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Alcoholism: Withdrawal and Detox

Alcohol detoxification is a treatment process wherein patients let their bodies naturally flush the waste products from chronic heavy drinking. Patients typically follow their respective alcohol detox timelines. Some people quit drinking alcohol altogether, while others find weaning off alcohol more feasible.

Detoxing from alcohol puts patients on the road to recovery. However, not everyone can tolerate the alcohol withdrawal symptoms that come with alcohol detox. If you want to learn how to detox from alcohol, we suggest creating a solid, fact-based system to combat the most common symptoms of alcohol withdrawal.

Understanding Alcohol Withdrawal Syndrome (AWS)

Alcohol withdrawal syndrome (AWS) occurs in people with alcoholism who reduce their alcohol consumption or wholly stop drinking. 80% of recovering patients experience AWS. 

Alcohol withdrawal symptoms can range anywhere from cold sweats and nausea to seizures and delirium tremens (DT). Don’t take AWS lightly. Overlooking severe DT symptoms like hallucinations, tremors, and hypertension can cause fatal complications. If possible, medical professionals should oversee recovery.

Although overcoming the different stages of alcohol withdrawal might seem like a steep challenge, patients typically experience relief after a week of detoxification. Most symptoms fade after five to seven days.

Symptoms Of Alcohol Withdrawal Syndrome

Alcohol withdrawal symptoms often appear 6 to 8 hours after detoxification, although some patients might start feeling unwell after just two hours. Most of them should calm down after two to three days. However, some symptoms might persist or worsen among patients recovering from long-term chronic heavy drinking.

MildModerateSevere
Cold sweats
Insomnia
Migraines
Nausea
Panic attacks
Excessive sweating
Fever
Heart palpitations
Hallucinations
Hypertension
Seizures

Symptoms Of Delirium Tremens (DT)

Delirium tremens (DT) stands as the most severe sign of alcohol withdrawal. It typically starts with autonomic hyperactivity and global confusion, followed by cardiovascular collapse if left unattended. Untreated DT can lead to death. As such, seek professional help right away if you notice any of the following warning signs:

  • Aggression and irritability
  • Auditory, tactile, and visual hallucinations 
  • Autonomic hyperactivity
  • Confusion
  • Impaired consciousness
  • Seizures and tremors

How To Detox From Alcohol

Alcohol detoxification serves as the stepping stone to long-term recovery. Although more than 14.5 million people over the age of 12 have alcohol use disorder, 36% of this population fully recover after just one year. Also, 60% of people who successfully abstained from alcohol consumption for 2 years achieve long-term sobriety.

There are generally two ways to detox from alcohol: reduce your consumption gradually or quit cold turkey. It might make sense to avoid alcohol altogether. However, keep in mind that chronic heavy drinking causes the body to develop a dependency. Suddenly cutting out alcohol might do more harm than good.

The best approach is to consult a medical professional. Work with trained, licensed specialists to create an alcohol detoxification plan that suits your psychological and physiological needs.

Stages Of Alcohol Withdrawal

No two people follow the same alcohol withdrawal symptoms timeline. However, patients can get a good idea of their recovery process by understanding when alcohol withdrawal syndrome symptoms start appearing.

6 hours after you stop drinkingStatistics show that 80% of patients recovering from alcoholism experience withdrawals from alcohol. Alcohol withdrawal symptoms appear around 6 hours after your last drink. Some common warning signs to watch out for include panic attacks, gastrointestinal upsets, tremulousness, anorexia, insomnia, and heart palpitations. Although rare, symptoms can onset in just 2 hours.
12-24 hours after you stop drinkingRecovering patients might experience tactile, visual, or auditory hallucinosis 12 to 24 hours after detoxing from alcohol. Note that patients experiencing hallucinations from alcohol withdrawal should always be monitored. They could end up hurting themselves since they lack the awareness and responsiveness of a lucid individual.
24-48 hours after you stop drinkingFast-recovering patients will notice some side effects of alcohol withdrawal fading just 1 to 2 days after their detox from alcohol.
However, seizures and DT symptoms might also appear during this timeframe. Get professional medical help right away if you experience them. DT withdrawal and tonic-clonic seizures can cause fatal complications if left unaddressed.
48-72 hours after you stop drinkingCommon alcohol withdrawal symptoms often go away within two to three days of detoxification. However, DT symptoms and hallucinations from alcohol withdrawal might also persist. During this stage of the alcohol detox timeline, patients who still haven’t recovered might experience hypertension, fever, diaphoresis, and agitation.

Frequently Asked Questions

Do you find yourself lost on the basics of how to detox from alcohol? Go through the commonly asked questions about alcohol detox to gain more insights into alcohol withdrawal syndrome symptoms.

Can you die from alcohol withdrawals?

Although rare, withdrawal from alcohol can lead to death if the patient develops the most severe alcohol detox symptoms: status epilepticus and delirium tremens (DT). However, patients can prevent fatalities by addressing early warning signs. Seizure and DT symptoms often develop two to three days after patients quit drinking alcohol.

When do alcohol withdrawal symptoms start?

Patients experience mild to moderate symptoms of alcohol withdrawal 8 to 10 hours after weaning off alcohol. Meanwhile, severe issues like DT withdrawal appear after 24 to 48 hours.

How long do alcohol withdrawal symptoms last?

Recovering patients typically experience ​​withdrawals from alcohol for around a week. Most start feeling better 5 to 7 days after they detox from alcohol.

How can I prevent alcohol withdrawal?

Medical professionals often prescribe oral benzodiazepines to alleviate common alcohol withdrawal symptoms. However, other prescription drugs like GABA agonists, adrenergic drugs, barbiturates, and anticonvulsants might also help.

Overall, having the support of your loved ones, close friends, and, of course, trusted medical professionals makes a world of difference when undergoing the entire alcohol withdrawal symptoms timeline. You don’t have to face the stages of alcohol withdrawal alone.

Also, the first two to three days of withdrawal from alcohol are always the most challenging. Don’t give up. Trust us — most side effects of alcohol withdrawal will go away after a week of detoxification. 

Do you want to read more about the treatment avenues available to patients recovering from alcoholism? Radical Rehab can help shed some light on the topic. Check out our piece on combating the health risks involved with chronic heavy drinking.

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