most people who are addicted to alcohol and who stop drinking will begin experiencing withdrawal symptoms within as little as six hours after their last drink. These initial symptoms can include headache, upset stomach, mild anxiety, insomnia, small tremors, and some abdominal pain. This part of withdrawal is often compared to the feeling of being hungover, however one’s condition does not improve as the day passes, rather symptoms multiply and intensify. 

More symptoms start to develop by 1-3 days after a person’s last drink and include hallucinations, agitation, nausea, and vomiting. It is during this time frame where some deadly symptoms can develop, including seizures, high blood pressure, fever, and increased body temperature. These symptoms occur because alcohol acts on certain areas of the central nervous system, causing this system to become reliant on it. When alcohol is no longer being consumed, the central nervous system fails to function properly and can trigger the above listed symptoms. Seizures can be fatal on their own, but can also be fatal if a person has an accident when the seizure occurs. High blood pressure and increased body temperature can lead to issues such as cardiac arrest and stroke. It is extremely vital that during this part of one’s alcohol withdrawal, they are being supervised by professionals who can help mitigate the potential for these symptoms as well as treat them should they occur. 

Not only are seizures, high blood pressure, and fever risk factors during alcohol withdrawal, but the development of delirium tremens (or DT’s) can also cost someone their life if they are not properly treated. The DT’s tend to appear around four days after one’s last drink, but can occur later than that. Symptoms of the DT’s include the following:

  • Sudden confusion
  • Hallucinations
  • Delusions 
  • Body tremors
  • Irritability
  • Fear
  • Excitement
  • Fatigue
  • Sensitivity to sounds, light, touch, smell, etc. 

Someone who develops the DT’s during alcohol withdrawal may spend more time withdrawing than initially expected, however this set of symptoms can be managed with the administration of benzodiazepines. 

By about one week’s time, withdrawal symptoms begin to taper off and continue to do so. However, some withdrawal symptoms can continue on for weeks to months at a time. Anxiety, insomnia, and changes in mood are some of the most common prolonged withdrawal symptoms associated with alcohol withdrawal. Receiving professional detoxification services drastically reduces one’s likelihood of continuing to experience prolonged withdrawal symptoms. Continuing to obtain treatment and mental health services even after detox has been completed can also help prevent these and other symptoms from sticking around. 

Importance of Professional Detox Services

Alcohol is one of two types of addictive substances that can cause deadly symptoms during withdrawal. It is understandable that someone may want to detox in the comfort of their own home or in the company of loved ones, but seeking professional detox services is highly recommended for the following reasons:

  • Medical treatment can be immediately administered in the event it is needed (e.g. during a seizure or cardiac event)
  • Medications such as benzodiazepines can be provided to help reduce the intensity of the withdrawal symptoms 
  • The risk for relapse is drastically minimized, as drugs and alcohol are not allowed in detox centers 
  • Patients can avoid a gap in their care by continuing on with a program once their detox is completed 

There is no need to try to go it alone if you are trying to detox from alcohol. There are resources available and people who are trained to help you get through this difficult step of the recovery process. If you are ready to stop drinking, ask for help. 

Alcohol Rehab in Nashville

We understand the challenges that you have faced as a result of your alcoholism. At Discovery Place in Nashville, our alcohol rehab can help you overcome those challenges so that you can end your active addiction and begin building a happy, healthy life. If you are looking for help, look no further. Call Discovery Place right now to learn more about how we can help you.

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