How Long Does Alcohol Withdrawal Last?

Since alcohol is legal, mainstream and easy to find, people tend to forget how dangerous it is. Alcohol is an addictive drug that is the third-leading preventable cause of death in the United States. Even heavy drinkers who do not die of alcohol-related causes can still experience health problems such as malnutrition, a weakened immune system and mental illnesses, along with relationship and financial difficulties.

If you have determined it’s time to quit drinking, you should be aware that you might experience withdrawal, which can be unpleasant enough to test even the sternest resolve.

What Is Alcohol Withdrawal?

Alcohol withdrawal typically involves an array of symptoms that vary in severity, depending on factors like how long and how much you drank. In short, withdrawal occurs because your brain becomes accustomed to having alcohol in your system, and when you stop drinking, that equilibrium is suddenly missing.

Your symptoms may include:

  • Cravings
  • Anxiety
  • Insomnia
  • Sweating
  • Headaches
  • Nausea
  • Disorientation
  • Racing heart rate
  • High blood pressure

What Is Delirium Tremens?

If you are a heavy, long-term drinker, you are at risk of experiencing a dangerous medical condition called delirium tremens. Delirium tremens is the most extreme form of alcohol withdrawal, which involves severe and sudden changes to the brain and central nervous system. These symptoms most often manifest in people who drank excessively for more than 10 years and suddenly stopped or tried to taper off their alcohol use too quickly.

The best-known delirium tremens symptom is body tremors, but other characteristics include mood swings, hallucinations, delusions and violent seizures. Since there is a risk of death from delirium tremens, you should never try quitting cold turkey or doing an at-home detox if you frequently binge drink and have abused alcohol for a decade or more. Instead, the safest and most comfortable option is medically supervised detoxification.

The Alcohol Withdrawal Timeline

Alcohol can stay in your body for different lengths of time, depending on your weight, metabolism and how much you typically drink each day. You might experience mild alcohol withdrawal symptoms, such as hand tremors, as soon as your blood alcohol level dips below the standard your body is used to.

Your experience may vary depending on factors like your age, gender, genetic makeup, overall health and history of substance abuse. However, here is a typical timeline.

  • In the first six to 12 hours after your last drink, you may feel a little bit sick, with symptoms like a headache or fatigue.
  • Within the next 12 to 48 hours, withdrawal intensifies, and might include anxiety and intense cravings.
  • Up to 72 hours after your last drink, you could experience fever, excessive sweating, disorientation, hallucinations, high blood pressure and delirium tremens. If any of these happen to you, call 911 for help.
  • Withdrawal symptoms should begin improving after 72 hours and gradually resolve over the next four to seven days.

Some people who quit drinking go through a phase called post-acute withdrawal syndrome, which involves various psychological symptoms that can continue long after withdrawal and stabilization. While mental health professionals have yet to identify what causes PAWS, you can learn to manage it with personalized care and long-term support.

Safe, Comfortable Alcohol Detoxification

At Cumberland Heights, our experienced nursing team will monitor your early stages of alcohol withdrawal, easing some of the most uncomfortable and frightening side effects. Our detoxification program is on our main campus, so you can transition smoothly into inpatient care once you are medically stable enough to do so.

If you’re ready to end your dependence on alcohol, we are here for you. Please request help today and start your journey toward freedom and happiness.