Alcohol Withdrawal Syndrome Symptoms and Timeline

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alcohol withdrawal syndrome symptoms and timeline

When you are ready to get help for an alcohol use disorder (AUD), it is a good idea to be prepared in advance. Learn about alcohol withdrawal syndrome and the detox symptoms timeline.

AUD affects 15 million Americans and contributes to about 90,000 deaths per year. Over time, continued and chronic alcohol consumption leads to physical dependence on alcohol, and possibly alcohol addiction.

Once the brain has adapted to daily exposure to alcohol, it results in increased tolerance. This means that the effects of drinking that were at first pleasurable have become harder to repeat. In response, the person consumes ever-higher amounts of alcohol in an attempt to re-experience those desired effects.

The body lets you know when you have become dependent on alcohol. This becomes clear when, once the alcohol wears off, you begin to have withdrawal symptoms. By this time, though, it is very hard to quit drinking on your own without feeling very sick. Over time, the drinking may become compulsive, which denotes alcohol addiction.

If you have a desire to break free from the AUD you will first have to go through the detox stage of recovery. Get to know the alcohol withdrawal syndrome symptoms and timeline to be prepared for this crucial step.

What is Alcohol Withdrawal Syndrome?

Alcohol withdrawal syndrome is a set of symptoms that emerge after you quit drinking. These symptoms range from mild to severe. Severity is based on the duration of your excessive drinking, how much was consumed, age, and general health.

The timeline for alcohol detox will also reflect the above factors. Someone with a mild AUD may complete detox in 3 or 4 days, whereas someone with severe AUD could take ten days. Detox occurs in three distinct stages.

It is common for someone with moderate to severe AUD to experience post-acute withdrawal syndrome, or PAWS. These are the symptoms that may linger for weeks or months after detox is completed. PAWS symptoms might include insomnia, irritability, depression, and anxiety.

Why is Medical Detox Important?

When someone attempts to stop drinking it can trigger a condition called delirium tremens (DTs). This occurs most often in people with a long history of alcoholism, or a history of multiple detox attempts.

The DTs is considered a health emergency that can emerge rather suddenly. In fact, up to 15% of patients with the DTs will not survive.

The DTs may emerge on the third or fourth day of the alcohol detox. In some cases, though, detox may be winding down when the symptoms of the DTs suddenly commence. This can happen as late as the 7th day.

These are the symptoms of the DTs:

  • Fever
  • Extreme tremors and shaking.
  • Severe mental confusion.
  • Paranoia
  • High blood pressure.
  • Hallucinations or delusions
  • Feeling like insects are crawling under the skin.
  • Extreme anxiety.
  • Seizures
  • Heart failure.

Treatment for the DTs may involve a hospital stay. A hospital is able to provide life saving interventions to stabilize the person. Treatment for the DTs involves IV sedative infusions and hydration.

What is the Alcohol Detox and Withdrawal Timeline?

Regardless of how severe the withdrawal symptoms are, alcohol detox follows a predictable pattern of three stages. Here are the three stages, broken down by the severity of the person’s AUD:

Stage One

The early withdrawal symptoms will appear within 6-12 hours and last about one day. Depending on the severity of the AUD, this first stage might include these symptoms:

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Mild AUD:

  • Sweating
  • Sleep problems
  • Irritability
  • Anxiety
  • Headaches
  • Feeling lightheaded.
  • Cravings

Moderate AUD

  • Shaking
  • Brain fog.
  • Itchy legs and feet.
  • Increased heart rate.
  • Sleep problems.
  • More intense nausea and vomiting.

Severe AUD

  • Extreme shaking.
  • Profuse sweating.
  • Dry heaves.
  • Hallucinations
  • More intense anxiety.
  • Diarrhea
  • Insomnia

Stage Two

Stage Two will last about two or three days. Symptoms are similar to Stage One but more intense:

Mild AUD:

  • Sweating
  • Headaches
  • Irritability
  • Anxiety
  • Sleep problems.
  • Feeling lightheaded.
  • Cravings

Moderate AUD:

  • Sweating
  • Shaking and trembling.
  • Insomnia
  • Stomach discomfort.
  • Fatigue
  • Intense anxiety.
  • Racing pulse.
  • Mood swings.
  • Fever
  • Cravings

Severe AUD:

  • Intense sweating.
  • Serious hallucinations.
  • Tremors
  • Mental confusion.
  • Panic attacks.
  • Muscle aches
  • Nightmares
  • Dehydration
  • Seizures
  • Strong cravings.
  • DTs

Stage Three

The final stage of alcohol detox features subsiding symptoms. However, the DTs could still emerge during this stage. For most, though, the symptoms during this last stage of detox include:

  • Fatigue
  • Irritability
  • Anxiety
  • Depression
  • Strong cravings
  • DTs

Once the symptoms have subsided and the person is stable, he or she will be ready to shift to the active treatment phase of recovery.

How To Stay Sober After Detox?

Getting through the detox phase of recovery is a huge step. It paves the way for the restoration of health and wellness, which allows you a chance to rebuild your life.

Sobriety is next to impossible to sustain, though, without the tools you will obtain from a full-spectrum treatment program. This is because compulsive behaviors have become habits. To overcome AUD and stay sober you must learn new ways to cope with triggers and cravings.

Treatment for AUD will entail these elements:

  • Therapy. At the center of addiction recovery is one-on-one psychotherapy. A therapist works with you to help with any underlying issues that might be factors. They will also use CBT or DBT to help you make lasting changes in your behaviors and choices.
  • Group therapy. Small groups of peers, or family groups, provide a safe space to share and learn from each other.
  • Classes. The main focus is learning how to navigate sobriety and how to avoid relapse is a focus. New coping skills are taught, and clients will create a relapse prevention plan.
  • 12-step program. A.A.’s 12-step program is often woven into the treatment program.
  • Holistic methods. Holistic methods augment the treatment experience. These may include yoga, art therapy, and mindfulness.

Learning about the alcohol withdrawal syndrome symptoms and detox timeline may seem a little overwhelming at first. Keep in mind that most symptoms will resolve within a couple of weeks. From that point, you can focus on recovery and healing, and embrace your new life in sobriety.

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Capo by the Sea provides luxury addiction treatment services for alcohol use disorder. If you are struggling with alcoholism, call us today at (888) 529-2114.