Alcohol Withdrawal Timeline, Symptoms, And Treatment
Table of Contents

Comprehensive Guide to Alcohol Withdrawal Treatment

Alcohol use is widely accepted and common in the United States. The majority of adults report drinking alcohol at least occasionally, and alcoholic beverages are available in many social situations. If someone wants to drink, it’s likely that they can easily access alcohol.

While many people drink alcohol in moderation, some struggle to maintain a healthy relationship with alcohol. Many factors can contribute to unhealthy drinking patterns, but all heavy drinking can lead to dependence and addiction.

People with alcohol abuse and addiction require comprehensive treatment to safely stop drinking and learn the skills needed to maintain lifelong sobriety. The road to recovery may sometimes be challenging, but the journey can lead to a healthier, sober future.

Before beginning any treatment program, it’s important to understand what to expect. Learning about the process of detox and treatment can help you stay motivated during challenges and setbacks.

For many, the first step of alcohol addiction treatment is a medically-supported detox program. This article will explore what to expect during the alcohol withdrawal timeline, including what symptoms you may experience and the treatment you’ll receive at each stage of treatment.

Reach out to the team at Flourishing Foundations Recovery now to explore our comprehensive treatment programs or to find support during any stage of your recovery journey.

Alcohol Withdrawal: Understanding the Basics

Alcohol works in the body by slowing activity in the central nervous system (CNS). This decrease in CNS activity is responsible for many of alcohol’s effects, which may include:

  • Loss of balance and coordination
  • Sleepiness
  • Relaxation
  • Slurred words
  • Impaired judgment
  • Changes in mood

When you drink, your body attempts to counteract the slowed CNS behavior by increasing its activity. If someone drinks heavily or for a long period, their body may remain in a constant state of elevated CNS activity.

If you drink heavily and then stop, your central nervous system continues to be overly active. Without the depressant effects of alcohol, you are likely to experience withdrawal symptoms. These symptoms can be uncomfortable and, in some cases, life-threatening.

Alcohol Withdrawal Timeline and Symptoms

Many factors affect how your body processes alcohol and will manage withdrawal. However, the alcohol withdrawal timeline typically occurs in four stages.

Stage 1: 6-12 hours after your last drink

People may begin to experience withdrawal symptoms soon after their final drink. Many of these symptoms are physical–and they can make people feel very uncomfortable. Alcohol withdrawal symptoms include:

  • Excessive sweating
  • Tremors
  • Anxiety
  • Headache
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Insomnia

People often experience intense cravings for alcohol during this stage of the alcohol withdrawal timeline and are at risk for relapse.

Stage 2: 12-24 hours after your last drink

People often remain very uncomfortable as they approach one full day without alcohol. People may experience sweating and vomiting, as well as nausea that prevents them from eating or drinking anything. Some people may become dehydrated during this stage of withdrawal. In rare cases, people may develop unsettling hallucinations at this point of withdrawal.

Stage 3: 24-48 hours after your last drink

People may experience low blood sugar and irritability as they move into the second day without alcohol. Physical symptoms, including nausea, tremors, anxiety, and sweating, can linger for several days after your last drink.

A small percentage of people may develop a dangerous condition called delirium tremens (DTs) at this point in the withdrawal process. Symptoms of delirium tremens include:

  • Dangerously elevated body temperature
  • Excessive sweating
  • Hallucinations
  • Extreme confusion
  • Seizures

Without immediate medical intervention, delirium tremens can be life-threatening. Certain risk factors make it more likely that someone will develop delirium tremens, but anyone in alcohol withdrawal may develop this hazardous condition.

Stage 4: 48 hours to one week

After two full days without alcohol, you may notice that your symptoms begin to improve. Nausea, headache, sweating, and other uncomfortable physical symptoms may gradually become more manageable throughout the first week after your last drink.

However, people often develop new and worsening mental health symptoms, including:

  • Depression
  • Anxiety
  • Agitation
  • Irritability
  • Confusion

Many people continue to struggle with intense cravings for alcohol that put their recovery in jeopardy. It’s essential to have sufficient support and treatment during withdrawal to ensure you can have a safe, complete detox.

Factors that Affect the Severity and Duration of Alcohol Withdrawal

The severity and duration of alcohol withdrawal can vary among individuals based on several factors.

  • Extent of alcohol consumption – The quantity and length of time a person has been consuming alcohol play a significant role in the alcohol withdrawal timeline. Long-term and heavy alcohol use can lead to more severe withdrawal symptoms.
  • Individual health factors – The overall health of the individual can impact alcohol withdrawal. For example, those with pre-existing medical conditions may experience more complications.
  • Genetics – Genetic factors can influence how the body metabolizes alcohol and how susceptible an individual is to withdrawal symptoms.
  • Age – Younger individuals may generally experience a faster recovery, while older individuals may have a higher risk of complications while detoxing.
  • Mental health – Co-occurring mental health conditions, such as anxiety or depression, can contribute to the severity of alcohol withdrawal symptoms.
  • Previous withdrawal episodes – Individuals who have undergone withdrawal in the past may experience more severe symptoms in subsequent episodes.
  • Nutritional status – Poor nutrition, which is common in individuals with chronic alcohol use, can worsen withdrawal symptoms and make symptoms last longer.
  • Support systems – Having a strong support system, including family, friends, and medical professionals, can positively impact the alcohol withdrawal process.
  • Medical guidance – The use of medications and medical supervision during withdrawal can help manage symptoms and reduce the risk of complications.

Treatment During Alcohol Withdrawal

Alcohol withdrawal is a complex condition that often has deep roots in a person’s genetics, behaviors, mental and physical health, and environment. During detox, people receive care, support, and treatment that allows them to remain safe and comfortable as their body adjusts to the absence of alcohol.

Treatment during a medically-supported detox program includes:

  • Medications to reduce cravings and other alcohol withdrawal symptoms
  • Regular assessment and monitoring of symptoms
  • Consistent access to mental health and medical care
  • Education
  • Emotional support
  • Distance from triggers
  • Nutrition support, yoga, mindfulness, and other holistic practices to provide calm and comfort

Typically, benzodiazepines are used to treat alcohol withdrawal. Long-acting benzos such as Valium (diazepam) are often prescribed in relatively high doses at first, with the dosage slowly being reduced as time goes on. These medications can help the body adjust to functioning without alcohol and prevent complications such as seizures.

An alcohol detox program can ensure you have the support and care you need during withdrawal to increase your chances of having a safe, complete detox from alcohol. Starting your recovery journey in a medically supported detox program gives you the best start toward the future you choose.

Find Help Now

If you or someone you know lives with alcohol abuse or addiction, you are not alone. The comprehensive, non-judgmental treatment and support you need are available at Flourishing Foundations Recovery.

Reach out to our team now to learn about our high-quality detox and treatment programs or to schedule an intake assessment.