Alchol Withdrawal Symptoms & Treatment Explained

Compare Rehab UK | Alchol Withdrawal Symptoms & Treatment Explained

What is Alcohol Withdrawal?

The uncomfortable process your body goes through when you try to stop drinking alcohol or can’t drink alcohol for whatever reason (for example, if you can’t acquire it) is known as withdrawal from alcohol, often known as the alcohol withdrawal syndrome (AWS). Your body will become accustomed to having alcohol in it if you are exposed to it frequently. You might face uncomfortable and harmful withdrawal symptoms if you suddenly quit drinking.

Alcoholism can alter your body physically, making it difficult to control how much alcohol you consume. It can also make it harder for you to cut back or stop abusing alcohol.

The most typical warning signs and symptoms of alcohol withdrawal are described on this page. We also go through how to deal with alcohol withdrawal symptoms and how they affect your body in the hours and days after you stop drinking.

The alcohol withdrawal process

Your brain chemistry gradually changes when you regularly ingest significant amounts of alcohol to offset its sedative effects. After you stop drinking, your brain could become overstimulated, which could result in issues with your physical and mental health. Alcohol withdrawal or alcohol withdrawal syndrome (AWS) are terms we use to describe it.

After a drinking session, alcohol withdrawal symptoms may appear hours later. The manner in which withdrawal symptoms manifest themselves varies from person to person. For instance, some consumers will experience symptoms that are less severe than others. You are more prone to experience severe withdrawal symptoms if you:

  • Are a heavy or long-time drinker
  • Already suffered from alcohol withdrawals
  • Have other health conditions

The length of time it takes for alcohol to leave your bloodstream depends on a number of factors, including your age, gender, health, genetic makeup, and history of alcohol consumption. According to research, alcohol withdrawal often begins eight hours after the last drink; however, it can also begin days or even weeks later. Most often, the symptoms reach their height between 24 and 72 hours, but some people experience symptoms that linger for several weeks. Tests for alcohol detection can still reveal alcohol in your urine, saliva, and hair even after it has completely left your bloodstream.

How Long Does Alcohol Stay in the Body?

Alcohol withdrawal can start quite rapidly. The time it takes for alcohol to leave your body is described here:

  • Blood – up to 6 hours
  • Urine – 12-24 hours
  • Breath – 12-24 hours
  • Saliva – 12-24 hours
  • Hair – up to 90 days

What Causes Alcohol Withdrawal?

Alcohol withdrawal is believed to result from numerous changes in brain activity brought on by prolonged and heavy drinking. Despite the complexity of the neurochemical underpinnings of alcohol withdrawal syndrome, its symptoms can be viewed as a compensation for earlier disturbances in both excitatory and inhibitory neurotransmitter activity—the balance between the two having already been disturbed by long-term alcohol use.

Gamma aminobutyric acid (GABA), the primary inhibitory chemical in the brain, and glutamate, the primary excitatory chemical in the brain, are two specific neurochemicals that contribute to both the immediate effects of drinking and the onset of an alcohol withdrawal syndrome when someone stops drinking. The effects of alcohol on the body are complex.

Alcohol use alters how GABA receptors and certain glutamate receptors work, which causes a slowing in brain activity that most people feel as reduced anxiety and sleepiness. To counteract how alcohol modifies these levels, the brain reacts by reducing the quantity of GABA produced and increasing glutamate signalling. This adaptation, or “tolerance,” continues to work as long as you keep consuming alcohol.

When you stop drinking or severely cut back, your brain activity is disrupted, which results in a hyper-aroused condition and a variety of withdrawal symptoms that can start to show up hours after your last drink. It has been estimated that more than 80% of people with an alcohol use disorder may have withdrawal symptoms, though the type and severity of these symptoms may differ widely from person to person.

What are the Symptoms of Alcohol Withdrawal?

Your specific circumstances, including how much and how frequently you have been drinking, as well as your overall physical and mental health, will have an impact on the type and intensity of the alcohol withdrawal symptoms that you experience.

From mild, unsettling physical and psychological symptoms to those that are severe and potentially fatal, alcohol withdrawal symptoms can range widely. There are also many other indicators of alcohol use disorder to watch out for.

Common symptoms of alcohol withdrawal

  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Headaches
  • Abdominal pain
  • Fatigue
  • Increased temperature or chills
  • Unpleasant/vivid dreams
  • Tics and tremors
  • Irregular or increased heartbeat
  • Excessive sweating
  • Shaking and shivering
  • Decreased appetite
  • Depression
  • Anxiety
  • Insomnia
  • Mood swings
  • Confusion
  • Irritability and agitation
  • Problems concentrating
  • Intense cravings for alcohol

Severe withdrawal symptoms

DT, or delirium tremens, is the name given to the most severe AWS symptoms and can be fatal. While withdrawal symptoms are frequent for many people who cut back on their alcohol consumption, statistics suggest that between 3 and 5% of those who experience withdrawal also have severe symptoms, such as delirium tremens.

Consider it a medical emergency if you know someone who is suffering from delirium tremens, and get help right away.

Delirium tremens symptoms include:

  • Severe disorientation and confusion
  • Extreme agitation
  • Visual or auditory hallucinations
  • Seizures
  • Fever
  • High blood pressure

It’s critical to realise that each person’s experience with alcohol withdrawal will be different. Your personal history, physical and mental health, and the degree and risk that the symptoms present to you will determine the symptoms that you encounter.

Alcohol Withdrawal Timeline

When you stop drinking, experts say that some symptoms may appear if your brain has grown acclimated to heavy, persistent alcohol use. Because each person experiences different levels and types of symptoms, you could need medical attention.

5 to 10 hours after your last drink:

Possible symptoms include tremors (shaking), an increase or decrease in blood pressure, rapid breathing, sweating, vomiting, irritability, trouble falling asleep, anxiety, and a rapid pulse. These symptoms often peak between 24 to 48 hours.

12 to 24 hours:

Possible hallucinations: situations where you hear, see or feel things that aren’t real. This could persist for two days or longer.

24 to 48 hours:

Convulsions may occur as a result of withdrawal.

3 days to a week:

One of the more severe signs of alcohol withdrawal is referred to as delirium tremens. Experts estimate that just 5% of those going through alcohol withdrawal have delirium tremens, although up to 1 in 20 do pass away from it. An intensive care unit is frequently needed for its treatment.

5 days after your last drink:

After five days, the effects of alcohol withdrawal frequently go away. However, a small minority of consumers endure withdrawal symptoms for several weeks.

Weeks to several months:

Some people experience alcohol withdrawal symptoms for several months after going through detox, and that’s a reason to take good care of your physical and mental health after the official treatment. Refrain from drinking until after alcohol withdrawal has subsided, at least or avoid it completely for a safer recovery. Attending an inpatient or outpatient treatment programme significantly increases your chances of staying sober.

Who is at risk of alcohol withdrawal syndrome?

AWS is a dangerous condition that affects individuals who are dependent on alcohol or who regularly use large amounts of alcohol but are unable to cut back gradually.

Although it can affect kids and teenagers who drink extensively, AWS is more common in adults. You run the chance of developing AWS if you’ve ever had alcohol withdrawal symptoms or required medical detox due to a drinking issue.

Heavy drinking, according to specialists, is defined as eight or more drinks per week for women and more than 15 drinks per week for males. The equivalent of one drink is one of the following:

  • 1.5 ounces of distilled spirits/liquor, including gin, rum, vodka and whiskey
  • 5 ounces of wine
  • 8 ounces of malt liquor
  • 12 ounces of beer

Binge drinking is the most typical kind of heavy drinking. For women, it’s four or more beverages consumed in a single sitting, while for men, it’s five or more drinks.

Preventing alcohol withdrawal syndrome

The easiest way to prevent AWS is to refrain from frequent heavy drinking. Get treatment and counselling as soon as you can if you already have an alcohol use issue. The objective is to gradually and securely lessen your alcohol dependence so that you may resume your regular activities.

There are a number of strategies to lower the possibility of experiencing alcohol withdrawal. These consist of:

  • Giving up alcohol before going to bed
  • Avoiding alcohol while using prescription drugs
  • Cutting back on your alcohol intake
  • Using a breathalyser to measure how drunk you are
  • Keeping an eye on your behaviour and mood
  • Possessing a strategy in case you experience symptoms of alcohol withdrawal
  • Being aware of the early indicators of alcohol withdrawal

The Dangers of Alcohol Withdrawal

Alcohol withdrawal that ranges from moderate to severe can be exceedingly risky, even fatal. Delirium tremens is the most dangerous form of alcohol withdrawal, with a fatality rate of 1-4%.

Although experiencing severe alcohol withdrawal symptoms is relatively uncommon, it can be challenging to anticipate which people would do so and which will simply suffer minor symptoms. Despite this, research has found a few indicators that indicate severe alcohol withdrawal (e.g., withdrawal seizures or DTs). These consist of:

  • Heavy daily alcohol use
  • Older age
  • History of DTs or alcohol withdrawal seizures
  • Comorbid health issues
  • Dehydration
  • Electrolyte disturbances
  • Brain lesions
  • Irregular liver function

Delirium Tremens

The condition is known as delirium tremens (DTs), also referred to as “alcohol withdrawal delirium,” and is one of the more serious withdrawal symptoms that can occur after stopping drinking. It is fatal in 5% to 15% of cases and is characterised by delirium and a change in awareness. Older people are more likely to develop DTs than younger people – particularly if they have a history of heavy alcohol use, have already experienced DTs, have impaired liver function, or have experienced more intense early withdrawal symptoms.

Post-acute withdrawal (PAWS)

There are two steps in the withdrawal procedure. In the initial stage, physical withdrawal symptoms are possible. The second withdrawal stage is called post-acute withdrawal syndrome (PAWS). You’ll have more emotional and psychological problems during this time than physical ones.

Most people have PAWS, which includes unpredictable moods, anxiety, rage, exhaustion, unpredictable energy, low levels of excitement, unpredictable concentration, and unpredictable sleep.

These symptoms develop as your brain chemistry gradually returns to normal. As your brain function increases, the levels of the chemicals in your brain will vary as they get closer to the new balance.

At first, your symptoms may change every hour or even every minute. They might reemerge after disappearing for a few weeks or months as you continue to recover. The good intervals you encounter will stretch as you advance in your recuperation.

A post-acute withdrawal syndrome typically lasts for two years. You’ll realise after a while in recovery that each episode often lasts a few days.

Although the cause is unclear, your rehabilitation team can provide you with coping skills so you can successfully manage each post-acute withdrawal episode.

Alcohol Withdrawal Medications

Doctors may prescribe benzodiazepines to avoid or decrease withdrawal symptoms or medical issues that can happen with severe alcohol withdrawal. These medications can stop some withdrawal reactions before they have major repercussions.

Additional drugs could be utilised to treat patients or provide supportive care (e.g., anticonvulsants, antipsychotics, beta-blockers and alpha-adrenergic agonists.) Fluids or specific vitamins may be administered to patients who are malnourished or dehydrated.

The following medications could be used to treat alcohol use disorders:

  • Acamprosate: improves alcohol avoidance after recovery
  • Disulfiram: causes uncomfortable symptoms when alcohol is ingested
  • Naltrexone helps to block the rewarding/reinforcing effects of alcohol

After detox or sobriety, some of these drugs may also be provided.

Treatment for Alcohol Addiction

Addiction recovery is a continuous process that can sometimes last a person their entire life. However, all-comprehensive alcohol treatment programmes follow the same broad steps after the admission of an alcohol problem.

Inpatient vs Outpatient Treatment

Inpatient or residential treatment entails living at a facility for the duration of treatment while receiving round-the-clock assistance and rigorous counselling in group and individual sessions.

Outpatient treatment entails staying at home and attending group and individual therapy sessions on a regular basis. This enables you to put what you learn in therapy into practice when handling pressures in the real world.


The initial phase of every alcohol recovery programme is detox. A medically assisted alcohol withdrawal can be the best option for people experiencing severe or extended withdrawal symptoms if they want to break their alcohol habit. When you undergo an alcohol detox as an inpatient, medical staff can provide around-the-clock care, assisting you in managing your difficult withdrawal symptoms. You’ll likely take medications like diazepam or chlordiazepoxide to maintain your health and minimise the severity of any symptoms.

Patients often stay in a residential inpatient setting after detox to complete an alcohol rehabilitation programme. To achieve long-lasting outcomes, you can fully concentrate on your long-term recovery from addiction here by participating in counselling, support groups, and other types of treatment.


Relapses are frequently brought on by stressful life events or memories of past experiences. Even after detox, you still risk relapsing, particularly if triggers materialise that might make you want to turn to alcohol as a coping mechanism. Alcoholics in recovery can find and address the root causes of their addiction to alcohol with the aid of therapies like cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT).

Therapy can assist you in understanding and resolving the problems that contributed to your addiction, as well as in developing coping mechanisms for future trigger management. Addiction therapy may be provided individually, as a family, or in a group setting.

Therapy is a crucial part of alcohol addiction treatment because it helps patients understand the causes of their addiction, build barriers to future relapse, and sustain long-term recovery. You can participate in extensive counselling and therapy sessions while you’re getting better using a number of approaches. Depending on the treatment centre you choose, you may also have access to a variety of other programmes, including sports activities, art classes, music lessons, cooking seminars, yoga, etc.

Here are a few instances of different therapy models and procedures applied to the treatment of alcoholism:

  • Psychotherapy
  • Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT)
  • Dialectical Behavioural Therapy (DBT)
  • Motivational Interviewing
  • 12-Step Facilitation
  • Yoga And Meditation
  • Art And Music Therapy


Addiction recovery is a lifelong process. Following the completion of their initial course of treatment, those who participate in aftercare programmes continue to receive support, giving them access to a network of sympathetic individuals who can help them keep their abstinence over the long term. After completing their initial course of therapy, people who receive secondary care can gradually return to regular life. This is an efficient strategy to guarantee a long-lasting recovery.

Alcohol Rehab

Finding the right Alcohol Addiction Treatment Programme

You may find a variety of addiction treatment programmes at compare Rehab that can be customised to meet your specific needs, along with the best alcohol rehab care available. Our partners support a large number of individuals battling addiction by collaborating with them to create better futures. They are led by expert teams of consultant psychiatrists, psychologists, therapists, and other medical specialists.

A free, no-obligation addiction evaluation is another service that some organisations provide. During this time, a member of the team can chat with you directly about the problems you’ve been having and how they can help you regain control of your life.

Get in touch with Compare Rehab UK to receive more information and support on your journey to recovery.

Getting The Help You need

One sign that you’re drinking too much and have become dependent on alcohol is if you’re exhibiting the signs of alcohol withdrawal. Resources are available to help those experiencing alcohol withdrawal symptoms, whether for you or a loved one.

Don’t suffer alone. Start your journey of recovery today. Call us on 0800 999 1083 for confidential help and to discuss treatment options.

Last Edited: October 6th, 2022
Clinically Reviewed: July 25, 2022
Compare Rehab UK | Alchol Withdrawal Symptoms & Treatment Explained
Clinical Reviewer


BACP accredited psychotherapist with 16 years experience working in mental health specialising in psychodynamic person-centred therapies treating those with a range of mental health disorders including anxiety, depression, OCD and Addiction.