How Long Does Alcohol Withdrawal Last?

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After your final drink, withdrawal symptoms normally start to appear eight hours later and peak between 24 and 72 hours later.

If you believe you are addicted to alcohol, it may seem like a smart idea to stop drinking immediately. However, you must not stop drinking before consulting a doctor. This is due to the withdrawal from alcohol having a chance to be fatal. Some symptoms can be so bad that they put your health at risk of becoming unwell or perhaps dying.

The process of alcohol withdrawal

When you routinely consume large amounts of alcohol, your brain chemistry changes over time to counteract its sleepy effects. Your brain may become overstimulated after you stop drinking, which could lead to both physical and mental health problems. We refer to this as alcohol withdrawal or alcohol withdrawal syndrome (AWS).

Within hours of finishing a drinking session, the symptoms of alcohol withdrawal might start. But not everyone will experience withdrawal symptoms in the same way. For instance, some people will have milder symptoms than others. Severe withdrawal symptoms are more likely to occur if you:

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

Your age, gender, health, genetic make-up, and history of alcohol use are just a few variables that affect how long it takes for alcohol to exit your bloodstream. The research shows that alcohol withdrawal usually starts eight hours after the last drink, but it can also start several days later. The majority of the time, the symptoms peak between 24 and 72 hours; however, some may last for several weeks. Even after alcohol has been fully cleared from your bloodstream, tests for alcohol detection can still find it in your urine, saliva, and hair.

What Causes Alcohol Withdrawal?

Drinkers who consume large amounts of alcohol or who do so frequently may become chemically dependent on it. It can shock the body, the brain, and the neurotransmitters when they abruptly quit providing the body with the chemical on which it has been dependent.

The effects of alcohol on the brain’s neurotransmitters are profoundly reduced. The neurotransmitters need to recalibrate when drinking is stopped in order to regain the sensitivity required for proper operation.

Alcohol Withdrawal Timeline

According to specialists, if your brain has become accustomed to severe, prolonged alcohol consumption, some symptoms may occur when you stop drinking. You could require medical treatment because the degree and type of symptoms differ from person to person.

They are as follows:

5 to 10 hours after your last drink:

Tremors (shaking), a rise or fall in blood pressure, fast breathing, sweating, vomiting, irritability, difficulty falling asleep, anxiety, and a rapid pulse are possible symptoms. In 24 to 48 hours, these symptoms usually reach their height.

12 to 24 hours:

You might experience hallucinations, in which case you see unreal sounds, sights, or sensations. This might linger for two days or even longer.

24 to 48 hours:

You can get convulsions linked to withdrawal.

3 days to a week:

Delirium tremens is a term used to describe one of the more serious withdrawal symptoms from alcohol. An intensive care unit is frequently needed for its treatment. Dehydration, a quick heartbeat, elevated blood pressure, and decreased blood supply to the brain can all be consequences of this condition. Confusion, loss of consciousness, irrational behaviour, hallucinations, cold sweats, and disrupted sleep are among the symptoms. According to experts, only approximately 5% of those who undergo alcohol withdrawal experience delirium tremens, but up to 1 in 20 do die from it.

5 days after your last drink:

The effects of alcohol withdrawal often subside after five days. A small percentage of users, though, experience withdrawal symptoms that continue for weeks.

Weeks to several months:

Take good care of both your body and mind. Don’t start drinking again until alcohol withdrawal has passed. Your chances of maintaining sobriety are greatly increased by attending an inpatient or outpatient treatment facility. Inquire with your doctor about any potential health effects of long-term drinking.

Alcohol Withdrawal Symptoms

Alcohol depresses the central nervous system (CNS) by increasing the activation of specific brain receptors. These receptors become desensitised and decrease in number with repeated excessive alcohol consumption, leading to tolerance and physical dependence.

An individual’s neural system experiences uncontrolled firing when alcohol drinking is halted too quickly. Someone will then suffer mild, moderate, or severe withdrawal symptoms when the alcohol departs the body. Because the intensity of these symptoms might alter within hours, caution must be used.

Mild alcohol withdrawal symptoms include:

  • Nausea
  • Moderate itching
  • Slight tremors
  • Increased sensibility to sounds and light
  • Feeling clammy
  • Moderate headaches

Moderate alcohol withdrawal symptoms include:

  • Frequent nausea and dry retching
  • Pins and needles, burning or numbness
  • Tremors when arms are held outstretched
  • Increasing discomfort with noises and bright light
  • Sweating, anxiety and restlessness
  • Decreased mental alertness (e.g. forgetting which is the present day of the week)

Severe alcohol withdrawal symptoms include:

  • Continued nausea, retching and vomiting
  • Visual and auditory hallucinations (or sensations of insects on the skin)
  • Coarse tremors
  • Intense sweating
  • Severe confusion (e.g. difficulty identifying people and areas)

Symptoms of severe withdrawal are referred to as delirium tremens (DTs). As alcohol is a CNS depressant and abrupt withdrawal can cause CNS excitability, this can result in seizures.

The importance of medically assisted alcohol detoxification

The detoxification process is known to eliminate alcohol from your body while managing unpleasant and harmful withdrawal symptoms.

At specialised centres, alcohol detoxification programmes are created to assist individuals with alcohol withdrawal in a monitored and constantly supportive therapeutic setting.

Your consultant and their trained staff will continuously monitor and control your symptoms during alcohol withdrawal therapy at a specialised addiction treatment facility to ensure your safety.

Medical assistance can also be provided to prevent you from becoming ill or experiencing the harmful side effects of the withdrawal process.

Medication-assisted Treatment (MAT)

You can use this treatment plan to help you manage unpleasant withdrawal symptoms. In order to free up your attention to focus on other aspects of your rehabilitation, this method is utilised to prescribe and administer specific medications.

Alcohol Withdrawal Medications

The following medications could be used to treat Alcohol Use Disorders:

  • Acamprosate: aids in preventing relapse after a time of alcohol abstinence.
  • Disulfiram: this drug may help with the unpleasant effects that drinking alcohol might induce.
  • Naltrexone: this medication aids by preventing the rewarding or reinforcing effects of alcohol.

Some of these medications might also be given out after detoxification or abstinence.

What Is Delirium Tremens?

One of the more severe withdrawal symptoms that can happen after quitting alcohol is delirium tremens (DTs), sometimes known as “alcohol withdrawal delirium”. In 5% to 15% of instances, it can be fatal and is characterised by delirium and a shift in consciousness. Older individuals who have a history of strong alcohol use, DTs in the past, poor liver function, and initial withdrawal symptoms that are more severe are more prone to develop DTs.

Post-acute withdrawal (PAWS)

The withdrawal process has two steps. You can have physical withdrawal symptoms in the initial phase. Post-acute withdrawal syndrome refers to the second stage of withdrawal (PAWS). You’ll have more emotional and psychological symptoms than physical ones at this period.

The majority of people have PAWS, which include erratic moods, anxiety, anger, fatigue, erratic energy, poor excitement, erratic concentration, and erratic sleep.

As your brain chemistry progressively returns to normal, these symptoms appear. The amounts of the chemicals in your brain will change as they approach the new balance as your brain function improves.

Your symptoms will initially fluctuate hourly or even minute by minute. They will vanish for a few weeks or months as you recuperate further, then might reappear. The positive stretches you experience will grow longer as you progress through your rehabilitation.

The typical duration of post-acute withdrawal syndrome is two years. After a while in recovery, you’ll discover that each episode often lasts a few days. Although there isn’t a clear cause, your rehabilitation team can give you coping mechanisms so you can confidently handle each post-acute withdrawal episode.

Alcohol Rehab

Receiving support following detoxification

We comprehend how intimidating it can be to start the process of quitting drinking and to look for support. While going through detox is a brave first step, it is advised that you continue with an alcohol use disorder treatment programme after detox. You will have the chance to confront your addiction on a mental and emotional level, which will make it easier for you to stop drinking in the future.

The most successful programme is an inpatient recovery programme which normally lasts 28 days. You will attend both individual and group therapy sessions throughout this period in order to address the cause of your addictive behaviours, develop your self-awareness and coping mechanisms, moving forward with a long-lasting recovery.

To help you develop the skills you’ll need to sustain a life without alcohol, and you’ll concentrate on identifying and modifying your unhealthy behaviours and thought patterns, based on the 12-step philosophy is, you enter a 12-step programme.

Therapy used in alcohol addiction recovery

Therapy is an essential component of alcohol addiction treatment because it enables patients to comprehend the roots of addiction and create defences against relapse in the future and maintain long-term sobriety. While in recovery, you can take part in intense counselling and therapy sessions using a variety of methodologies. You might also have access to various additional programmes, such as sports activities, art classes, music lessons, cooking workshops, yoga, etc., depending on the treatment facility you attend.

Some examples of types and techniques of therapy used in alcohol addiction treatment:

  • Psychotherapy
  • Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT)
  • Dialectical Behavioural Therapy (DBT)
  • Motivational Interviewing
  • 12-Step Facilitation
  • Yoga And Meditation
  • Art And Music Therapy
Last Edited: October 6th, 2022
Clinically Reviewed: July 30, 2022
Compare Rehab UK | How Long Does Alcohol Withdrawal Last?
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.