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Some people may not realize just how intense and potentially life-threatening alcohol withdrawal can be. Alcohol withdrawal is much different than a mere hangover, which can be uncomfortable yet tends to pass relatively quickly. Rather, alcohol withdrawal can put the body into a state that can be wholly debilitating and it can cause intense physical and psychological pain. To understand its dangers, it can also be helpful to understand the alcohol withdrawal timeline and duration.

What Is Alcohol Withdrawal?

Alcohol withdrawal represents the symptoms that occur when an individual stops ingesting alcohol after a long period of alcohol use or abuse. The “withdrawal” happens naturally to many, simply because alcohol fully dissipates from the bloodstream roughly within six hours.

Of course, for people who don’t have a problem with alcohol use, the withdrawal process may go relatively unnoticed. However, for people who struggle with issues of alcohol use disorder (AUD), the withdrawal process is often quite noticeable, very uncomfortable, and, more likely than not, very dangerous.

The symptoms of alcohol withdrawal for someone with AUD include:

  • Excessive sweating and shaking
  • Restlessness
  • Irritability
  • Nausea gastrointestinal pain, and vomiting
  • Anxiety
  • Depression
  • Inability to sleep
  • Headaches/migraines
  • Audio and visual hallucinations
  • Increased heart rate
  • Seizures

What Is Alcohol Withdrawal Syndrome?

According to the journal Acta Neurologica Scandinavica, “Alcohol withdrawal syndrome (AWS) is a well‐known condition occurring after intentional or unintentional abrupt cessation of heavy/constant drinking, and it occurs in about 8% of hospitalized AUD [alcohol use disorder] inpatients. Severe AWS more than doubles the length of stay and frequently requires treatment at the ICU. A complicated AWS includes epileptic seizures and/or delirium tremens (DT), the occurrence of which may be as high as 15% in AUD patients.” There is also a much higher mortality rate for those who experience seizures and DTs.

Now, as previously mentioned, alcohol, generally, fully dissipates around six hours after one finishes their last drink. However, for individuals with AUD, that is the time when alcohol withdrawal tends to take hold. This is also when the alcohol withdrawal duration and timeline begins.

Understanding the Alcohol Withdrawal Timeline and Duration

According to the peer-reviewed write-up titled Alcohol Withdrawal by authors Newman, Gallagher, and Gomez, “Mild signs/symptoms can arise within six hours of alcohol cessation. If symptoms do not progress to more severe symptoms within 24 to 48 hours, the patient will likely recover. However, the time to presentation and range of symptoms can vary greatly depending on the patient, their duration of alcohol dependence, and the volume typically ingested.” The entire alcohol withdrawal timeline takes around a week.

Depending on the factors previously mentioned, the alcohol withdrawal timeline is usually between three and seven days. However, the alcohol withdrawal duration can certainly take longer, depending on how long an individual has been drinking. The withdrawal process may also take longer if one tries to do it on their own without professional help or support. Additionally, in cases like these, withdrawal is significantly more uncomfortable and, in some instances, can even be deadly. 

Addressing the Alcohol Withdrawal Timeline and Duration With a Responsible Detox

Now, while the alcohol withdrawal timeline may not be shortened, the safety of the individual will be greatly increased by going through a professional detox program rather than trying to do it solo. This is because the body can go into such “shock” that it can cause seizures, severe disorientation, stroke, and even a heart attack.

Thus, a professional detox setting can ensure that an individual has the right amount of care, hydration, and medication (generally sedatives) that they need to detox safely. Professionals will also ensure that an individual does not detox too fast, as sometimes alcohol will need to come out of an individual’s system slower than using a “cold turkey” method.

A professional detox can also ensure that an individual is connected to the next steps of their recovery. This may be via a recovery community (such as a 12-step community) or a reputable treatment center. Utilizing these steps can ensure that an individual does not go right back out after detox and relapse, and thus have to go through the whole detox process all over again. Moreover, according to the clinical journal titled Current Psychiatry Reports, “For 1-year outcomes across alcohol, nicotine, weight, and illicit drug abuse, studies show that more than 85% of individuals relapse and return to drug [and/or alcohol] use within 1 year of treatment.” The goal of a good detox program is to prevent this from happening.

Our Treatment Mission at The Phoenix Recovery Center

Here at The Phoenix Recovery Center, our treatment mission is long-term recovery. We know that for many of us, that journey begins with a detox.

The hardest part of recovery is starting. However, once someone makes that brave step forward, we can help take them the rest of the way.

There are many benefits to knowing what alcohol withdrawal and alcohol withdrawal syndrome look like. Knowing this information and recognizing the warning signs can help us get people the help they need sooner rather than later. If you feel like you or someone you love is struggling with issues of mental illness, addiction, or both, we can help get you and your loved ones on the road to a successful long-term recovery. For more information regarding alcohol withdrawal timelines, alcohol withdrawal symptoms, and the benefits of detoxing as soon as possible, please reach out to The Phoenix Recovery Center today at (801) 438-3185.

The Phoenix Recovery Center
489 W. South Jordan Pkwy
Suite 400
South Jordan, UT