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When Does Alcohol Withdrawal Start?

When you decide to stop drinking, it is best to prepare for the withdrawal symptoms you may experience.

Detoxing from alcohol is the first step on the road to recovery and, although not everyone will experience severe withdrawal symptoms, it is helpful to know what they are, when they start, and how to deal with them.

What Is Alcohol Withdrawal Syndrome?

If you abuse alcohol regularly, your body will eventually develop a physical dependence on it. When you suddenly stop drinking alcohol or reduce your consumption, your body reacts by displaying a set of symptoms, commonly known as alcohol withdrawal syndrome.

Alcohol withdrawal symptoms are the body’s psychological response to metabolizing harmful toxins that are ingested upon consuming alcohol.

Like many other people, you may only experience mild alcohol withdrawal symptoms. It is also possible to experience potentially life-threatening symptoms. The severity of your withdrawal symptoms will depend on factors such as:

  • Your weight
  • Your age
  • Length of your alcohol use
  • The severity of your alcohol use

Each person’s experience with alcohol abuse is different, and the same is said for alcohol withdrawal. For some, withdrawal symptoms are a part of their addiction cycle; they continue to drink heavily to avoid or eradicate any withdrawal symptoms after drinking.

The risk of experiencing severe alcohol withdrawal symptoms if alcohol abuse is heavy is considerable. As a result, it is best to complete alcohol withdrawal in a medical setting where trained professionals can monitor you throughout the process.

This ensures you are comfortable, safe, and in the best place if any medication is needed.

Alcohol Withdrawal Symptoms

Alcohol withdrawal symptoms differ from person to person. However, there are a common set of symptoms that you may experience. These include:

  • Nausea
  • Headaches
  • Vomiting
  • Dizziness
  • Tremors
  • Insomnia
  • Increased heart rate
  • High blood pressure
  • Confusion
  • Profuse sweating
  • Lack of appetite

The most severe form of alcohol withdrawal is delirium tremens (DTs). Unfortunately, these can be potentially life-threatening and may result in severe health conditions, such as respiratory arrest or cardiac arrhythmia.

You are more likely to experience these if you are middle-aged, have a mental illness, or have a severe alcohol addiction.

Alcohol Withdrawal Stages and Timeline

Alcohol withdrawal symptoms and their differences in severity have been categorized into three categories. These are used to assess symptoms and keep track of the progression of symptoms.

  • Mild symptoms. These may include less severe symptoms like headaches, anxiety, and insomnia.
  • Moderate symptoms. Similar to mild symptoms, moderate alcohol withdrawal symptoms may additionally include confusion, fevers, sweating, and a rapid heart rate.
  • Severe symptoms. Severe alcohol withdrawal symptoms are the most severe and include hallucinations, seizures, and impaired attention.

Withdrawal symptoms can be easily managed if treatment begins when they are mild. If treatment is not available at this stage, you may progress through the other stages very quickly.

As all people experience alcohol withdrawal differently, a precise timeline will vary. However, according to research, there is a typical alcohol withdrawal timeline that includes expectations of withdrawal symptoms.

  • Four to 10 hours after your last drink – Minor withdrawal symptoms are felt at this point, and they tend to start around six hours after your last drink. You may experience mild alcohol withdrawal symptoms such as tremors, quick breathing, or vomiting here.
  • 12 to 24 hours after your last drink – Hallucinations have been noted by a small percentage of people at this stage. This symptom can be scary, but it is not considered a serious complication.
  • 24 to 48 hours after your last drink – If your alcohol use and addiction are minimal, you will likely only experience mild withdrawal symptoms. These symptoms typically peak at 18 to 24 hours and will slowly decrease after day four or five.
  • 48 to 72 hours after your last drink – If you consume large volumes of alcohol or have an alcohol use disorder, you may experience alcohol withdrawal symptoms that are more severe, such as DTs. This often requires medical treatment. However, this symptom is very rare and only occurs in about 5% of people who experience withdrawal symptoms.
  • 72 hours after your last drink – Alcohol withdrawal symptoms are typically worse at this stage. In some rare cases, moderate alcohol withdrawal symptoms can be felt for up to one month.

Though these symptoms may sound daunting, they are easy to manage with the correct help and support. Medical detox is most effective in helping those experiencing withdrawal symptoms.

Alcohol Abuse Treatment Options

The first stage in addiction treatment is detox. Alcohol detox helps the body recover from alcohol abuse by encouraging it to clear itself of any toxins consumed when drinking.

Professional alcohol withdrawal treatment aims to make the experience of withdrawal more comfortable by reducing symptoms while offering support in other aspects of your life.

There are several options for substance abuse treatment, such as:

  • Inpatient treatment – Inpatient treatment involves living in a treatment facility where you receive 24-hour care and intensive therapy to support your recovery as you complete detox and any additional treatments.
  • Outpatient treatment – Unlike inpatient treatment, outpatient treatment includes living in the comfort of your own home and having regular check-ins and scheduled appointments to track your progress.

If you experience mild to moderate symptoms, you may have the option to complete an outpatient program. However, inpatient care is recommended if your alcohol use disorder is more severe.

As mentioned above, detox is only the first step in recovery. To successfully recover, you will need to commit to your recovery journey and additional treatments. Some examples of post-detox treatments include:

  • Therapy for family members
  • 12-step meetings
  • Support groups
  • Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT)

Medication for Withdrawal Symptoms

To ease alcohol withdrawal, certain medications are available. These are typically administered during a medical detox in a medical facility where your symptoms can be monitored.

Some commonly prescribed medications to help with the withdrawal process include:

  • Anti-anxiety drugs, such as benzodiazepines, can help reduce anxiety or any mental illnesses that may arise.
  • Anti-seizure drugs to manage any potential seizures.
  • Beta-blockers can help reduce heart rate and tremors. They are also successful in assisting with cravings for alcohol.

Detox from alcohol abuse and alcoholism can be mentally, emotionally, and physically draining. This is why medical professionals recommend you receive treatment during the detoxification process. Detox is the first step towards a successful, sober life, and so it must be completed safely.

Seeking Help

If you have an alcohol use disorder and feel ready to complete detox and alcohol withdrawal, please reach out to us and seek medical attention.

Likewise, if you have started to self-detox and now find yourself experiencing symptoms of alcohol withdrawal, please get in touch with us and speak to a member of our medical team for advice on how to detox from alcohol and the next steps to take.

Medical support is the safest way to recover from an alcohol use disorder. At Empowered Recovery, we are here to help you begin your journey to recovery, and we will be with you every step of the way.

After all, we know that having the right resources, education, and support can be the best direction to take for lasting recovery.

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    3651 Canton Road,
    Marietta, GA 30066

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