The Timeline of Healing: How Long Alcohol Withdrawal Symptoms Last

Learn more about how long alcohol withdrawal symptoms last and how to find a treatment center near you.

Introduction

The journey to recovery from alcohol use disorder can be challenging. Understanding the timeline of withdrawal is a pivotal part of this process. In this article, we’ll explore the question of how long alcohol withdrawal symptoms last.

how long alcohol withdrawal symptoms

What to Expect from This Article

We’ll delve into:

  • How long alcohol withdrawal symptoms last
  • The science behind alcohol withdrawal
  • The factors influencing its duration and severity
  • How healthcare providers can best support you during this difficult time

This article will shed light on various treatment options that can help manage alcohol addiction. As we navigate through this complex terrain, we hope to provide a comprehensive resource for those seeking guidance on their road to recovery.

What is Alcohol Use Disorder?

Alcohol use disorder (AUD) is a chronic medical disorder. It’s characterized by an impaired ability to stop or control alcohol use despite:1

  • Social problems
  • Occupational issues
  • Health consequences

It is the condition that some people refer to when they use the term “alcoholic.” The term “alcoholism” is no longer an official term. It’s not used in the clinical or research fields. Instead, it has been replaced by alcohol use disorder.

Forms of AUD

There are various forms of AUD. The level of addiction can be:

  • Mild
  • Moderate
  • Severe

It’s important to note that recovery is possible regardless of severity.

How Alcohol Use Disorder is Diagnosed

The diagnostic criteria for AUD includes:2

The diagnostic criteria for AUD includes:2

  • Alcohol taken in larger amounts or over a longer period than was intended.  The diagnostic criteria for AUD includes:2
  • A persistent desire or unsuccessful efforts to cut down or control alcohol use.
  • A great deal of time is spent on activities necessary to get, use, or recover from alcohol.
  • Cravings, or a strong desire to use alcohol.
  • Recurrent alcohol use resulting in a failure to fulfill obligations at work or home.
  • Continued alcohol use despite having persistent or recurrent interpersonal problems.
  • Important activities are given up or reduced because of alcohol use.
  • Recurrent alcohol use in situations in which it is physically hazardous.
  • Alcohol use is continued despite knowledge of having a persistent or recurrent physical or psychological problem that is caused or worsened by alcohol.
  • Tolerance.
  • Withdrawal symptoms when no longer using alcohol, or alcohol is used to relieve or avoid withdrawal symptoms.

Severity of Diagnosis

The severity of an alcohol use disorder diagnosis depends on the number of criteria met. For example: 

  • Mild: 2-3 symptoms
  • Moderate: 4-5 symptoms
  • Severe: 6 or more symptoms

If you believe you are dealing with AUD, it’s important to seek help. You can find help for alcohol addiction with Choice House.

Symptoms of Alcohol Withdrawal

Alcohol withdrawal symptoms can range from mild to severe. This depends on several factors like:

  • The duration of alcohol use
  • The amount of alcohol consumed
  • Your general physical health

These symptoms can occur when someone who has been drinking regularly stops drinking or has a sudden reduction in alcohol consumption. How long alcohol withdrawal symptoms last varies from person to person.

How Long Alcohol Withdrawal Symptoms Last

Symptoms can begin around six hours after the last drink. The symptoms can persist for weeks.

Common Symptoms

The typical symptoms of alcohol withdrawal include:3

  • Anxiety or nervousness
  • Feelings of sadness or despair
  • Fatigue
  • Irritability
  • Tremors or shakiness
  • Mood swings
  • Nightmares
  • Difficulty thinking or memory loss

Severe Symptoms

Some severe symptoms can also occur. They may include:

  • Seizures. These may occur 6 to 48 hours after the last drink
  • Hallucinations
  • Fever and excessive sweating
  • Delirium tremens (DTs)

Delirium Tremens (DTs)

This is a severe form of alcohol withdrawal that often appears 2 to 3 days after the last drink.4

DTs can be life-threatening. Symptoms include:

  • Severe confusion
  • Agitation
  • Fever
  • Hallucinations
  • Seizures

If untreated, DTs can result in death.

Important Note About Withdrawal Symptoms

If you are experiencing alcohol withdrawal symptoms, it’s important to seek immediate medical help. Because there’s no way to measure how long alcohol withdrawal symptoms last, the complications can be life-threatening.

Treatment often involves medications to manage symptoms and support services. This helps to promote long-term recovery from alcohol use disorder.

How Long Alcohol Withdrawal Symptoms Last

There is no one answer to how long alcohol withdrawal symptoms last. They can vary from person to person.
Alcohol withdrawal can begin between 6 to 8 hours after the last drink. The symptoms can persist for weeks. But, they often peak in intensity in the first 24 to 72 hours.

Below is a general timeline of how long alcohol withdrawal symptoms last.5

6-12 Hours After the Last Drink

Minor withdrawal symptoms often start around this time. These might include:

  • Shaking
  • Headache
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Insomnia

12-24 Hours After the Last Drink

Symptoms may progress to include:

  • Disorientation
  • Hand tremors
  • Seizures

24-48 Hours After the Last Drink

This period can include continued tremors and seizures. It can also include the possibility of hallucinations.

48 Hours After the Last Drink

Delirium tremens (DTs) can begin. DTs can last up to 3-4 days and are life-threatening. They often need hospitalization.

5-7 Days After the Last Drink

Most symptoms peak and begin to improve after 5-7 days. Although psychological symptoms can continue for weeks.

These might include:

  • Anxiety
  • Depression
  • Sleep disturbances
  • Cravings

Supervised Withdrawal

There’s no surefire way to measure how long alcohol withdrawal symptoms last. Because of this, withdrawal is best completed under the supervision of a healthcare professional. They can help manage symptoms and reduce complications.

Treatment often involves medications. These help to reduce withdrawal symptoms and discomfort. Treatment also includes support services to promote long-term recovery.

While the physical symptoms may subside after a week or so, the psychological withdrawal symptoms can persist longer. These symptoms often need ongoing management, through counseling or other therapeutic interventions.

What Factors Influence How Long Alcohol Withdrawal Symptoms Last?

How long alcohol withdrawal symptoms last varies from person to person. There are several factors can influence the duration and severity of these symptoms.6

Length and Amount of Alcohol Use

Long-term heavy drinking tends to result in more severe withdrawal symptoms. The body becomes accustomed to having alcohol in its system and reacts strongly when it is removed. This may affect how long alcohol withdrawal symptoms last.

Physical Health

General health can influence how the body responds to the absence of alcohol. Those with liver or pancreatic diseases or other physical health problems may face more severe symptoms.

Mental Health

Pre-existing mental health conditions can intensify the experience of withdrawal. Alcohol withdrawal can also trigger these conditions in those predisposed to them.

Previous Withdrawals

People who have experienced alcohol withdrawal symptoms in the past are more likely to experience them in other attempts at abstinence. This phenomenon is sometimes referred to as “kindling.” 7

Concurrent Drug Use

Use of other substances along with alcohol can complicate withdrawal and intensify symptoms.

Age

Older adults may experience more severe withdrawal symptoms. They are also at higher risk of complications.

Genetics

Certain genetic factors may make an individual more susceptible to severe withdrawal symptoms. Given the various factors, how long alcohol withdrawal symptoms last can be a bit unpredictable. But, a medical detox can help manage symptoms and reduce the risk of complications.

How Healthcare Professionals Can Provide Support For Alcohol Withdrawal

Healthcare providers play an important role in supporting people through the alcohol withdrawal process. Their responsibilities involve various tasks such as:

  • Ensuring each person’s safety
  • Managing symptoms
  • Offering emotional support
  • Providing resources for long-term recovery

Healthcare providers can best support individuals going through alcohol withdrawal in the following ways.

Conducting a Thorough Assessment

This helps to understand the person’s:

  • Level of alcohol dependence
  • Use of other substances
  • Physical and mental health

Tools such as the Clinical Institute Withdrawal Assessment of Alcohol Scale, Revised (CIWA-Ar) can be helpful.

Create a Safe and Comfortable Environment

People experiencing alcohol withdrawal can feel very uncomfortable and may experience severe anxiety.

Providing a safe and comfortable environment can help reduce these feelings.

Administer Appropriate Medications to Help Manage Withdrawal Symptoms

Benzodiazepines are often used to reduce symptoms and prevent seizures and delirium tremens. Other medications are used to manage specific symptoms, like anti-nausea medications.

Check Vital Signs on a Regular Basis

The vitals signs include:

  • Heart rate
  • Blood pressure
  • Temperature

They can also look for any signs of severe withdrawal or complications.

Provide Healthy Meals

Chronic alcohol use can lead to malnutrition. Providing balanced meals and supplementing vitamins can prevent Wernicke-Korsakoff syndrome.

Provide Reassurance

Healthcare professionals provide reassurance to the patient. Empathy and effective communication can help ease the emotional distress associated with withdrawal.

Provide Counseling and Therapy

Counseling and therapy can connect the person with services and support groups. Cognitive-behavioral therapy and motivational interviewing are effective approaches.

Develop a Treatment Plan

Healthcare providers help to develop a comprehensive treatment plan to prevent relapse. This may include:

  • Ongoing therapy
  • Medication
  • Regular follow-ups
  • Tools to manage triggers and cravings

Involve Loved Ones in Treatment

If the person agrees, healthcare providers involve loved ones in the recovery process. This support can be crucial during and after the withdrawal process.

Important Note About the Withdrawal Experience

Every person’s experience with withdrawal is unique. The length of how long alcohol withdrawal symptoms last will vary. That’s why the approach should be individualized to meet each person’s specific needs.

Understanding How Long Alcohol Withdrawal Symptoms Last to Improve Outcomes

Understanding how long alcohol withdrawal symptoms last can improve the outcomes and management of alcohol use disorders. Knowing how long alcohol withdrawal symptoms last might last can help by providing:

Preparation for Care

Knowing how long alcohol withdrawal symptoms last allows healthcare providers to expect when specific symptoms may occur and their potential severity.

This can guide treatment interventions, including the timing of medication administration.

Mitigation of Risks

Certain severe symptoms are more likely to occur at specific points during the withdrawal process. Awareness of how long alcohol withdrawal symptoms last allows healthcare providers to take proactive measures to prevent complications.

Patient Education

Understanding the timeline of alcohol withdrawal can help people set realistic expectations. This can reduce fear and uncertainty. It can also help them recognize the importance of medical supervision during withdrawal.

Post-Acute Withdrawal Syndrome (PAWS)

Understanding that some symptoms can persist for weeks to months can help providers identify and treat PAWS. PAWS can increase the risk of relapse if not addressed.8

Individualized Treatment Planning

By considering how long alcohol withdrawal symptoms last, providers can develop a more personalized and effective treatment plan.

  • Determining the appropriate setting for withdrawal (outpatient vs. inpatient)
  • Planning for ongoing supports after acute withdrawal symptoms have subsided

Promotion of Long-Term Recovery

Understanding how long alcohol withdrawal symptoms last is only the first step in recovery from AUD. It can help providers connect people with the long-term resources. Resources that support the need to maintain abstinence and achieve recovery.

Summary

Understanding how long alcohol withdrawal symptoms last allows for better:

  • Preparation
  • Risk mitigation
  • Education
  • Individualized treatment planning

This can enhance success in achieving long-term recovery from addiction.

Treatment Options for Alcohol Addiction

Treating alcohol addiction involves a comprehensive approach. This approach can include various types of interventions depending on the person’s needs and circumstances.

Below are some of the most often-used treatment options for alcohol use disorder.

Behavioral Therapies

Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) can help people understand the triggers and develop coping strategies.9 Motivational enhancement therapy is designed to strengthen personal motivation to change drinking behavior.

Family therapy involves family members in the recovery process and can help improve family dynamics and communication.

Medications

There are several medications approved for the treatment of AUD. These include:10

  • Disulfiram (Antabuse)
  • Naltrexone (Vivitrol)
  • Acamprosate (Campral)

How These Medications Work

These medications work in different ways, such as:

  • Creating unpleasant reactions when alcohol is consumed
  • Blocking the rewarding effects of alcohol
  • Reducing withdrawal symptoms and cravings

Support Groups

Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) and other 12-Step programs provide peer support for people quitting or cutting back on their drinking. These groups often involve meetings where people share their experiences and provide support to each other.

Intensive Outpatient and Inpatient Programs

These are often recommended for people with more severe AUD or those who have not responded to other treatments. Outpatient programs allow patients to live at home while receiving treatment. On the other hand, inpatient programs involve a stay at a hospital or treatment center.

Integrated Treatment for Co-Occurring Mental Health Conditions

Many people with AUD also have co-occurring mental health conditions. Integrated treatment approaches address both the AUD and the mental health condition at the same time. This helps to improve outcomes.

Aftercare and Sober Living

Long-term success often involves ongoing support after initial treatment. Aftercare can involve:

  • Continuing therapy
  • Regular check-ins with a healthcare provider
  • Staying in a sober living environment

Sober living homes provide a supportive place to live while adjusting to a sober lifestyle.

Important Note About Recovery

It’s important to remember that recovery is a process, and setbacks are common. Persistence in treatment, even after relapses, can lead to recovery over time.

how long alcohol withdrawal symptoms

Find Support for Alcohol Withdrawal and Addiction at Choice House

At Choice House Recovery, we are committed to helping you navigate the complexities of alcohol withdrawal and long-term recovery. Our whole-person approach ensures that your unique needs and circumstances are addressed.

What We Offer

We offer a range of services, including:

  • Medication management
  • Individual and group therapy sessions
  • Support group meetings
  • Holistic approaches like mindfulness and outdoor adventure therapy
  • 90 day residential treatment
  • Intensive outpatient
  • Structured sober living

Our Team

Our dedicated team of professionals is trained in the latest evidence-based practices for treating alcohol use disorder. We emphasize general health and well-being.

Aftercare Services

Our aftercare services and sober living resources provide ongoing support to help you maintain sobriety and rebuild your life.

Contact Choice House Today

At Choice House, we believe in the power of choice, and we’re here to help you make the choice for a healthier, alcohol-free future.

Get in touch with us today at 303.578.4978 or contact.

ready to choose a life worth living?

Don’t let addiction or co-occurring mental health conditions keep you from leading the happy, healthy, and empowered life you deserve. Contact Choice House today and embrace recovery.

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