What is Alcohol Withdrawal?
People who compulsively drink too much alcohol on a regular basis are likely to have the medical condition of “alcohol use disorder” or AUD. AUD is when people show loss of control over alcohol intake and display a negative emotional state when not drinking.1 They drink too much alcohol on a consistent basis. Alcohol withdrawal refers to the symptoms that occur when someone with AUD suddenly stops drinking alcohol.2 People with AUD are more likely to experience alcohol withdrawal symptoms rather than just a hangover.
Hangovers vs. Alcohol Withdrawal
Alcohol withdrawal is different than a hangover. Although they have a few symptoms in common, alcohol withdrawal and hangovers differ in causes and severity. Hangovers are the result of intaking too much alcohol into the body. This causes irritated stomach lining, dehydration, and an inflammatory response in the body. Common symptoms of hangovers include a headache, nausea, and fatigue as the body processes the alcohol.3 Hangovers can last up to 24 hours, but they are often shorter.4
On the other hand, alcohol withdrawal is the result of the body acclimating to consistent alcohol use. The body tries to speed up in response to the depressive effect of alcohol in its system. The central nervous system and neurotransmitter producers in the brain work extra hard to stay more alert and keep nerves talking to each other. Unfortunately, when the alcohol supply is suddenly stopped, the brain stays in that keyed up state. This causes withdrawal.5
The Alcohol Withdrawal Timeline
Everybody’s experience in the detox process varies in withdrawal symptoms and severity. Factors that influence someone’s individual experience include the length of time addicted to alcohol, amount of usage, body type, and more. American Addiction Centers has determined that the alcohol withdrawal timeline can generally be broken down into four stages: 6, 7
Stage 1: Begins About Eight Hours After Last Drink
The first stage of the alcohol withdrawal timeline is usually characterized by anxiety, insomnia, nausea, abdominal pain, increased blood pressure, shakiness, and excessive sweatiness.
Stage 2: Begins About 24-72 Hours After Last Drink
In stage two, more symptoms start in addition to the symptoms of stage one. The second stage of the alcohol withdrawal timeline brings an unusual heart rate, confusion, minor visual or auditory hallucinations, general sickness, and bodily aching.
Stage 3: Begins About 2-4 Days After Last Drink
The third stage brings more symptoms that add to the symptoms of stages one and two. Stage three of the alcohol withdrawal timeline often brings fever, potential seizures, irritability, dizziness, and intense cravings for alcohol.
Stage 4: Begins About 5-7 Days After Last Drink
After about five to seven days, the alcohol withdrawal symptoms typically tend to decrease and fade away and people return to feeling normal again. Without treatment, some side effects may remain for a few weeks, but the worst part is over.
Surviving Alcohol Withdrawal
The detox process is ugly and uncomfortable. However, it is certainly worth the week of discomfort to complete the first major step in overcoming alcohol addiction. Many people attempt to detox at home. While some of them succeed, many have a relapse or suffer much more than needed. According to American Addiction Centers, an at-home detox from alcohol is never recommended.8 That’s because detoxing alone is risky and usually unsuccessful.
It’s recommended for people to seek medical attention as they detox from alcohol. Medications can ease the discomfort of alcohol withdrawal symptoms and constant monitoring helps people stay in a stable condition.
Detox vs. Addiction Treatment
Alcohol detox and addiction recovery are not the same. Detoxing usually doesn’t remove the craving for alcohol. Many people who detox still crave alcohol and face triggers. At Schick Shadel Hospital, our medical detox program helps patients to detox safely and more comfortably. Our 24-hour nursing care offers constant monitoring and medications that ease the discomfort.
In addition to medical detox, Schick Shadel Hospital also offers a 10-day addiction treatment that is extremely effective. By using aversion therapy, we have become the most successful addiction recovery hospital in the U.S. One year after treatment, 69% of patients are still sober from their addictions!9
If you or someone you know is ready to detox, we encourage you to seek medical assistance. For more information about why you should detox at an in-patient facility, check out our series about ‘Surviving Detox: 3 Reasons to Never Detox Alone:’
1 Alcohol Use Disorder | National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA). (2019). Niaaa.nih.gov. Retrieved 14 January 2019, from https://www.niaaa.nih.gov/alcohol-health/overview-alcohol-consumption/alcohol-use-disorders
2 withdrawal, A. (2019). Alcohol withdrawal: MedlinePlus Medical Encyclopedia. Medlineplus.gov. Retrieved 14 January 2019, from https://medlineplus.gov/ency/article/000764.htm
3 Judith Marcin, M. (2018). Alcohol withdrawal syndrome: Symptoms, treatment, and detox time. Medical News Today. Retrieved 14 January 2019, from https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/322373.php
4 Hangovers – Symptoms and causes. (2019). Mayo Clinic. Retrieved 15 January 2019, from https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/hangovers/symptoms-causes/syc-20373012
5 Cold, F., Health, E., Disease, H., Disease, L., Management, P., & Conditions, S. et al. (2019). Alcohol Withdrawal: What Happens When You Stop Drinking?. WebMD. Retrieved 15 January 2019, from https://www.webmd.com/mental-health/addiction/alcohol-withdrawal-symptoms-treatments#1
6 Centers, A. (2019). Alcohol Withdrawal Symptoms, Detox Timeline & Treatment. American Addiction Centers. Retrieved 15 January 2019, from https://americanaddictioncenters.org/withdrawal-timelines-treatments/alcohol
7 What Are the Symptom Stages for Alcohol Withdrawal?. (2019). Verywell Mind. Retrieved 15 January 2019, from https://www.verywellmind.com/is-this-normal-how-long-will-it-last-80197
8 Centers, A. (2019). Alcohol Detox at Home: How to, Risks and Alternatives. American Addiction Centers. Retrieved 15 January 2019, from https://americanaddictioncenters.org/withdrawal-timelines-treatments/alcohol-benzos-at-home
9 Elkins, R., Richards, T., Nielsen, R., Repass, R., Stahlbrandt, H., & Hoffman, H. (2017). The Neurobiological Mechanism of Chemical Aversion (Emetic) Therapy for Alcohol Use Disorder: An fMRI Study. Frontiers In Behavioral Neuroscience, 11. doi:10.3389/fnbeh.2017.00182