Alcohol Withdrawal Timeline
People who drink alcohol heavily for an extended period of time may struggle with mental illness and physical symptoms, particularly when they stop drinking alcohol.
Alcohol Withdrawal Symptoms, Alcohol Abuse & Misuse, What are the Causes of Alcohol Withdrawal?, The Stages of Alcohol Withdrawal, Alcohol Withdrawal Timeline, Detox Treatment for Severe Symptoms of Alcohol Withdrawal, Alcohol Withdrawal Medications, Dangers of Alcohol Withdrawal, Rehab is Your Best Chance
People who drink alcohol heavily for an extended period of time may struggle with mental illness and physical symptoms, particularly when they stop drinking alcohol. If you have been drinking for weeks, months, or years, cutting back on how much alcohol you consume can have an effect on your body. This effect is called withdrawal.
Alcohol withdrawal is the body’s chemical reaction to the decrease in alcohol intake. This happens to people who have already developed some sort of physical dependence towards alcohol. They have consumed alcohol to the point where their body can no longer function normally without it. They struggle to feel “normal” without drinking, and every time they attempt to quit, their body reacts.
The symptoms of alcohol withdrawal can range from mild to serious. The effects are different for everyone in terms of severity because it depends on a number of factors, including length of alcohol abuse, frequency of alcohol consumption, etc.
Those who drink socially only once in a while are unlikely to get withdrawal symptoms when they stop. But those who have gone through withdrawal once are more likely to go through it again the next time they decide to quit.
Because it is possible for a person to experience severe withdrawal symptoms and life-threatening effects like delirium tremens (DT), it is important to talk about withdrawal and everything there is to know about it, including the timeline for it.
Alcohol Withdrawal Symptoms
Alcohol withdrawal syndrome or AWS is a set of physical and mental symptoms that occur when someone who has alcohol dependency decides to suddenly stop drinking. Even if you just reduce your alcohol intake, it is possible to develop withdrawal symptoms.
Common symptoms of withdrawal include: headaches, anxiety, insomnia, tremors, fatigue, shaking, mood swings, heart palpitations, gastrointestinal problems, increased heart rate, and increased blood pressure. More severe symptoms include hyperthermia, rapid breathing, hallucinations, and seizures.
People who are going through withdrawal need medical treatment. They need to go through a proper detox process to manage their uncomfortable withdrawal symptoms and recover from their alcohol dependence safely.
Alcohol Abuse & Misuse
Withdrawal often happens after a period of alcohol abuse. Alcohol abuse, also known as alcohol misuse, is defined as excessive drinking, or the use of alcohol in any way that can place the person at risk of physical, mental, and social problems.
For women, having more than 1 drink a day or 7 per week is considered alcohol misuse. For men, having more than 2 drinks daily or 14 per week is considered alcohol abuse.
Another common cause of alcohol withdrawal is binge drinking. When a person binges on alcohol, they take excessive amounts within a short period of time. Having 4 or more drinks in a short amount of time is considered binge drinking for women, while it’s 5 or more drinks for men.
Binge drinking puts the person at risk of developing an alcohol use disorder (AUD) or alcoholism. AUD is also called alcohol addiction. It is a disease that is characterized by the inability to control your alcohol intake, even when you are already experiencing its adverse health effects. An addicted individual will keep on drinking despite its consequences.
If a person has a physiological dependence on alcohol, they may experience severe or even life-threatening withdrawal effects. A lot of people with AUD just end up relapsing due to their cravings and discomfort.
What are the Causes of Alcohol Withdrawal?
The neurochemical details of alcohol withdrawal are somewhat complicated. However, it is thought to arise as a function of changes within the brain chemistry that is caused by prolonged alcohol use. The symptoms associated with withdrawal also indicate that it acts as a compensation for previous disruptions in the inhibitory and excitatory neurotransmitter activity. Prolonged alcohol use affects these neurotransmitters, disrupting their balance.
There are two particular neurochemicals that contribute to the development of alcohol withdrawal: gamma aminobutyric acid (GABA), which is the brain’s main inhibitory chemical, and glutamate, which is the brain’s excitatory chemical.
The functioning of GABA and glutamate receptors are changed when a person drinks alcohol. It results in a slowdown of brain functioning, which feels like decreased anxiety for the person. This is also the reason people feel sedated while drinking.
This effect causes the brain to decrease the amount of GABA being released while increasing glutamate to compensate for how alcohol alters these levels. Tolerance eventually develops as a result of this adaptation. If a person becomes tolerant, they will have to consume more alcohol just to get the same feeling.
Your brain activity is disrupted if you suddenly reduce or stop your alcohol intake. Withdrawal symptoms can appear hours after your last drink. The severity will differ from one person to another.
An estimated 80% of people with an alcohol use disorder may experience withdrawal symptoms.
If you or someone you love can no longer control their alcohol intake, maybe it is time to start looking for treatment options. Medical professionals can help wean them off of alcohol by using medical detox.
The Stages of Alcohol Withdrawal
The withdrawal experience may vary for different individuals because its effects are influenced by a number of factors. Some people may therefore go through milder symptoms than others depending on how long they have been drinking and how much they drink.
According to the American Academy of Family Physicians, there are three potential stages that a person may experience during withdrawal. These are: Stage 1 (mild), Stage 2 (moderate), and Stage 3 (severe).
Stage 1 (mild) may include symptoms like headache, anxiety, hand tremors, gastrointestinal problems, insomnia, and heart palpitations.
The second stage may include Stage 1 symptoms in addition to increased heart rate, increased blood pressure, mild hyperthermia, confusion, and rapid abnormal breathing.
The last stage, described as severe, may include stage 2 symptoms in addition to visual or auditory hallucinations. The person may also suffer from disorientation, impaired attention, and seizures.
Alcohol Withdrawal Timeline
As you can expect, there is no exact timeline for alcohol withdrawal that will be applicable for every single person with an alcohol addiction. Some people progress from Stage 1 to 3 rapidly, while others do not.
Although we can’t get an exact timeline for alcohol withdrawal, we can still follow a general timeline for alcohol detox.
Around 6 to 12 hours after the person’s last drink, they may experience relatively mild symptoms of withdrawal. Some people report an upset stomach during this time. Other withdrawal symptoms include headache, mild anxiety, insomnia, and small tremors.
Within 24 hours, some people may report visual, auditory, and even tactile hallucinations.
Within 1 to 3 days, various symptoms will emerge and get resolved. The risk of seizure is at its highest from 24 to 38 hours after the last drink. It is during this period that patients in recovery need the most attention and close monitoring.
One of the most serious symptoms, withdrawal delirium tremens, may appear from 48 to 72 hours after the person has ceased drinking.
It is rare for a person to continue experiencing withdrawal symptoms after that 3-day period. However, there have been cases wherein symptoms like fatigue, mood chances, and sleep disturbances continued for months.
Detox Treatment for Severe Symptoms of Alcohol Withdrawal
When it comes to addiction treatment, detox is often considered the first stage. This is the stage that addresses the physical effects of addiction, particularly withdrawal. Going through detox will help the patient get sober so they can later on learn how to stay sober.
Medical detox will help patients get through the difficult process of alcohol withdrawal, but it is only one part of the rehab journey. It does not address the toxic behaviors and unhealthy thought patterns that contribute to alcohol abuse.
Patients still need to go through behavioral therapy after detox. It is worth noting that some rehab facilities conduct behavioral therapy at the same time as detox. There are many treatment options out there that can suit a patient’s specific needs. It’s all about developing a personalized treatment plan based on their condition.
Done properly, detox can help a patient maintain long term sobriety since they no longer have to worry about dependence and withdrawal symptoms. They can focus on getting better and learning how to cope with their new alcohol-free lifestyle.
Medical detox involves gradually lowering a patient’s drug or alcohol intake while helping them recover from their withdrawal symptoms. This is normally done in a safe and comfortable environment where patients can receive proper medical attention if they need it.
Medications may be used to keep cravings at bay and withdrawal symptoms at a minimum.
There are two main options for detox: inpatient treatment or residential treatment and outpatient treatment. Inpatient treatment requires the patient to stay in a rehab facility for the duration of treatment. The length of their stay may vary based on different factors such as severity of addiction. Inpatient programs typically last three or more months.
Outpatient treatment allows the patient to live at home and attend group or individual therapy sessions. This approach requires frequent visits to the rehab facility, but the patient can go home afterwards. This is ideal for patients with responsibilities outside of rehab that they cannot leave behind. However, it is only recommended for patients with mild to moderate AUD.
Those with severe AUD and are at risk of serious withdrawal symptoms need round the clock care in an inpatient rehab setting.
The course of alcohol withdrawal can be somewhat unpredictable. This is why patients often have to go through an assessment stage during which their treatment is planned around their specific needs. They may go through screenings and interviews that will help healthcare providers develop a healthy plan based on their patients’ conditions.
After detox, the patient may get additional support from 12-step meetings like Alcoholics Anonymous and other support groups.
Alcohol Withdrawal Medications
During detox, certain medications may be prescribed to lessen the impact of withdrawal symptoms or simply reduce the cravings of a patient. Doctors usually prescribe benzodiazepines to prevent or lessen withdrawal symptoms.
Anticonvulsants, antipsychotics, beta blockers, and alpha-adrenergic agonists are some of the medications used to stabilize patients during detox.
Acamprosate is an example of a medication used in medical detox, specifically after detox. It helps patients avoid the use of alcohol after recovery.
Disulfiram is used to cause unpleasant symptoms if alcohol is consumed. The goal is to discourage alcohol abuse. Finally, Naltrexone is used to block the effects of alcohol on a person.
Dangers of Alcohol Withdrawal
Alcohol withdrawal can be extremely dangerous. This is why people are discouraged from quitting alcohol cold turkey. Quitting abruptly can be life-threatening.
In fact, in the most severe cases of alcohol withdrawal, the mortality rate is 1 t0 4%. These deaths are caused by delirium tremens and alcohol withdrawal seizures, which are some of the most severe forms of alcohol withdrawal.
If you or someone you care about is dealing with alcohol use disorder, look for a rehab near you today that offers medical detox. Withdrawal symptoms may be tough, but it is possible to recover with proper treatment.
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.