Alcohol withdrawal is a serious business. There’s no denying it’s uncomfortable, both emotionally and physically. With the right help, you can overcome withdrawal symptoms and successfully complete detoxing.

Why does withdrawal from alcohol happen?

When a person consumes alcohol in large amounts for a long period of time, the body builds up what’s called tolerance. This means that your body essentially builds up a defense against the toxic substance, and more and more alcohol is required to feel the same effects.

Withdrawal includes all the negative emotional and physical effects that occur when a person suddenly stops drinking. A system that is accustomed to regular alcohol consumption has to quickly adapt to function without it.

When you detox from alcohol, your body and brain are attempting to repair and that process takes its toll. Often, alcohol withdrawal symptoms are so severe that a person retreats back into old alcohol abuse habits to alleviate the pain.

Withdrawal is the first step to long-term recovery, but the intensity of the sensations is a barrier to sobriety for many who do not have adequate assistance during this phase.

What are the common signs and symptoms of alcohol withdrawal?

According to American Family Physician, an alcohol withdrawal syndrome may include the following symptoms, which develop within hours or days of the last drink.

  • Insomnia
  • Sweating
  • Shaking (especially in the hands)
  • Fast heart rate
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Hallucinations
  • Psychomotor agitation (which means repetitive movements that have no purpose, like tapping one’s feet or pacing the room)
  • Anxiety
  • Seizures
  • Delirium tremens (which can include confusion, high blood pressure, delusions and fever)

How long does alcohol withdrawal take?

As soon as those first withdrawal symptoms set in you’re going to wonder when they’ll be over. Alcohol withdrawal differs for everyone, but the American Addiction Centers identifies three different stages of withdrawal, each growing more intense and each stage with its own symptoms.

The first stage begins around eight hours after the last drink and symptoms are mild. The first signs of withdrawal include difficulty sleeping, headache, upset stomach and anxiety. 

The second stage occurs one to three days after the last drink and symptoms include fast heart rate, fever, nausea and restlessness. The most severe symptoms including hallucinations and seizures typically occur in this period.

The third and last stage of withdrawal occurs around a week after the last drink, and generally includes residual symptoms, headaches, mood swings and more that could last months.

The duration and intensity of alcohol withdrawal correlate with the severity of the alcohol dependence, so the sooner you start a detox, the less time it will take and the sooner it will be over.

What treatment options are there?

A certified and licensed detoxification center is generally the first step in treatment for alcohol addiction. Detox helps to clear your body of toxins and continuing services are designed to change thought patterns and build coping skills.

After detox, electing to participate in a partial hospitalization program, inpatient or outpatient services can offer the best success for your recovery. These treatment options will all include some form of therapy or counseling, while also teaching you to build life skills and reenter society without continuing a dependency on alcohol.

How am I going to get through it?

There’s no sugar-coating it, detoxing from alcohol is not a walk in the park. The physical symptoms are grueling, and the mental shift to living without alcohol is no easy task. When you commit to detox, having realistic expectations about the challenge can be scary, but can also offer hope; withdrawal is only temporary.

Alcohol withdrawal symptoms will quickly start to fade within days or hours of when they first arise. Detoxing in a licensed facility can provide much-needed support during the hardest hours. You’ll have access to medical and mental health professionals and medication-assisted treatment, if necessary.

Completing detox from alcohol can also motivate you to stay sober. It’s nice to know you will only go through it once if you work to avoid relapse. Staying involved in long-term treatment is key to overcoming an alcohol addiction, so let the memory of withdrawal fuel your effort in treatment.

The light at the end of the tunnel

When you detox from alcohol it can be easy to lose sight of what it’s all for. Detoxing is a fight for your freedom. When you’re ready to get your life back, get connected with alcohol withdrawal services and long-term treatment so your sobriety can stick.

Real Recovery can support you through withdrawal and recovery with a variety of services including partial hospitalization programs, intensive outpatient treatment, medication-assisted therapy and family services. Call 855-363-7325 for more information and to get help today.