What to expect at each stage of the alcohol withdrawal symptoms timeline
If the thought of living through the alcohol withdrawal symptoms timeline scares you, knowing how long each stage lasts can make it seem more manageable. One of the greatest challenges facing individuals who are addicted to alcohol is going through withdrawal. Anyone who has developed a dependence on alcohol is at risk of experiencing alcohol withdrawal syndrome or AWS, which is characterized by withdrawal symptoms that can be serious or even life threatening. Individuals with AWS all follow the same general alcohol withdrawal symptoms timeline, although they may not experience all symptoms. Knowing what to expect at each stage can help make the symptoms more bearable.
Who is at risk of alcohol withdrawal syndrome?
Individuals who engage in moderate alcohol consumption should not be at risk of alcohol withdrawal syndrome, and may even experience some health benefits from a single daily drink. Individuals with a pattern of drinking of more than seven drinks a week for women or fourteen a week for men, most likely suffer from alcohol dependence. They are definitely at risk of experiencing alcohol withdrawal syndrome if they stop drinking. Engaging in binge drinking, which involves imbibing more than four drinks for women or five for a man in a few hours, can also signal alcohol dependence serious enough to trigger withdrawal symptoms.
Progression of alcohol withdrawal symptoms
The exact alcohol withdrawal symptoms that dependent individuals will experience depend on several factors. These include length of time drinking, amount of alcohol consumed, medical and family history, and co-occurring substance abuse. Individuals may experience some or all of the alcohol withdrawal symptoms, which progress through three stages of severity: mild, moderate, and severe.
The symptoms of alcohol withdrawal typically begin 6 or 8 hours after the last drink, and are at peak severity between 24 to 72 hours after they start. 5 to 7 days later, all symptoms begin to taper off although psychological symptoms of alcohol dependence (cravings for alcohol, depression) can linger for weeks.
Alcohol withdrawal symptoms timeline
Alcohol withdrawal symptoms progress through specific stages as individuals detox. The severity of these symptoms tapers off after 72 hours, mostly disappearing within one week. At the height of their withdrawal, alcohol dependent individuals can expect their experience to follow this alcohol withdrawal symptoms timeline:
- 6 to 12 hours into alcohol withdrawal: anxiety, nausea, and abdominal pains
Within 6 to 12 hours of drinking their last alcoholic beverage, people with alcohol dependence begin to experience mild alcohol withdrawal symptoms. These symptoms include sleep disturbances, tremors, anxiety, nausea/vomiting, and abdominal pains.
- 12 to 24 hours into alcohol withdrawal: Alcoholic hallucinosis
Once 12 to 24 hours have passed without a drink, 1 in 5 individuals will experience alcoholic hallucinosis, where they see, hear, and feel things that are not there. Auditory hallucinations are the most common, although some individuals may also experience visual and/or tactile hallucinations.
- 24 to 48 hours into alcohol withdrawal: seizures
Generalized tonic-clonic seizures can occur in cases of moderately severe alcohol dependence.
- 48 to 72 hours into alcohol withdrawal: delirium tremens
The most severe form of alcohol withdrawal symptoms is delirium tremens, commonly known as DTs. Only 3-5% of alcohol dependent individuals experience the symptoms of DTs, which include hallucinations, disorientation, agitation, fever, and excessive sweating
Medically supervised alcohol detox
Suddenly ceasing alcohol intake can be fatal. Entering an alcohol detox center is the safest way for individuals with moderate to severe alcohol dependence to manage their withdrawal symptoms. During a medically supervised detox, individuals can be treated with alcohol withdrawal medication to manage symptoms and keep them more comfortable. These medications can prevent or control the seizures, delirium, and cravings that come with alcohol withdrawal syndrome.
Making it through alcohol withdrawal is not easy, but knowing what to expect along the alcohol withdrawal symptoms timeline can make it seem more manageable. Once you make it through the most severe alcohol withdrawal symptoms, treatment at an accredited alcohol addiction treatment center can help you continue on to make a successful recovery from alcohol dependence.
If you or a loved one needs help with abuse and/or treatment, please call the WhiteSands Treatment at (877) 855-3470. Our addiction specialists can assess your recovery needs and help you get the addiction treatment that provides the best chance for your long-term recovery.