You have decided to stop drinking and want to do so safely. That’s a great first step. Now you may be wondering what to expect as you go through withdrawal. One of your most important questions is, how long does alcohol withdrawal last?
Alcohol withdrawal can be dangerous. If you’ve been drinking for a long time or have consumed large amounts of alcohol, you should only withdraw from the substance under professional supervision, with the right treatment for your addiction. The symptoms you may experience can be harmful to your health if not managed properly.
The Withdrawal Process
You will go through withdrawal when you stop drinking, primarily because of the way alcohol affects your brain. Your body has become physically dependent on the substance so when you suddenly stop consuming it, you can experience withdrawal symptoms.
Alcohol is a central nervous system depressant, which changes the way your brain works. Your brain will produce more of a neurotransmitter that makes you feel calm and euphoric, known as GABA. It will also produce less glutamate, which is a neurotransmitter that can make you feel excitable. As a result, your neurotransmitters become unbalanced when you suddenly stop drinking alcohol.
How long alcohol withdrawal lasts, the effects that you feel, and even whether you will experience symptoms depends on how much you drink on a regular basis, how long you’ve been drinking, and other health conditions you may have. Drinking heavily over a long period of time will make you more likely to go through withdrawal when you stop drinking.
How long alcohol withdrawal lasts for you will depend on your specific situation, including your level of dependence on the substance. A general timeline can give you an idea of what to expect during each phase of withdrawal, however.
First eight hours: For most people, the initial withdrawal symptoms start within the first eight hours after their last drink. Symptoms during this stage can include irritability, nervousness, restlessness, clammy or pale skin, loss of appetite, nausea, and shakiness.
Next 12-24 hours: You may notice increased symptoms in the period that lasts from 12 to 24 hours after your last drink. You may begin to experience nightmares, depression, night sweats, mood swings, “brain fog,” headaches or migraines, vomiting, and insomnia or difficulty sleeping. You may also begin to experience hallucinations during this phase of alcohol withdrawal.
24-72 hours: Your alcohol withdrawal symptoms will usually peak between 24 hours and 72 hours after your last drink. The most severe symptoms will typically occur during this timeframe, including tremors, agitation, seizures, nausea, vomiting, and hallucinations. Medical supervision is especially important during this period.
Delirium tremens (DTs) may also occur, which require immediate medical attention. DT symptoms of alcohol withdrawal can include a high body temperature, hallucinations and illusions, paranoia, and seizures.
The weeks after 72 hours: Your alcohol withdrawal symptoms may begin to subside after 72 hours, but your symptoms may continue for the next several weeks.
Post-Acute Withdrawal Syndrome (PAWS)
About 75% of alcohol abusers will continue to experience withdrawal symptoms that can persist for weeks or even months after their last drink. The condition, known as post-acute withdrawal syndrome (PAWS) is probably caused by the physical changes to the brain that occur during excessive alcohol use, which are responsible for the increased tolerance and for the recurring symptoms during withdrawal.
The symptoms of PAWS also are dependent on your particular situation, but may include feelings of panic or anxiety, irritability, depression, and difficulty with cognitive tasks such as learning or memory recall. Additional symptoms can include increased sensitivity to stress, obsessive-compulsive behaviors, alcohol cravings, sleep difficulties, pessimism or apathy, and difficulty with social relationships.
Contact Recovery Without Walls for Safe Alcohol Withdrawal
At Recovery Without Walls, we want you to get sober. We also understand that it can be difficult and even dangerous to stop abusing alcohol without help. We are here to guide you through a safe and effective detox from the alcohol in your system so you can get the individualized addiction treatment you need. We personalize your treatment based on evidence-informed research, exceptional psychotherapy, nutritional support, and integrative healing methods designed to treat your whole body. Contact us today to learn how we can help you.