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Alcohol Withdrawal Timeline

Alcohol withdrawal is a set of physical and mental problems that occur when you stop or significantly cut back on alcohol consumption after a period of heavy dependence. 

Symptoms of alcohol withdrawal vary depending on dependence and timeline after cessation (or reduction in consumption).  

The longer an alcoholic stays without consuming alcohol, the more severe the withdrawal symptoms will be. If not professionally managed, alcohol withdrawal symptoms can lead to life-threatening complications. 

In this article, we’ll take a closer look at the alcohol withdrawal timeline and why you (or a loved one) should seek professional assistance when looking to quit alcohol after years of dependence. 

What Is Alcohol Withdrawal And Why Is It Risky?

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Alcohol withdrawal is a set of changes the body undergoes when an individual suddenly quits or reduces drinking after a period of heavy use. 

Symptoms usually vary depending on the severity of addiction and timeline. For instance, a heavy drinker is likely to experience more severe withdrawal symptoms than a binge drinker gradually transitioning into an alcoholic. 

Either way, alcohol withdrawal symptoms tend to become severe the longer a dependent person stays without consuming alcohol and should thus be handled with extreme care!

What Causes Alcohol Withdrawal?

Alcohol has a depressive effect on the human system. Ever wondered why tensions ease and nerves relax after several pints of beer? Well, alcohol works by altering the functioning of neurotransmitters. 

Instead of operating normally, your brain slows down after alcohol consumption, effectively altering how it communicates with the body. 

Regular consumption of alcohol forces your brain to adjust to having alcohol constantly in the system. And to prevent your brain from performing at a subdued level, the body works harder to maintain nerve communication and keep the brain in an awakened state. 

Therefore, when you suddenly quit alcohol, your brain is likely to remain in an awakened state. This forces the central nervous system to attempt to adjust to the unfamiliar chemical imbalance, which often leads to withdrawal symptoms. 

Alcohol Withdrawal Timeline

Now that you understand the causes of alcohol withdrawal syndrome and what it entails, let’s look at the timeline of withdrawal symptoms and what you (or a loved one) can expect after quitting alcohol.  

6-12 Hours After The Last Drink

The first phase is usually the mildest and easiest to cope with. However, most alcoholics feel uncomfortable with the symptoms of alcohol withdrawal at this stage, and often resort to drinking in a bid to return to normalcy. 

Some of the symptoms in this phase include: 

  • Shaky hands
  • Nausea 
  • Headache 
  • Anxiety
  • Sweating 
  • Insomnia 
  • Vomiting
  • Stomach upset 

12-24 Hours After The Last Alcoholic Drink

This timeframe can be risky for alcoholics as the symptoms elevate from mild to serious. The odds of relapsing during this phase are high as the symptoms of alcohol withdrawal become too much to handle. 

Below are some of the symptoms you can expect within 12-48 hours after the last drink: 

  • Extreme disorientation 
  • Fever 
  • Abnormal sweating 
  • Severe hand tremors 
  • Seizures 
  • Hallucinations 

 48-72 Hours After The Last Alcoholic Drink

While some symptoms might fade away for binge drinkers, serious alcoholics can experience delirium tremens (DTs), an onset of symptoms like confusion, visual and auditory hallucinations. 

Here are some of the symptoms of withdrawal during this phase:

  • High blood pressure 
  • Extreme sweating 
  • Auditory, visual and tactile hallucinations 
  • High fever
  • Insomnia 
  • Seizures 

It’s crucial to note that withdrawal symptoms vary from individual to individual. 

Some extremely dependent alcoholics might start experiencing withdrawal symptoms just 2 hours after consuming the last drink, while occasional drinkers might quit without experiencing any withdrawal symptoms at all. 

However, factors like level of dependency and health (physical and mental) also determine the severity of withdrawal symptoms. 

Treating Alcohol Withdrawal Syndrome

As we’ve already established, alcohol withdrawal is a potentially serious condition that can prove fatal if not well handled. 

While the mild symptoms can be managed easily through fluid intake and resting in a safe, well-monitored environment, severe symptoms like delusion, seizures, and high blood pressure need professional assistance.

Let’s take a quick look at some of the ways you can treat and prevent alcohol withdrawal from occurring. 

Detoxification

Alcohol detoxification is usually the first step in treating alcohol use disorder. And although detoxification can be conducted at both outpatient and inpatient facilities, it is highly advisable for heavy users to receive 24/7 medical monitoring. 

Detoxification usually involves three main steps– examination (review of a patient’s medical, psychiatric, and drug histories), medication (use of medications to treat the symptoms), and stabilization (use of psychological and medical methods to achieve a physical and mental balance). 

Inpatient and Outpatient Treatment 

Both inpatient and outpatient treatment can treat alcohol addiction, thereby preventing alcohol withdrawal from occurring again.  

Inpatient rehab facilities are usually the best bet for the first phase of addiction treatment. Under inpatient programs, you (or your loved one) will receive round-the-clock support from a team of qualified professionals. 

Inpatient programs tend to last between 30 and 90 days but can be extended to suit patients’ unique needs. 

On the other hand, outpatient rehabs allow patients to maintain their daily schedules while receiving treatment. This option is ideal for social drinkers that don’t want their drinking behavior to escalate or former alcoholics in the advanced stages of treatment. 

Medication-Assisted Treatment

Medication-assisted treatment entails the use of counseling therapies in combination with FDA-approved medication to relieve psychological cravings and the severe symptoms of withdrawals. 

Some of the commonly used drugs used to treat and manage alcohol use disorder include disulfiram, naltrexone, and acamprosate

Is It Necessary To Receive Alcohol Withdrawal Treatment?

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Don't go through the process of recovery alone. There are people who can help you with the struggle you're facing. Get in touch with one today.

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Although occasional drinkers might choose to persevere through mild withdrawal symptoms, binge drinkers and alcoholics are strongly advised to seek professional assistance to manage severe symptoms. 

As we’ve established throughout the article, alcohol withdrawal symptoms tend to worsen over time and can get critical days after the last sip. 

Alcohol withdrawal is much safer when supervised by licensed medical professionals. 

As a result, you should consider contacting an addiction treatment provider to learn more about the services offered and how best to manage, treat and prevent the symptoms. 

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