• For 24/7 Treatment Help Call

    (800) 526-5053

  • Individuals who stop or rapidly reduce alcohol intake after a period of heavy drinking may experience alcohol withdrawal syndrome. Alcohol withdrawal is a serious condition that can cause anxiety, tremors, seizures, and hallucinations. 

    Alcohol withdrawal symptoms likely begin about 6 hours after your last drink and peak within 72 hours

    However, some people experience life-threatening symptoms, like seizures and delirium tremens. Severe symptoms can happen quickly and may require prompt medical attention. 

    Alcohol Withdrawal Timeline

    Alcohol withdrawal is a complex condition that can range from mild to severe, depending on the individual’s health, frequency of alcohol use, and length of drinking period. 

    People with a long history of alcohol abuse or medical conditions are at a higher risk of experiencing severe symptoms. 

    Acute Alcohol Withdrawal 

    Acute alcohol withdrawal symptoms appear within hours after drinking has stopped. Although acute withdrawal symptoms usually peak within 72 hours, mild symptoms may continue for weeks. 

    Stage 1 (6-12 Hours After The Last Drink)

    Symptoms may include:

    • trouble sleeping
    • tremors
    • anxiety
    • stomach upset
    • headache
    • sweating
    • rapid or irregular heart rate
    • loss of appetite
    • high blood pressure
    • mood swings

    Stage 2 (12-24 Hours After The Last Drink)

    Mild withdrawal symptoms may worsen and you may begin to experience hallucinations. These can be visual, auditory, or tactile. Hallucinations are a false perception that something is real and can lead to dangerous reactions. 

    Stage 3 (24-48 Hours After The Last Drink)

    People who drink heavily may experience alcohol withdrawal seizures 1-2 days after they stop drinking. Seizures can cause convulsions and a loss of consciousness, which can be life-threatening. 

    Symptoms of alcohol withdrawal seizures include:

    • confusion
    • uncontrollable jerking of arms or legs
    • loss of consciousness
    • staring
    • stiffening of the body

    Alcohol Withdrawal Delirium (Delirium Tremens)

    If you drink heavily for a long period of time, you increase the risk of experiencing delirium tremens (DTs). DTs are a severe form of alcohol withdrawal that can appear 48-72 hours after stopping alcohol use. 

    Severe alcohol withdrawal symptoms may include:

    • severe confusion and disorientation
    • agitation
    • fever
    • visual hallucinations
    • tremors
    • irregular heartbeat
    • high blood pressure
    • high body temperature

    Delirium tremens are a medical emergency. Mild alcohol withdrawal symptoms can quickly progress into DTs. If you recognize withdrawal symptoms in yourself or a loved one, seek medical attention immediately. 

    What Causes Alcohol Withdrawal?

    Alcohol is a central nervous system depressant that slows brain function and affects how neurotransmitters (chemical messengers) communicate. Excessive drinking can affect the levels of neurotransmitters associated with mood, cognition, and other important functions. 

    When you drink heavily or for a long period of time, your central nervous system adapts to these changes. Your body may become alcohol dependent, which means it believes alcohol is necessary to function. 

    When you suddenly stop or reduce alcohol consumption, it takes time for your brain to heal and maintain a healthy balance. This can result in uncomfortable or dangerous withdrawal symptoms. Although severe symptoms may subside within a few days, mild symptoms can last much longer. 

    Alcohol Withdrawal Risk Factors

    Alcohol affects everyone differently and the severity of withdrawal will depend on several factors. Generally, the amount of alcohol consumed and the frequency of drinking have the biggest impact on withdrawal symptoms. 

    However, the following factors can also affect the severity of withdrawal:

    • history of seizures
    • health conditions (including head injury or infection)
    • history of alcohol dependence and withdrawal
    • co-occurring disorders

    Medical Detox

    Detoxing from alcohol on your own is not recommended because of the risk of severe complications. Severe symptoms like seizures and DTs can rapidly progress and early medical attention is essential. 

    An alcohol detox program can help you safely through the difficult stages of alcohol withdrawal. A team of healthcare specialists will provide support while monitoring your symptoms. 

    If you have severe symptoms, you may receive sedative medication to prevent seizures and decrease agitation. 

    Medication that may be used during detoxification includes:

    • benzodiazepines (Ativan, Diazepam)
    • barbiturates (phenobarbital)
    • anticonvulsants (Tegretol, Neurontin)
    • vitamins (thiamine, multivitamin)

    Once you complete the detox process, you may choose to continue with long-term treatment. If you have continuously struggled to stop drinking and cannot control the amount you drink, you may have signs of an alcohol use disorder (AUD). 

    Alcohol Use Disorder Treatment

    If you have an alcohol use disorder, a detox program is not likely to be sufficient in helping you abstain from alcohol. Treatment programs are designed to help you develop healthy coping skills and improve your physical, mental, and emotional well-being. 

    If you decide to proceed with a treatment program, an addiction specialist will work with you to develop an individualized treatment plan. Treatment options may include an inpatient/residential program, outpatient program, and/or support groups

    Medication-Assisted Treatment

    Your doctor may prescribe a medication to help with alcohol cravings and prevent relapse. These medications are intended to be combined with therapy as part of a comprehensive treatment program. 

    FDA-approved to treat alcohol use disorder include:

    If you would like more information on alcohol use disorder treatment options, please contact us today to speak with a specialist. 

    Written by Ark Behavioral Health Editorial Team
    ©2024 Ark National Holdings, LLC. | All Rights Reserved.
    This page does not provide medical advice.

    Journal of Clinical and Diagnostic Research - Alcohol Withdrawal Syndrome: Benzodiazepines and Beyond
    National Institute On Alcohol Abuse And Alcoholism (NIAAA) - Introduction To Alcohol Withdrawal
    National Library of Medicine - Alcoholism And Its Effects On The Central Nervous System
    National Library of Medicine: Medline Plus - Delirium Tremens
    National Library of Medicine: Medline Plus - Alcohol Withdrawal

    Medically Reviewed by
    Manish Mishra, MBBS
    on June 24, 2021
    Questions About Treatment?

    Ark Behavioral Health offers 100% confidential substance abuse assessment and treatment placement tailored to your individual needs. Achieve long-term recovery.

    100% confidential. We respect your privacy.
    Prefer Texting?

    Our friendly support team is here to chat 24/7. Opt out any time.


    Our Facilities

    Premier Drug Rehab & Mental Health Care Facilities In Massachusetts & Ohio

    Bedrock Recovery

    Canton, MA

    • Medical detox
    • Inpatient & Residential Treatment
    • Primary Mental Health Care
    • Movie Theater & Fitness Center

    Learn More

    Northeast Addictions

    Quincy, MA

    • Day treatment program
    • Intensive Outpatient Program
    • Full-Day Group Therapy
    • Easy Access to Public Transit

    Learn More

    Spring Hill Recovery Center

    Ashby, MA

    • Residential Treatment
    • Gender-Specific Residencies
    • Outdoor Recreation
    • Expansive 70-Acre Campus

    Learn More

    Ohio Recovery Center

    Van Wert, OH

    • Medical Detox
    • Residential Treatment
    • Primary Mental Health Care
    • 55-Acre Campus

    Learn More

    For Immediate Treatment Help Call 800-526-5053