Alcohol Withdrawal: Signs, Symptoms & Timeline

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Alcoholism is a chronic disease which impacts tens of millions of Americans every year. Though addiction to alcohol cannot be cured, it can be comprehensively treated, resulting in a physically stable and emotionally rewarding life of sobriety.

Alcohol is a powerful depressant that can cause irreversible damage to both the central nervous system and the brain. Alcoholics may feel as though they cannot function without alcohol in their system and the compulsion to overconsume is often out of their control. They may put their health, finances, career, and relationships on the line in order to feed this devastating addiction.  Over time, an alcoholic will build stronger dependencies, making the addiction stronger and the withdrawal symptoms more severe.

Withdrawal from alcohol occurs when a person who has become physically and psychologically dependent on alcohol begins the process of getting the substance entirely out of their system.  Since the symptoms of alcoholism can be fatal—as can the side effects of withdrawal when done without medical supervision—proper detoxification and rehabilitation in a medical facility are strongly urged for those seeking sobriety.

Alcohol rehabilitation facilities, such as Recovery Centers of America, provide safe and medically-monitored detoxification, as well as inpatient and outpatient care.  Medical professionals properly assess the extent of the alcoholism (whether it is mild, moderate, or severe), comfortably guide and aid the patient through withdrawal, and provide addicts with the tools and methods necessary to help them achieve lifelong sobriety.

Alcohol Withdrawal 101

Whether a person has had a dependence on alcohol for a short amount of time or has a long-term affliction, if large amounts of alcohol are consumed, it can cause major issues to their overall health. But alcohol withdrawal is a complicated process and should be done under the supervision of medical professionals.

Alcoholism can lead to damaging effects on the brain, including blackouts and memory lapses, permanent brain damage, and brain disorders (such as Wernicke-Korsakoff Syndrome, which causes mental confusion, paralysis of nerves in the eyes, and muscle coordination problems).

Depression and anxiety can also be side effects of alcoholism and, when an addict uses alcohol as a means to cope with these afflictions, it can make their symptoms worse, some of which can lead to suicidal thoughts or actions.

Other potentially fatal symptoms of alcoholism can include liver damage, pancreatitis, heart disease, and a compromised immune system, which can increase the risk of certain cancers.

In order to rid the system of alcohol and begin the rehabilitation process, a complete withdrawal will have to occur.

Alcohol withdrawal has three stages and begins within the first few hours after a person has had their last drink (it can begin as early as six to eight hours). During withdrawal, a person can experience headaches, anxiety, stomach pains, nausea, nightmares, muscle weakness, mood swings, depression, muddled thoughts/confusion, sweating, shakiness, loss of appetite, fever, vomiting, and insomnia. Withdrawal can last anywhere from a few days to a few weeks, depending on the severity of the disease and the person’s overall condition.

Detoxing from alcohol can also be more severe if there are illicit or prescription drugs in the addict’s system.

For patients undergoing alcohol withdrawal at Recovery Centers of America, there is around-the-clock monitoring from highly-trained doctors, nurses, therapists, and specialists. This ensures that the patient has no access to alcohol while they receive the proper treatment and care to lessen and treat the symptoms of withdrawal.

Alcohol Withdrawal Signs and Symptoms

Alcohol withdrawal symptoms are dependent on the extent of the person’s disease, including how long they have been drinking, how much they drink, and if they have other health conditions.

Some of the common symptoms and side effects of alcohol withdrawal can include anxiety, insomnia, nausea, stomach pains, high blood pressure, irritability, increased body temperature, headache, tremors, vomiting, dizziness, muscle weakness, sweating, and a faster heart rate.

Severe symptoms of alcohol withdrawal are fever, disorientation, and delirium tremens, also known as DTS.

DTS is a form of alcohol withdrawal that involves sudden and severe mental or nervous system changes. DTS, which is considered a serious medical condition, takes place when someone stops drinking after a period of heavy alcohol consumption (typically within 48 to 96 hours after the last drink) and can be life-threatening.

The symptoms of DTS can include seizures, hallucinations, changes in mental functions, long periods of deep sleep, sudden mood changes, overwhelming excitement or fear, stupor, fatigue, restlessness, agitation, and sensitivity to light, sound, and touch.

The detoxification process, and the symptoms that may happen during that time, typically lasts between 4-7 days, but could be shorter or longer. Recovery Centers of America’s staff of highly-trained and respected doctors, nurses, therapists, and specialists treat all of the possible symptoms that patients may undergo during this process.

Our medical professionals monitor patients 24 hours a day in the security of our clean, affordable, and safe rehabilitation facilities. Alcohol withdrawal can be an unpleasant experience, but with the support and help of Recovery Centers of America, those being treated will not only feel more comfortable throughout the process but will have the support and compassion they’ll need to keep on track with their goal of lifelong sobriety.

Alcohol Withdrawal Timeline

Alcohol withdrawal occurs over varying lengths of time with three possible phases and their corresponding symptoms: mild, moderate, or severe. These stages, and their timelines, are all dependent on the severity of the addiction as well as other factors that may impact the withdrawal, including other health problems.

The first phase of alcohol withdrawal, and its associated symptoms (mentioned previously), typically lasts between 24 and 72 hours but, for some, it may go on for weeks.

The second phase begins 12 to 48 hours after the symptoms begin to peak and can lead to other side effects that include increased body temperature, heart rate, and blood pressure.

The third and final phase occurs when all of the symptoms begin to taper off, which can take anywhere between 4 to 7 days, but some side effects may continue for a longer period of time.

Throughout the phases of the alcohol withdrawal timeline, patients at Recovery Centers of America will be monitored and treated around-the-clock by our highly trained staff of doctors, nurses, therapists, and specialists.

Please note that some patients may require benzodiazepines for short-term use during detox, such as chlordiazepoxide (Librium) or phenobarbital, which can help those suffering from alcohol dependence by reducing the risks of severe alcohol withdrawal symptoms. These medications will only be given to patients under the strict supervision of Recovery Centers of America’s medical staff.

Mild Alcohol Withdrawal vs. Severe Alcohol Withdrawal

As there are mild and severe levels of alcoholism, there are also mild and severe levels of alcohol withdrawal. These can be measured by the Clinical Institute Withdrawal Assessment of Alcohol Scale (CIWA-Ar), which ranks the various symptoms on a point scale.

Mild alcohol withdrawal is when an addict in the detoxification process endures a few of the symptoms, such as mild nausea, mild anxiety, mild perspiration, and/or mild headaches. They may also experience some moderate versions of the other symptoms associated with withdrawal.

On the other end of the spectrum is severe alcohol withdrawal. This is when an addict, who may have had a longer period of heavy drinking, experiences the most intense effects of alcohol withdrawal symptoms. Severe alcohol withdrawal can include the potentially life-threatening delirium tremens (DTS).

Those who choose to quit “cold turkey,” without treatment in a medical facility during their detoxification, may endure the symptoms of alcohol withdrawal for weeks at a time.

Whether a patient is dealing with mild or severe alcohol withdrawal, the highly trained, respected, and compassionate medical staff of Recovery Centers of America will be there every step of the way, to get patients through the detoxification process and successfully transition them to inpatient and outpatient treatment (30 days and 60 days, respectively). By following these safe and proven steps of recovery and rehabilitation, patients will be given all the help and tools necessary for the lifelong goal of achieving sobriety.

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