Alcohol Withdrawal Timeline
Many people have a vice. Yet sometimes those vices can get the better of us and cause more harm than good to our overall health. Alcohol is a common crutch that is easy to lean on too often and abuse. Here’s a guide to the alcohol withdrawal timeline for loved ones or yourself to standing on your own without alcohol.
Alcohol Withdrawal Syndrome (AWS)
Alcohol Withdrawal Syndrome, otherwise known as AWS, is the occurrence of symptoms that arise when a heavy drinker rapidly stops or greatly decreases the individual’s alcohol intake. Both physical and emotional symptoms may contribute to the withdrawal. AWS can be life-threatening so it is important to treat the condition as gracefully as possible and may require professional medical help to cope in easing through the process on the road to better health.
Alcohol is a depressive and so has that effect on your chemistry. Consuming alcohol on a regular basis slows down your brain activity and responsiveness making regular functioning harder for your body to handle without the aid of the substance. The withdrawal happens as your brain and neurotransmitters change from being dependent to balancing the body’s chemistry back to normal. The central nervous system being affected like this gives rise to many symptoms of withdrawal.
Occasional drinkers are at much less risk of having symptoms of AWS. The more you consume, the larger your chances are of having AWS when consumption is stopped. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention explain that heavy drinking is more than 8 drinks per week for women and more than 15 drinks per week for men.
One drink equals:
- 5 ounces of distilled spirits or liquor, including gin, rum, vodka, and whiskey
- 5 ounces of wine
- 8 ounces of malt liquor
- 12 ounces of beer
Symptoms of AWS
Symptoms of withdrawal and the alcohol withdrawal timeline can range from mild to serious depending on how much was consumed, how often, and for how long. Approximately 71% of individuals experience these symptoms when their alcohol intake is cut back or stopped completely.
As early as 6 hours after drinking alcohol, there may be symptoms of:
- Anxiety or jumpiness/ nervousness
- Shaky hands
- Sweating/ clammy skin
- Enlarged pupils
- Mood swings/ Irritability/ Depression
- Pallor/ pale appearance
Other symptoms may include:
- Confusion/ not thinking clearly
- Racing heart
- High blood pressure
- Heavy sweating
Delirium Tremens (DTs) are a more serious symptom, though not a large proportion of patients experience them. Those that do experience them, they usually occur within 2 to 4 days after the last drink. They can last in duration for up to 4 days. This is different than alcohol shakes, as the DTs may involve metabolic complications, rapid heart rate, hypertension, fever, disorientation, as well as auditory and visual hallucinations.
Another serious symptom is seizing. Up to 25% of alcoholics may experience grand mal seizures when experiencing a withdrawal. They may occur 1 to 5 days after consumption.
Do not hesitate to call 911 or go to a rehab or detox center when experiencing withdrawal symptoms. Also if going for another reason, be sure to mention how often you drink so that you may be monitored for withdrawals while being treated.
How Long Do Alcohol Withdrawals Last?
The alcohol withdrawal timeline and its length and severity depend on several factors. These include:
- central nervous system mechanisms
- coexisting illnesses
- genetic influences
- neurochemical mechanisms
- pattern of alcohol use
Alcohol withdrawal symptoms may continue or worsen for 2 to 3 days. These may not subside for weeks, though there are a few things that can contribute to a smoother balancing act. Symptoms typically start to show 6 to 8 hours after decreasing or quitting drinking. The climax of can be 24 to 28 hours in, up to about a week. Sleep disturbances, irritability and fatigue may last for months. Don’t be discouraged though, as individuals with AWS usually make a full recovery. Quitting cold turkey may make the symptoms worsen. Seeking professional medical help is advised to make it more comfortable and as easy as possible on your body.
How is Alcohol Withdrawal Treated?
If the individual is not experiencing serious withdrawals there are a few tools that may help in easing the process of feeling well, hungover.
Control your Surroundings:
- Quiet atmosphere
- Soft lighting
- Limited contact with people (schedule time work time off if possible)
- If being social, keep in a positive, supportive environment
- Healthy food: three meals a day
- Lots of liquids (water, juices, electrolytes)
Blood work can test for any nutrients that need replacing. A daily vitamin such as thiamine or folic acid may be supplemented to diet. While some individuals can get by with home treatment, others may need a detox or rehab facility to avoid dangerous complications during withdrawal.
Symptoms of AWS can be treated with sedatives. Medications include benzodiazepines to treat symptoms such as anxiety, insomnia, and seizures. Anti-seizure medications and antipsychotics may be needed for more serious symptoms.
AWS can be prevented by avoiding regular and heavy drinking. If dependent on alcohol, there is help available from medical and counseling professionals. Quitting alcohol should be handled with care in the transition to a healthier life.