For those looking to end their alcohol addiction, the idea of withdrawal can be intimidating. For some, fear of withdrawal symptoms may prevent them from seeking help altogether. With the help of a professional rehab, however, they can detox safely and get through this stage more comfortably.
What Is Alcohol Withdrawal?
As with other substances, alcohol abuse disrupts normal brain chemistry and bodily activity. When a person drinks excessive amounts of alcohol for a long period of time, their body becomes physically dependent on it. When their usual alcohol intake is suddenly limited or cut off, their body struggles to function, producing a variety of uncomfortable symptoms. This state is known as withdrawal.
Alcohol Withdrawal Symptoms
Stopping the use of any addictive substance almost always brings some level of withdrawal. In the case of alcohol, severe withdrawals can be life-threatening.
Common physical, mental, and emotional symptoms of withdrawal include:
- Increased heart rate
- Upset stomach
In serious cases of alcohol withdrawal, a person can develop what are called delirium tremens (DTs). DTs are unique to alcohol withdrawal and are also sometimes called alcohol withdrawal delirium (AWD).
Symptoms of this severe condition include:
Because of the risks related to seizures and prolonged high body temperatures, delirium tremens may be life-threatening without proper care.
Some individuals are more likely to experience delirium tremens during withdrawals. Possible risk factors for DTs include:
- Age (older = higher risk)
- Sodium or potassium deficiency
- Low platelet count
- Poor liver function
- Brain damage
- Other drug use
- Prior history of DTs and/or alcohol-related seizures
How Long Does the Withdrawal Period Last?
The amount of time it will take for withdrawals to fully subside depends on things like the nature of the addiction, the person’s metabolism and their overall health. Although the full duration of withdrawals varies, they do tend to follow a similar pattern and timeline.
Alcohol withdrawal typically begins to set in around 6 hours after the last drink was consumed. At this point, mild symptoms like headache, insomnia, upset stomach, anxiety, and slight tremors may begin to appear. In the period 12-24 hours after the last drink, these symptoms can start to worsen. Additional symptoms like visual or auditory hallucinations may also occur.
By 24-48 hours after the last drink, various withdrawal symptoms will have come and gone, often rising and falling in intensity. This is also the period when the risk of seizure appears, so medical monitoring is extremely important during this time. If symptoms are especially intense or pose major health risks, temporary medications may be prescribed to help.
In the period 48-72 hours after the last drink, withdrawal symptoms typically continue to rise and fall. Careful monitoring by medical staff is crucial during this period, as well, as this is the time when delirium tremens is most likely to develop. If it does, staff may provide additional medications or supplements to prevent life-threatening complications.
Day 4 and Beyond
By 72 hours after the last drink, most symptoms will likely have peaked and begun to decline. Symptoms will continue to become less intense with time, but it may be several weeks for them to go away. Toward the end of this final stage, doctors can begin tapering off temporary medications.
Professional Care Makes Overcoming Withdrawal Safer and Easier
Breaking free from alcohol addiction is no small feat. Getting professional treatment is not only safer than attempting to detox at home, it also makes the entire process more comfortable and less scary. Completing a full treatment program also dramatically increases the likelihood of long-term success.
Medications for Withdrawal Symptoms
Depending on the person’s health and the severity of their alcohol dependency, medical staff can provide temporary medications and supplements to make the withdrawal stage more comfortable. Neuroleptic and benzodiazepine medications, for example, are sometimes prescribed to prevent seizures during withdrawals. Nutritional supplements may also be used to correct deficiencies and ease withdrawal symptoms.
After withdrawals, medical staff will safely taper patients off of any temporary medications. If it’s appropriate, they may prescribe longer-term medications like naltrexone or topiramate to help fight alcohol cravings and prevent relapse.
Detox Safely from Alcohol Dependence at Adelante Recovery Center
At Adelante Recovery Center in Southern California, clients begin their journey with safe, medically monitored alcohol detox. Our medical staff work with each client to create a customized detox experience, making the process as comfortable and efficient as possible. Throughout this initial period, staff carefully monitor each individual’s vital signs and progress. Clients also have quick access to further medical care when they need it.
Once a client is safely through the detox period, they begin working through an individually tailored residential treatment program. Through a combination of one-on-one counseling, group sessions and other methodologies, recovering clients explore the issues behind their addiction and learn powerful new skills for a sober future.
Find Out How We Can Help
If you or a loved one is suffering with an addiction to alcohol or drugs, there is hope. Our residential, dual-diagnosis, and specialized programs have helped thousands of men and women escape dependency, understand their addictions, and learn to support their mental and physical health.