Alcohol is a depressant, meaning it changes your brain chemistry and slows down nervous system functioning. When you are addicted to alcohol, your brain becomes accustomed to working in overdrive to compensate for the slowed functioning. If you decide to suddenly stop using alcohol, your brain will continue to work harder than it needs to and remain in an overactive state, leading to the development of withdrawal symptoms.
The symptoms of alcohol withdrawal range from mildly uncomfortable to severe and life-threatening. How intense your symptoms are will depend on a variety of factors, including how long and how often you consumed alcohol. Some of the symptoms of alcohol withdrawal include headaches, vomiting, seizures, tremors, and more.
Understanding the alcohol withdrawal timeline and how an alcohol detox center can help you cope with the symptoms may make you understand why seeking professional help is so important.
What are the Symptoms of Alcohol Withdrawal?
When you drink alcohol frequently over a long period, your body responds by producing excess amounts of its stimulating chemicals like dopamine and gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA). By doing so, your body temporarily restores homeostasis in an attempt to counteract the long-term effects of alcohol.
Over time, as your body begins to build a tolerance to alcohol, you will need to consume more and more alcohol to produce a similar effect. At the same time, your body will continually produce more and more neurotransmitters, causing you to become further imbalanced.
When you decide to stop drinking alcohol, there is some time when your brain does not realize alcohol is no longer present, causing it to continue overproducing certain chemicals. Because alcohol is no longer causing slowed nervous system functioning, this overproduction of chemicals leads to the development of withdrawal symptoms.
The symptoms of alcohol withdrawal include:
- Increased heart rate
- High blood pressure
The most severe form of alcohol withdrawal is referred to as delirium tremens (DTs). This condition usually occurs in people who drank extremely heavily and have experienced alcohol withdrawal in the past. Delirium tremens can be life-threatening, with a mortality rate of 37% without treatment. Alcohol detox centers can prescribe medications that help reduce the risk of DTs and other concerning symptoms.
The symptoms of delirium tremens include:
- Extreme confusion
- Extreme agitation
- Tactile, auditory, and visual hallucinations
- Excessive sweating
- Increased heart rate
- High blood pressure
- Fast respirations
The Alcohol Withdrawal Timeline
While alcohol withdrawal can be unpleasant, treatment from a medical detox center can make the process more comfortable and safe. There are a variety of treatment options that can ease your symptoms and support your overall goal of long-term sobriety.
The exact timeline of alcohol withdrawal depends on a variety of individual factors, from how often you drank to how good your overall health is.
Here is a general timeline that most people follow:
For most people, alcohol withdrawal symptoms will begin 8 hours after their last drink. The symptoms of alcohol withdrawal are usually mild in the beginning, gradually worsening over time.
The symptoms you can expect to experience within the first 8 hours include:
- Clammy or pale skin
- Loss of appetite
When you decide to receive professional treatment, a medical detox program can prevent you from experiencing uncomfortable symptoms by prescribing medications. For mild symptoms of withdrawal that occur within the first 8 hours, medical staff may provide you with symptom-specific medications. For example, if you are struggling with nausea you may be given anti-nausea medication.
Between 12 to 24 hours after your last drink, you will begin to experience noticeable symptoms of alcohol withdrawal. However, any new symptoms are usually mild and the early symptoms you have experienced will increase in severity.
During this stage of alcohol withdrawal, you may experience:
- Mood swings
- Night sweats
- “Brain fog” or not thinking clearly
- Headache or migraine
- Insomnia or difficulty sleeping
While this stage of withdrawal is usually not life-threatening, some individuals may begin to experience hallucinations in the 12-24 hour time frame. It is essential that you receive medical treatment from a licensed alcohol detox program during this time.
Now that the symptoms of alcohol withdrawal are gradually increasing in severity, you may be prescribed a long-acting benzodiazepine. Benzodiazepines such as Valium (diazepam) and Ativan (lorazepam) calm your central nervous system down, reducing symptoms like anxiety and insomnia.
In later stages of withdrawal, benzodiazepines can reduce the risk of tremors, seizures, and DTs.
Alcohol withdrawal symptoms typically begin to peak somewhere between 24 to 72 hours after your last drink. This is when your symptoms will be at their most severe.
The symptoms that occur during this stage of alcohol withdrawal include:
If you are in a medical detox program, you will already be taking medication to prevent severe withdrawal symptoms from occurring.
People who are going to develop delirium tremens will usually begin to notice the symptoms during this stage. If you experience the symptoms of DTs, immediate medical attention is required. Most people who have this form of alcohol withdrawal syndrome are placed in an intensive care unit where their vitals can be monitored and fluids can be administered. Failure to seek treatment can be life-threatening.
After 72 Hours
After 72 hours, most people stop experiencing the symptoms of alcohol withdrawal. Some symptoms such as depression, irritability, alcohol cravings, insomnia, and anxiety may persist for a couple of weeks.
Post-Acute Withdrawal Syndrome (PAWS)
Some individuals can experience post-acute withdrawal syndrome (PAWS), a condition where you experience lingering psychological symptoms like depression, cravings, irritability, and sleep disturbances. These symptoms may only last for a few weeks, but in some people, they can last for several months or years.
Symptoms of PAWS can be managed with a continued treatment program that consists of behavioral therapy, support groups, and healthy lifestyle choices.
Once your symptoms subside, your detox program will encourage you to attend an inpatient or residential treatment program. These programs provide you with the emotional support and mental health treatment you need to overcome the causes and effects of addiction.
Find Help for Alcohol Withdrawal Today
If you or a loved one suffer from alcoholism, medical detox is the first step to recovery. Because alcohol withdrawal symptoms can become life-threatening without medical treatment, you must seek professional help before attempting to quit using alcohol.
Alcohol detox and treatment centers like Sheer Recovery can provide you with the tools you need to overcome alcohol withdrawal and begin your recovery journey. Our drug and alcohol detox center in Orange County California can provide around-the-clock care and support so you can avoid withdrawal complications as well as relapse. Your comfort and safety are our top priorities.
Once your symptoms subside, our clinical team will help you make the transition to one of our inpatient or outpatient alcohol rehab programs where you can heal from the causes of your addiction and learn how to stay sober.
Contact Sheer Recovery today to get started.
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