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November 18, 2019

Alcohol Withdrawal Timeline Explained

If you or a loved one is ready to finally kick their alcohol addiction, it’s best to be prepared for what’s coming. Like any addiction to a substance, recovering from alcohol abuse will mean having to go through a detox period immediately after you stop drinking.

The symptoms of alcohol withdrawal can be mild, but they can also be very serious—they can even be fatal if not properly supervised and treated by medical professionals. The severity of your symptoms depends on how heavily and how long-term you abused alcohol. However, with proper supervision and treatment, dealing with alcohol withdrawal does not have to be serious.

You can read more about alcohol withdrawal symptoms and how they can be treated in our guide here.

The first step is to educate yourself about the alcohol withdrawal process so you know what to expect. That way, you can seek the proper help from an alcohol rehab center who will help you manage your withdrawal safely.

Here is our guide explaining the alcohol withdrawal timeline.

Table of Contents

  • How the Alcohol Withdrawal Timeline Works
  • Day One: Initial Withdrawal
  • Day Two: First Symptoms Appear
  • Day Three: Severe Symptoms Hit
  • Day Four and Beyond: Fading Symptoms

How the Alcohol Withdrawal Timeline Works

Before we get into a breakdown of the timelines associated with withdrawal symptoms, there are a few things you should keep in mind.

First, there are no hard and fast rules or timelines that are the same for everyone. There is a lot of variation in what symptoms you experience, at what times, and for how long. It all depends on the individual’s biology and the nature or severity of their alcohol addiction. Someone who drank heavily for a year or two will likely face milder symptoms and shorter timelines than someone who abused alcohol for decades.

Second, any timeline for alcohol withdrawal is based on when you last had an alcohol drink – not when you start treatment. If you try to cut yourself off on your own, you will experience withdrawal with the same general phases, but without medical supervision to make sure you stay safe.

Some factors that can affect the severity and length of your withdrawal include the frequency or regularity of your drinking habits, your medical and genetic history in regards to mental health and blood pressure, and if you had any secondary addiction to other drugs or substances.

Day One: Initial Withdrawal

The beginning of alcohol withdrawal usually begins around 6-8 hours following your last drink. Symptoms during this time are usually milder, but extremely heavy drinkers with a long period of alcohol abuse may begin to experience seizures as well.

By the 12 to 24 hour mark is when every alcohol addict will have started experiencing their first signs of withdrawal. You may feel anxious and nauseous, and you may begin developing headaches and shaking. These symptoms are on the milder side of what you will face.

In addition, more people will start to feel disoriented, develop tremors, and have seizures. More extreme cases will begin moderate withdrawal symptoms in this time as well, including hallucinations — seeing, hearing, feeling things that aren’t real. While hallucinations can be jarring, they are not considered dangerous.

Day Two: First Symptoms Appear

From the 24 to 48 hour mark is when the real severe portion of the withdrawal phase hits most recovering addicts. All the minor symptoms mentioned above usually still longer through this period — headaches, nausea and vomiting, the shakes, and so on. For people who were not extremely heavy drinkers for very long, their symptoms will peak around this phase.

This is also the point where all of the moderate symptoms will have appeared, and more of the severe symptoms will begin for the very heavy drinkers and long-term alcohol abusers. Moderate symptoms include disorientation, fever, sweating, irritability, and heavy breathing. This is the phase where medical supervision is important, so they can monitor your health in case they develop into something more severe and potentially fatal.

Day Three: Severe Symptoms Hit

By the end of the second day is when severe symptoms will have all begun to manifest. You will feel the peak of those moderate symptoms, as your fever, sweating, and irritability will be at their worst.

You may also start developing more irregular heart and blood pressure fluctuations, which represents one of the most dangerous symptoms of alcohol withdrawal. The issue is that those can lead to heart attacks or strokes. In addition, this is the period when seizures are most likely to develop, even in milder cases of alcohol abuse.

This is also the point when, in rare cases, you may develop delirium tremens (DT), a disorder characterized by a number of severe withdrawal symptoms that can be fatal. Those symptoms include extreme fever, tremors, hallucinations, and blood pressure or heart rate swings. It is rare for this to occur, with only around 5% of people experiencing DT.

If you develop these severe symptoms you definitely require medical help.

Day Four and Beyond: Fading Symptoms

Around day 4 or 5 is when most recovering alcohol addicts will see their withdrawal symptoms begin to fade. In some cases, you may still be experiencing the peak of your withdrawal until after 7 days. Most importantly, you are not likely to develop any new symptoms, and you will have gotten through the worst of it.

After 7 days is when you may begin to develop some mild side effects related to your alcohol withdrawal and its symptoms. These side effects are usually psychological in nature, related to any disorientation, hallucination or anxiety you experienced. You can usually avoid or significantly reduce these side effects with medical treatment such as counseling or medication.

It is strongly advised to seek some kind of medical or professional help before you stop drinking. They will be best able to advise you on when to begin the process and how to manage your withdrawal so it isn’t dangerous. They can provide medication to mitigate the severity of some of your symptoms, they can intervene when the more severe and potentially fatal symptoms develop to save your life.

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