Alcohol Withdrawal Timeline: How Long Does Alcohol Withdrawal Last?

Alcohol withdrawal is a challenging and often daunting journey for those seeking sobriety. While anticipating withdrawal symptoms to begin, your head may be racing with a million questions–when will my withdrawal symptoms start? How long does alcohol withdrawal last? What can I expect while detoxing from alcohol?

While the journey is unique for each individual, understanding the general stages of the alcohol withdrawal timeline and what symptoms you can expect can help you prepare to cope with the process.

What Causes Alcohol Withdrawal?

Alcohol withdrawal occurs when a person who is physically dependent on alcohol suddenly stops or significantly reduces their alcohol intake. It is primarily caused by the brain and body’s adaptation to long-term alcohol use and the sudden changes it must endure when trying to adjust to functioning without alcohol in the system.

To explain, chronic alcohol consumption leads to changes in the brain’s neurotransmitter systems, particularly the gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA) and glutamate systems. GABA helps regulate the central nervous system (CNS), and increased levels of it can lead to feelings of relaxation or calmness.

Alcohol enhances the inhibitory effects of GABA while suppressing the excitatory effects of glutamate. To maintain equilibrium, the brain adapts by producing more excitatory neurotransmitters and reducing GABA production.

When alcohol consumption suddenly ceases, the brain is left in a state of overexcitement due to the absence of alcohol’s inhibitory effects. This imbalance leads to the symptoms of alcohol withdrawal, including anxiety, irritability, seizures, and more severe complications in some cases, such as delirium tremens.

When Do Alcohol Withdrawal Symptoms Appear?

Alcohol withdrawal symptoms typically appear within 6 to 12 hours after the last drink. However, the timing can vary depending on individual factors, including the level of alcohol dependence and the person’s overall health. Early symptoms often include anxiety, restlessness, nausea, and sweating.

Unfortunately, the onset and severity of withdrawal symptoms can be unpredictable, emphasizing the importance of seeking medical help or supervision when attempting to quit alcohol, especially for individuals with a history of heavy alcohol abuse.

How Long Does Alcohol Withdrawal Last?

The severity and duration of withdrawal symptoms can vary depending on factors such as the duration and intensity of alcohol use, individual tolerance, and genetic predisposition. People who have been drinking for longer periods or those who drink more heavily may experience longer-lasting and more severe withdrawal symptoms. At the same time, people who have detoxed from alcohol in the past may be prone to more serious symptoms with each subsequent withdrawal attempt due to something known as the kindling effect.

Generally, mild withdrawal symptoms may last a few days to a week. More severe symptoms, such as delirium tremens (DTs), can peak within 72 hours and persist for several days. Post-acute withdrawal syndrome (PAWS) symptoms, which are milder but can include mood swings and cravings, may last for months. It’s crucial to remember that seeking medical assistance during alcohol withdrawal is essential to ensure safety and receive appropriate treatment and support.

Breaking Down the Alcohol Withdrawal Timeline

Although the alcohol withdrawal timeline can vary from one person to the next, the vast majority of individuals experience the following:

Stage 1: Early Withdrawal (6-12 Hours After the Last Drink)

The first stage of alcohol withdrawal typically begins within 6 to 12 hours after the last drink. During this period, you may experience mild to moderate symptoms, such as anxiety, insomnia, nausea, and sweating. These symptoms are often manageable and may not be as severe as later stages. However, they can still be distressing and uncomfortable.

Stage 2: Peak Withdrawal (24-72 Hours)

The peak of alcohol withdrawal (when symptoms are most severe) usually occurs between 24 to 72 hours after your last drink. This is when the symptoms tend to be most intense and can include:

  • Delirium Tremens (DTs) – DTs are rare but severe symptoms that can include hallucinations, confusion, seizures, and severe agitation. If you or someone you know experiences these symptoms, it is vital to seek medical attention immediately.
  • High blood pressure
  • Insomnia
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Sweating
  • Shivering
  • Cravings

After 72 hours, symptoms should gradually begin to subside. Most people start feeling better after about seven days.

Stage 3: Post-Acute Withdrawal (Up to 6 Months)

After the peak withdrawal phase, you may enter a period of post-acute withdrawal syndrome (PAWS). PAWS can last for several months, and while the symptoms are less severe than in the earlier stages, they can be persistent and unpredictable. Common symptoms during PAWS include:

  • Depression
  • Anxiety
  • Mood Swings
  • Sleep Disturbances
  • Cravings
  • Cognitive Issues
  • Headaches
  • Digestive issues

PAWS are not life-threatening and can be managed with therapy and lifestyle changes.

How to Manage Alcohol Withdrawal

Alcohol withdrawal can be dangerous and severe, so you should never try to detox by yourself or at home. Managing alcohol withdrawal safely and effectively requires a holistic approach that addresses physical, mental, and emotional aspects of recovery. If you suspect you will experience withdrawal if you stop drinking, you must consider the following:

  • Seek medical attention: If you have a history of severe alcohol withdrawal symptoms, it’s essential to seek medical supervision and treatment. Medical professionals at a Georgia alcohol detox center can provide medications to ease withdrawal symptoms and monitor your progress.
  • Immerse yourself in a supportive environment – Surround yourself with supportive friends and family or consider joining a support group. Having a strong support system can make a significant difference during this challenging time.
  • Stay hydrated and nourished – Drink plenty of water and eat balanced meals to support your body and your immune system as it heals from the effects of alcohol abuse.
  • Get some exercise – Engaging in regular physical activity can help reduce anxiety and improve mood.
  • Participate in therapy – Consider therapy or counseling to address the emotional and psychological aspects of addiction and withdrawal.
  • Medication-assisted treatment (MAT) – In some cases, healthcare providers may recommend medications like benzodiazepines or naltrexone to assist with withdrawal and cravings.

Start Your Recovery at Our Georgia Alcohol Detox Center Today

At Cobb Detox & Outpatient, the safety of our clients is our top priority. Our comfortable alcohol detox center offers a safe and supportive place for individuals to begin their recovery journey. To learn about your alcohol detox and treatment options or to get started with a confidential assessment, please call us today.

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