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  • How Long Do Headaches From Alcohol Withdrawal Last? | Timeline & Relief

    Headaches are one of the most common physical symptoms of alcohol withdrawal syndrome. Headaches can start only 6 hours after your last drink, and may last anywhere between 3 days to over a year.

    A patient’s alcohol withdrawal timeline depends on a number of factors, including the severity of alcohol dependence, presence of other health problems, additional substance abuse, and others.

    Headaches are fairly consistent across withdrawal types. The combination of headaches with other symptoms can tell you how serious the withdrawal will likely be.

    Headaches & Types Of Alcohol Withdrawal Syndrome

    Alcohol is a depressant that affects the central nervous system. The effects of alcohol can spread through the entire body, and the same can be true when alcohol is taken away from the body.

    Alcohol withdrawal types can vary depending on your drinking habits and your body’s natural tolerance to alcohol.

    Acute Alcohol Withdrawal Syndrome (AWS)

    A patient can develop alcohol dependence from consistently high alcohol consumption over a long period of time. Once this happens, they may experience alcohol withdrawal when they try to quit. Alcohol withdrawal, or AWS, can start only 6 hours after your last drink.

    Headaches are only one symptom of AWS. Other common symptoms of AWS include tremors, anxiety, stomachaches, and palpitations. Headaches caused by AWS tend to last for about 1 to 2 weeks. 

    If headaches last for longer, this can be a sign that you’ll have more severe withdrawal symptoms. You may want to seek medical care if you feel like your headaches are not going away.

    Post-Acute Withdrawal Syndrome (PAWS)

    Withdrawal symptoms can appear suddenly after the acute withdrawal period has ended. This is known as post-acute withdrawal syndrome, or PAWS. During PAWS, many withdrawal symptoms such as sweating, tremors, sleeping problems, and headaches can come back without warning.

    Symptoms of PAWS can go on for months or even years after you stop drinking. Headaches during PAWS can range from mild to severe. People suffering from PAWS may be tempted to go back to drinking, just to make the headaches and other symptoms stop.

    Prolonged Withdrawal

    Prolonged withdrawal, also known as protracted withdrawal syndrome, is acute withdrawal that lasts for up to a year, instead of a short-term two-week withdrawal timeline. You may be experiencing painful headaches for an entire year under prolonged withdrawal.

    Prolonged or protracted withdrawal can be hard to overcome without medical care or a stay at an inpatient treatment facility. The constant toll on your physical and mental health may increase your chances of relapsing.

    Delirium Tremens (DTs)

    Delirium Tremens, or DTs, is the most severe form of alcohol withdrawal. The first signs of DTs can come up 48 hours after your last drink, and about 42 hours after headaches have started.

    Side effects of DTs include visual and auditory hallucinations, increased body temperature, increased heart rate, increased body temperature, high blood pressure, and sweating. Headaches may not feel as intense compared to some of these symptoms.

    DTs can be life-threatening for some withdrawal patients, especially if medical attention is not given.

    Relief & Management Of Alcohol Withdrawal Headaches

    The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has approved many medications to treat alcohol withdrawal. Many of these medications may be prescribed as part of a medical alcohol detox program, but may not be available elsewhere.

    Management of alcohol withdrawal headaches is likely best served as part of a treatment program. Not every alcohol withdrawal patient will need treatment, but patients suffering from severe or prolonged withdrawal may need relief from headaches and other symptoms.

    Benzodiazepines

    Benzodiazepines are often prescribed as anti-anxiety medications. They also have approved uses to manage alcohol withdrawal, including headaches. Approved benzodiazepines include Librium, Valium, and Serax.

    Benzodiazepines may not always be the right option for you. Talk to your doctor if you are concerned about the potential side effects of benzodiazepines.

    Naltrexone

    Naltrexone can reduce alcohol cravings. By reducing the chance of a relapse, naltrexone can help prevent potential headaches in the future.

    Treatment Options For Alcohol Withdrawal

    Headaches, when combined with other side effects, can make alcohol withdrawal unpleasant, painful, and sometimes fatal. It can be difficult to fight withdrawal on your own, but setting up a treatment plan with a rehab facility can put you in a position to recover.   

    Treatment options vary depending on the patient’s needs but often start with a medical detox before moving into psychotherapy, management of withdrawal symptoms, and contacting support groups.

    To find the best alcohol addiction treatment for yourself or a loved one, talk to your healthcare provider or contact us today.

    Written by Ark Behavioral Health Editorial Team
    ©2022 Ark National Holdings, LLC. | All Rights Reserved.
    This page does not provide medical advice.
    Sources

    National Institute of Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism - Complications of Alcohol Withdrawal
    National Institute of Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism - Understanding Alcohol Use Disorder
    PubMed Central - Alcohol Withdrawal - StatPearls
    PubMed Central - Clinical management of alcohol withdrawal: A systematic review

    Medically Reviewed by
    Dr. Manish Mishra, MBBS
    on June 24, 2021
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