Who Answers?

Alcohol Abstinence Syndrome

855 339 1112

Dealing with Alcohol Abstinence Syndrome

Alcohol abstinence syndrome is a set of symptoms that may occur when a person who is dependent on alcohol suddenly stops or significantly reduces their alcohol consumption.

Navigation: Alcohol Abstinence Syndrome: What is it?, Are Alcohol Addiction and Alcohol Withdrawal Syndrome the Same?, Signs and Symptoms of Alcohol Abstinence Syndrome, Are Alcohol Withdrawal Symptoms Dangerous?, Causes of Alcohol Abstinence Syndrome, Who is at Risk for Alcohol Withdrawal Syndrome?, Preventing Alcohol Withdrawal Syndrome, How Long Does Alcohol Withdrawal Syndrome Last?, How to Manage Alcohol Withdrawal Syndrome, Treatment for Alcohol Abstinence Syndrome, Rehab Is Your Best Chance


People drink alcohol for a variety of reasons. There are those who drink to socialize, celebrate, or relieve stress. Others drink to experiment, to forget about their problems, or just because of peer pressure. Drinking alcohol socially is heavily rooted in tradition and is considered acceptable in many different cultures around the world.

Whether it’s for enjoyment or self-medication, there’s no doubt that drinking excessively can lead to serious problems down the line. It can lead to the development of alcohol addiction, alcohol use disorders (AUD), and in some cases, severe alcohol withdrawal.

Casual drinking can turn into a habit over time. And those who have been drinking for a long time are at risk of developing what is called alcohol abstinence syndrome, also known as alcohol withdrawal syndrome (AWS).

So while moderate alcohol consumption may not be harmful for many people, excessive and irresponsible drinking can lead to a range of health problems. Here we will focus on alcohol abstinence syndrome and everything you need to know about this condition.


Alcohol Abstinence Syndrome: What is it?

Alcohol abstinence syndrome is a set of symptoms that may occur when a person who is dependent on alcohol suddenly stops or significantly reduces their alcohol consumption.

Alcohol dependence typically arises in individuals who have been drinking heavily and regularly for an extended period of time. Their body adapts to the constant presence of alcohol, to the point where it can no longer function normally without it. They struggle to feel “normal” when they don’t drink.

When these alcohol dependent people abruptly quit or reduce their alcohol intake, they go into withdrawal, which is an uncomfortable state characterized by withdrawal symptoms and intense cravings.

Take note that the severity and onset of symptoms can vary widely depending on factors such as the person’s level of alcohol dependence as well as their health condition.

Alcohol abstinence syndrome can start within hours to a few days after the last drink and usually peaks within 24 to 48 hours.

Alcohol withdrawal syndrome is particularly dangerous because it can sometimes lead to life-threatening symptoms. One example is alcohol withdrawal seizures. Because of this risk, it’s essential for alcohol dependent people to seek medical help when attempting to quit or reduce their alcohol consumption, especially if they have a history of severe withdrawal symptoms.

They may go through a clinical institute withdrawal assessment to assess the symptoms of alcohol withdrawal and develop a proper treatment plan.


Are Alcohol Addiction and Alcohol Withdrawal Syndrome the Same?

Alcohol addiction is not the same as alcohol withdrawal syndrome. However, they are related to each other.

Alcohol addiction is also known as alcohol use disorder, which is a chronic and progressive medical condition characterized by an inability to control your alcohol intake despite the negative consequences. This means addicted individuals will compulsively seek out alcohol even when they are already suffering from its effects.

People with AUD may have a strong craving for alcohol. Therefore they will continue to drink even when it leads to problems in their personal or professional life. Oftentimes this leads to alcohol tolerance, which is when a person has to drink more and more just to achieve the desired effects.

People with alcohol addiction often find it difficult to limit the amount they drink and may repeatedly fail in their attempts to cut down or control their alcohol consumption.

A significant amount of their time is spent on obtaining, using, or recovering from the effects of alcohol. They may also spend a lot of time thinking about when and where they can drink next. Because of this, they may begin to isolate themselves from loved ones or avoid social situations where there is no alcohol involved.

Addicted individuals may even begin to neglect their responsibilities, prioritizing the drink over everything else. This tends to cause problems at work or in their relationships. The person may even lose interest in activities and hobbies they used to enjoy.

Alcohol addiction can have severe physical, psychological, and social consequences, including liver damage, cardiovascular problems, mental health issues (such as depression and anxiety), strained relationships, and legal troubles. It can also lead to accidents, injuries, and an increased risk of premature death.

Overall, AUD is a complex condition that involves psychological and physical dependence on alcohol.

On the other hand, alcohol abstinence syndrome refers to the withdrawal effect that occurs when someone who is physically dependent on alcohol suddenly stops or reduces their intake. AWS occurs because the body has become accustomed to the presence of alcohol, and when it is removed, the central nervous system becomes hyperactive.

When alcohol use is discontinued or reduced, people may experience acute alcohol withdrawal or severe alcohol withdrawal symptoms. Withdrawal symptoms can be physically and psychologically distressing. These symptoms may include anxiety, nausea, sweating, tremors, and seizures.

Treatment of alcohol withdrawal and addiction may involve a combination of behavioral therapy and medical detox. This approach addresses both the physical and psychological aspects of addiction.

It’s important for those who are struggling with alcohol addiction to seek help, as it can be a chronic and progressive condition that tends to worsen without intervention. Recovery is possible with the right support and treatment.

Signs and Symptoms of Alcohol Abstinence Syndrome

Because alcohol abstinence syndrome can cause various effects ranging from mild to severe, it’s important to recognize them, especially if you think your loved one is at risk of this condition. Signs and symptoms may vary among individuals, but there are some common ones to watch out for.

Mild symptoms of alcohol withdrawal syndrome include anxiety, irritability, nervousness, fatigue, tremors, sweating, headache, nausea, vomiting, insomnia, rapid heart rate, and loss of appetite.

Some of the more moderate symptoms of alcohol abstinence syndrome include increased blood pressure, confusion, difficulty concentrating, mood swings, muscle aches, muscle tension, sensitivity to light, sound or touch, and hallucinations.

In severe cases, alcohol withdrawal syndrome may produce symptoms like seizures, convulsions, delirium tremens (DTs), profound confusion, agitation, restlessness, high fever, severe tremors, profuse sweating, racing heartbeat, dehydration, and severe anxiety.

Delirium tremens is a medical emergency and can be life-threatening. It typically occurs in individuals with a long history of heavy alcohol use. It is marked by symptoms like hallucinations, seizures, severe confusion, and disorientation.

Remember that these symptoms typically begin within hours to a few days after the last drink. Not everyone who stops drinking will experience severe symptoms like delirium tremens.

The severity and duration of alcohol withdrawal symptoms can vary based on several factors, including the person’s overall health, the amount and duration of alcohol use, and any prior history of alcohol withdrawal.

Are Alcohol Withdrawal Symptoms Dangerous?

As we mentioned previously, there are some cases in which alcohol withdrawal becomes severe and therefore dangerous. It’s worth noting that this does not happen to everyone, and sometimes withdrawal symptoms can be mild.

Depending on how long the person has been drinking and how much they drink each time, the severity of their withdrawal may vary. While some only experience mild symptoms, others may develop symptoms that require medical intervention.

Delirium tremens is by far the most severe symptom of alcohol withdrawal. It can be life-threatening if not treated promptly. Delirium tremens is characterized by severe confusion, hallucinations, agitation, fever, and tremors. It can also lead to cardiovascular complications, seizures, and even death if left untreated.

Alcohol abstinence syndrome can be unpredictable. It can be difficult to predict how a person will respond to alcohol withdrawal. Therefore, anyone considering quitting or reducing their alcohol consumption, especially if they have a history of heavy or prolonged alcohol use, should seek medical advice and support to ensure their safety during the withdrawal process.

Quitting alcohol under medical supervision can make the process safer because healthcare providers can help manage symptoms, reduce the risk of severe complications, and increase the chances of a successful recovery.

Who is at Risk for Alcohol Withdrawal Syndrome?

Alcohol withdrawal mainly happens because a person who has developed alcohol dependence suddenly stopped drinking or significantly reduced their alcohol consumption. This is one of the factors that keep people addicted because they would rather keep drinking than experience withdrawal symptoms.

But what actually happens in the body when people go through alcohol abstinence syndrome? The primary cause of this condition is the disruption of the body’s equilibrium due to the removal of alcohol, which the body has adapted to over time.

People who have been consuming alcohol in large quantities or for an extended period can become accustomed to functioning with alcohol in their system. At this point, sudden cessation can trigger withdrawal symptoms.

Another thing is that chronic alcohol use leads to changes in the brain’s neurotransmitter systems, particularly involving gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA) and glutamate. When alcohol is removed, these neurotransmitter systems become imbalanced, leading to symptoms like anxiety, restlessness, and seizures.

The body adapts to the presence of alcohol by adjusting its physiology. For example, it may become less responsive to GABA, an inhibitory neurotransmitter that alcohol enhances. When alcohol is removed, the brain becomes overly excitable, leading to symptoms like tremors and seizures.

Over time, individuals who abuse alcohol also develop tolerance, which means they need increasing amounts of alcohol to achieve the desired effects. This higher tolerance can result in more severe withdrawal symptoms when they attempt to quit.

There are also psychological factors that come into play. Mental health issues, such as anxiety and depression, are common in individuals with alcohol use disorder. The removal of alcohol can exacerbate these conditions and contribute to the severity of withdrawal symptoms.

It’s worth noting that repeated episodes of withdrawal can increase the severity of future withdrawals. This phenomenon is known as kindling. This makes it increasingly important for patients with alcohol use disorder to seek medical supervision when quitting.

Due to the potential for life-threatening complications, individuals who are physically dependent on alcohol should seek medical assistance when attempting to quit. Medically supervised detoxification and treatment programs can provide the necessary support and medications to manage withdrawal symptoms safely.

Preventing Alcohol Withdrawal Syndrome

Binge drinking is considered to be the most common form of heavy drinking. For men, binge drinking is defined as five or more drinks in one sitting, while for women, it’s defined as having four or more drinks in one sitting.

But you can abuse alcohol without binging it. According to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), heavy drinking is having more than 15 drinks per week for men and more than eight drinks per week for women.

The following are the equivalent of one drink:

5 ounces of wine

8 ounces of malt liquor

12 ounces of beer

1.5 ounces of distilled spirits or liquor, including rum, gin, vodka, and whiskey

Alcohol withdrawal can affect anyone who has been engaging in alcohol abuse. While not everyone who drinks heavily will experience AWS, some factors can increase the risk of developing this condition. These risk factors include:

Severity and Duration of Alcohol Use: The more alcohol a person consumes over a prolonged period, the greater the risk of alcohol withdrawal syndrome. Heavy and long-term alcohol use can lead to physical dependence on alcohol, making withdrawal symptoms more likely.

Frequency of Alcohol Consumption: Frequent, daily alcohol use is more likely to lead to AWS than occasional or binge drinking.

Amount of Alcohol Consumed: People who consume large quantities of alcohol are at a higher risk. The definition of “heavy drinking” can vary, but it often refers to excessive daily or weekly consumption, such as more than 15 drinks per week for men and 8 drinks per week for women.

History of Alcohol Withdrawal: Individuals who have previously experienced alcohol withdrawal symptoms are at a higher risk of withdrawal if they resume heavy drinking and then try to quit again.

Individual Differences: Some people are more susceptible to AWS due to genetic factors, differences in brain chemistry, or other medical conditions. This can make it difficult to predict who will experience AWS.

Age: Older individuals may be at greater risk for alcohol withdrawal syndrome because they are more likely to have a longer history of alcohol abuse.

Coexisting Medical Conditions: Certain medical conditions, such as liver disease or a history of seizures, can increase the risk and severity of AWS.

Mental Health Issues: People with coexisting mental health disorders, such as anxiety or depression, may be more prone to alcohol withdrawal when they stop drinking.

Polydrug Use: The use of other drugs in addition to alcohol can complicate withdrawal symptoms and increase the risk of severe reactions.

If you or someone you know is attempting to quit drinking and has a history of heavy alcohol use, it’s crucial to seek medical guidance and supervision. This can help avoid the life-threatening risks of alcohol withdrawal syndrome. Medical professionals can provide treatments and medications to manage the symptoms and ensure a safer withdrawal process.

How Long Does Alcohol Withdrawal Syndrome Last?

Because prevention is still better than cure, we should talk about ways to avoid alcohol withdrawal. Of course, the best way to avoid it is to not abuse alcohol in the first place. If this is possible, then this is the best possible option.

For those who are already misusing alcohol, withdrawal may be something inevitable. It’s a natural part of the recovery process as your body readjusts to the absence of alcohol. So what we’re gonna try and avoid is the dangerous withdrawal symptoms like delirium tremens and withdrawal seizures.

Before making any changes to your alcohol consumption, consult a healthcare provider, preferably one experienced in addiction medicine or psychiatry. They can assess your situation and recommend an appropriate treatment plan.

In some cases, healthcare professionals may recommend medication-assisted treatment (MAT) to help prevent AWS.

Common medications used for this purpose include benzodiazepines (such as diazepam or lorazepam) or antipsychotic medications. These drugs can help reduce the severity of withdrawal symptoms and prevent dangerous complications.

If you are at risk of severe alcohol withdrawal, you may need to undergo detoxification in a supervised medical setting, such as a hospital or specialized detox facility. This ensures that medical professionals can monitor your condition and provide immediate care if necessary.

Proper nutrition and hydration are essential during alcohol withdrawal. Alcohol abuse can lead to nutritional deficiencies, so replenishing essential nutrients is important. Your healthcare provider may recommend supplements or a specialized diet.

How to Manage Alcohol Withdrawal Syndrome

The duration and severity of alcohol withdrawal symptoms can vary widely. That said, alcohol withdrawal may follow a certain timeline that looks like this:

Early Withdrawal (6-12 hours after the last drink): Symptoms usually begin within the first 6 to 12 hours after the last drink. These early symptoms can include anxiety, nausea, sweating, and tremors.

Peak Withdrawal (24-72 hours): The most intense withdrawal symptoms usually occur within the first 72 hours (3 days) after the last drink. These symptoms can include hallucinations, seizures, high blood pressure, rapid heart rate, confusion, and severe agitation.

Post-Acute Withdrawal Syndrome (PAWS): After the acute withdrawal phase, some people may experience lingering symptoms known as Post-Acute Withdrawal Syndrome. These can include mood swings, anxiety, insomnia, and cravings for alcohol. PAWS can last for weeks or months, and in some cases, even longer.

Treatment for Alcohol Abstinence Syndrome

We’ve talked about all the crucial aspects of managing alcohol withdrawal, but how is it treated? Medical detox is one of the most commonly used treatments for alcohol withdrawal syndrome. The detoxification process involves gradually lowering the patient’s alcohol intake over the course of the treatment.

During this time, their withdrawal symptoms are monitored and managed by healthcare professionals. They use medications to keep cravings and withdrawal under control, to keep the patient safe and stable throughout this difficult stage of recovery. This is why it is not recommended to quit alcohol cold turkey. You need proper medical assistance so you don’t suffer from the most dangerous effects of withdrawal.

This process is done in a safe and supportive environment that strives to keep the patient comfortable.

Alongside medical treatment, psychosocial support is vital. This may include counseling, therapy, and support groups like Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) or other recovery programs. These interventions can address the psychological aspects of alcohol dependence and help patients develop coping strategies for staying sober.

After the acute withdrawal phase, it’s essential to continue with long-term treatment to address the underlying issues of alcohol dependence. This may involve outpatient counseling, therapy, and participation in a recovery program.

These treatments address the root causes of addictive behavior, allowing the patient to understand why they drink heavily. They can then follow a treatment plan and learn healthy coping skills that will help them maintain their sobriety even after they leave rehab.

It’s important to remember that alcohol withdrawal can be dangerous, and self-detoxification without medical supervision is not recommended, especially for those with a history of severe withdrawal symptoms. Always seek medical advice and assistance when dealing with alcohol abstinence syndrome to ensure a safe and effective recovery process.

If you or someone you love is struggling with alcohol addiction, dependence, and withdrawal, do not hesitate to seek help. It is possible to recover and maintain your sobriety. Get on the road to recovery today.

Rehab is Your Best Chance

Treatment is an addicted individualʼs best option if they want to recover. Beating an addiction not only requires eliminating the physical dependence, but also addressing the behavioral factors that prevent them from wanting to get better. Simply quitting may not change the psychological aspect of addiction. Some people quit for a while, and then take drugs or alcohol again, only to overdose because they did not detox properly. Recovery involves changing the way the patient feels, thinks, and behaves.



author avatar
Fel Clinical Director of Content
Felisa Laboro has been working with addiction and substance abuse businesses since early 2014. She has authored and published over 1,000 articles in the space. As a result of her work, over 1,500 people have been able to find treatment. She is passionate about helping people break free from alcohol or drug addiction and living a healthy life.

Addiction Treatment Centers For
Drugs, Alcohol and Prescription Drug Abuse

Call Now