Home » Alcohol Addiction » Alcohol Withdrawal: Symptoms, Timeline, and Treatment
AWS (alcohol withdrawal syndrome) is the clinical term for the presentation of symptoms that occurs when those who are dependent on alcohol suddenly stop or significantly reduce their intake after a period of sustained consumption.
Alcohol withdrawal is associated with a variety of physical and emotional symptoms, from fatigue and mild anxiety to vomiting and nausea. Severe symptoms of AWS include hallucinations and life-threatening seizures.
Alcohol withdrawal is one of the most prominent markers of alcohol dependency. The symptoms of alcohol withdrawal are a physical and psychological response from a system accustomed to the continuous presence of alcohol.
The sustained consumption of alcohol causes tolerance to build. As the effects of alcohol diminish, many people drink more alcohol to achieve the initial effects, accelerating the formation of physical dependence. If you abruptly stop drinking alcohol, your body takes time to adjust to its absence, triggering symptoms like anxiety, nausea, and insomnia as it attempts to restore homeostasis (balance).
The effects associated with this process are not only unpleasant and uncomfortable, but they can also be life-threatening. It is almost always advisable to initiate the alcohol withdrawal process with medical supervision to mitigate complications and streamline the detox process.
Alcohol withdrawal symptoms differ depending on the severity of AWS. Symptoms present over distinct stages:
Mild alcohol withdrawal symptoms include:
Moderate alcohol withdrawal is associated with the above symptoms alongside these moderate withdrawal symptoms:
In addition to these physical symptoms, moderate AWS may trigger a sense of confusion, as well as irritability, and mood changes.
It is estimated that 5% of those who detox from alcohol experience severe withdrawal (delirium tremens or DTs). This can be fatal if untreated.
Many factors influence the scope, severity, and duration of withdrawal symptoms, including:
Not everyone will experience all stages of alcohol withdrawal, and all cases of alcohol detox are unique. That said, alcohol withdrawal follows a predictable pattern over a 7 to 10-day period. This is a typical timeline:
During an initial assessment at an alcohol rehab center or licensed medical detox center, a doctor will review your medical history, assess your symptoms, and conduct a physical examination. Here are some signs of alcohol withdrawal that your doctor will look for:
Additionally, the doctor may conduct a toxicology screen to test how your BAC (blood alcohol concentration) levels of alcohol.
Alcohol withdrawal symptoms manifest as follows:
After you stop drinking alcohol, withdrawal symptoms will manifest quickly. Headaches and mild anxiety are among the first symptoms that present. At the same time, you can also expect to experience nausea, vomiting, and powerful cravings for alcohol.
Headaches and other early withdrawal symptoms peak by the third day of detox, subsiding in intensity and dissipating after a week or so.
Alcohol withdrawal typically lasts 7 to 14 days. Those who experience protracted withdrawal, prolonged withdrawal, or PAWS (post-acute withdrawal syndrome) may experience headaches and anxiety that take months to fully subside.
Alcohol stimulates the CNS (central nervous system), the circulatory system, and other organs. Consuming alcohol can trigger an increase in heart rate, prompting blood vessels in the skin to widen, leading the body to produce more sweat than normal. This process is clinically termed vasodilation.
Those who have been drinking alcohol heavily or regularly or more susceptible to experiencing night sweats during withdrawal. Night sweats usually occur from two hours to ten days after the last alcoholic beverage.
There are two symptoms of alcohol withdrawal that can be life-threatening:
Engaging with a supervised medical detox program will mitigate the life-threatening complications associated with withdrawal.
The safest and most comfortable approach to alcohol withdrawal is a medically-supervised detox in an inpatient rehab or licensed medical detox center. A treatment team may administer medications to streamline the intensity of the withdrawal process.
Benzodiazepines or benzos are often indicated to treat alcohol withdrawal symptoms. Like alcohol, benzos are CNS depressants that trigger sleepiness and drowsiness.
Benzos can alleviate the following symptoms:
The following benzodiazepines have FDA approval for treating acute alcohol withdrawal:
Seizure medications may be prescribed for severe alcohol withdrawal. These anticonvulsants are indicated for alcohol detox:
Additionally, there are three FDA-approved medications for treating alcohol use disorder:
Of these medications, acamprosate may help with alcohol withdrawal by regulating chemicals in the brain disrupted by chronic alcohol abuse. Naltrexone and disulfiram may help you to maintain abstinence in your ongoing recovery.
A 2020 study suggests that gabapentin may relieve the symptoms of alcohol withdrawal, especially in those who have a history of more symptoms presenting after a few days of abstinence.
Gabapentin is marketed as Neurontin, Horizant, and Gralise in the United States and is approved for use as an antispasmodic medication and muscle relaxer. The medication has also been used off-label to treat other conditions, including alcohol withdrawal syndrome.
The study author concludes that “gabapentin may work by itself as a relapse prevention medication” for those prone to severe alcohol withdrawal.
If you are physically dependent on alcohol, abruptly quitting at home could be fatal. Instead, engage with a supervised medical detox to mitigate complications and reduce the intensity of withdrawal symptoms. We can connect you with licensed medical detox centers throughout Cincinnati to help you address the issue of alcohol dependence at Ohio Community Health.
You will then be ready to choose from the following treatment programs at our alcohol addiction treatment and rehab center in Cincinnati:
All of Ohio Recovery Centers’ treatment programs involve individualized and evidence-based treatment that includes MAT (medication-assisted treatment), psychotherapy (CBT or DBT), individual counseling, and group therapy.
When you’re ready to detox from alcohol as safely and comfortably as possible, call (877) 679-2132 for immediate assistance.
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Cincinnati, OH 45246
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