Suggested links

Alcohol Withdrawal Symptoms

When someone who has been drinking excessively stops drinking, they may experience alcohol withdrawal. This is when the body and mind react negatively to the absence of alcohol. Alcohol withdrawal is common in people who are recovering from alcohol addiction.

Battling addiction and ready for treatment? Find Treatment Now

What Is Alcohol Withdrawal?

Alcohol withdrawal is a sign of alcohol use disorder and occurs when someone who has been drinking alcohol for a long time suddenly stops drinking.

Alcohol withdrawal is the body’s natural reaction to cutting off alcohol consumption after it has grown accustomed to and dependent on it.

In other words, alcohol withdrawal syndrome is caused by a physical dependence on alcohol. Unfortunately, this health condition can be dangerous and potentially life-threatening.

Doctors should medically supervise withdrawal from alcohol to ensure a person’s safety. If you suspect someone is withdrawing from alcohol, seek medical care immediately.

What Causes Alcohol Withdrawal?

When you stop drinking alcohol after your body has become dependent on it, you may experience withdrawal symptoms. Alcohol withdrawal occurs because of the way alcohol interacts with the brain.

Alcohol is a central nervous system depressant with sedation effects. It causes the brain to produce more gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA) and less glutamate.

GABA is the neurotransmitter (brain messaging chemical) that makes you feel calm and euphoric, while glutamate is what makes you feel excited.

Because the effects of alcohol create this chemical imbalance, the brain starts producing less GABA and more glutamate to try to balance itself.

When your body’s alcohol levels suddenly drop, your brain can’t respond quickly enough to reverse this imbalance, which leads to symptoms of withdrawal.

Find Addiction Treatment
  • Specialized Treatment
  • Comprehensive Support
  • Personalized Care

Find Treatment Now

Paid advertising from Centric Behavioral Health

Timeline of Alcohol Withdrawal Symptoms

The side effects associated with alcohol withdrawal can range from mild to potentially life-threatening, depending on the severity of a person’s alcohol dependency or addiction.

Below is a timeline of alcohol withdrawal symptoms you can expect during the withdrawal process.

First Six Hours After the Last Drink

You may begin to experience common withdrawal symptoms as soon as six hours after your last drink of alcohol.

Mild symptoms during the first six hours typically include:

  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Sweating
  • Hand tremors
  • Headache
  • Anxiety
  • Insomnia

Depending on the severity of the addiction, these alcohol withdrawal symptoms can last up to seven days.

Medical professionals may prescribe medications to alleviate some of these symptoms if you are going through the withdrawal process at a treatment center or detox facility.

12-48 Hours After the Last Drink

The second phase of alcohol withdrawal can begin as early as the 12-hour mark after stopping drinking. The symptoms associated with this stage are significantly more severe.

At this point, you may even experience hallucinations and confusion.

Other alcohol withdrawal symptoms during the second phase include:

  • Increased blood pressure
  • Increased heart rate
  • Rapid breathing
  • Mild hypothermia
  • Seizures

48-72 Hours After the Last Drink

People battling severe withdrawal symptoms may experience delirium tremens (DTs) by the third phase of alcohol withdrawal, or about 48 to 72 hours after quitting drinking alcohol.

Symptoms of DTs affect both physical and mental health and include:

  • Vivid visual or auditory hallucinations
  • Delusions
  • Disorientation
  • Rapid mood changes
  • Fever and/or hypothermia
  • Agitation
  • Sleepiness or fatigue
  • Energy bursts
  • Fever
  • Sweating
  • Racing heart
  • High blood pressure
  • Confusion
  • Seizures

If someone is undergoing DTs due to alcohol withdrawal, they should receive treatment under medical supervision before starting alcohol addiction treatment.

Delirium tremens is a dangerous part of the withdrawal process. Don’t risk your or your loved one’s health by attempting at-home detox.

Get the help you need to withdraw safely; see supervised alcohol detox options below.

How Do You Know If You’re Experiencing Alcohol Withdrawal?

If you’re wondering if you or a family member need help with alcohol withdrawal, you may need to perform a quick alcohol use self-assessment to see if you should seek care.

Ask yourself the following questions:

  • Are you feeling ill when you don’t drink alcohol (i.e., nausea, getting headaches)?
  • Do you feel anxious when you can’t drink?
  • Are you experiencing unusual symptoms when it’s been a while since you had a drink (i.e., confusion, agitation)?
  • Do your hands start to shake in the morning or after a period of not drinking?
  • Are you having trouble sleeping if you don’t drink first?
  • Do you experience rapid breathing or a racing heart when you can’t get a drink?

The above is not medical advice. But if you answered ‘yes’ to these questions, and your alcohol use has become a big part of your life (for instance, you drink daily), you may be going through withdrawal.

How Do Doctors Diagnose Alcohol Withdrawal Syndrome?

The University of Maryland Medical School created the Clinical Institute Withdrawal Assessment of Alcohol Scale (CIWA-Ar) to help treatment professionals identify if someone is undergoing Alcohol Withdrawal Syndrome (AWS). The CIWA-Ar can also help determine the severity of a person’s withdrawal symptoms.

The CIWA-Ar measures the severity of the following ten withdrawal symptoms:

  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Tactile disturbances
  • Tremors
  • Auditory disturbances
  • Paroxysmal sweating
  • Visual disturbances
  • Anxiety
  • Headaches
  • Agitation
  • Cloudiness or the inability to think clearly

Healthcare providers can use the results of this assessment to help identify your condition and suggest the appropriate level of detoxification care and follow-up alcohol treatment program.

Find Addiction Treatment
  • Specialized Treatment
  • Comprehensive Support
  • Personalized Care

Find Treatment Now

Paid advertising from Centric Behavioral Health

What Treatment Options Are There for Alcohol Withdrawal?

Treatment of alcohol withdrawal begins with an alcohol detox program. There are different levels of detox based on the severity of the withdrawal symptoms.

Before beginning treatment, it’s critical to consult a medical professional to determine the best and safest option for the management of alcohol withdrawal syndrome.

Alcohol Detox Programs

The safest way to withdraw from alcohol is with medical detox. A medical detox program provides the care and supervision of trained medical professionals.

Also called medically supervised detox, this program offers 24-hour medical care to address withdrawal symptoms.

During alcohol detox, you might receive prescription medications to help reduce cravings and alleviate withdrawal symptoms. For instance, anticonvulsants may be prescribed for severe alcohol withdrawal in case of withdrawal seizures.

Medications approved by the Food & Drug Administration for medical detox include:

  • Benzodiazepines such as Xanax® (alprazolam), Valium® (diazepam), or Ativan® (lorazepam)
  • Vivitrol® (naltrexone)
  • Antabuse® (disulfiram)
  • Campral® (acamprosate)
  • Librium® (chlordiazepoxide)

Doctors may also prescribe medications to restore your overall health, such as rebalanced electrolytes, psychiatry medications for mental disorders, and treatments for people battling symptoms of alcohol-related liver disease.

Alcohol Rehab Programs

Once you have completed detox, your doctor will likely recommend entering an inpatient or outpatient treatment program to continue treating your alcohol addiction.

During alcohol addiction treatment, you will participate in a variety of therapy sessions to help better understand what led to your addiction.

These therapy sessions will also offer ways to help you better manage triggers and cravings in the future without turning to alcohol again.

The best alcohol rehab centers also help prepare you for a sober life after treatment. They may provide employment support, specialized job training, and sober housing connections.

Alcohol Recovery Support Groups

Support group meetings are a powerful resource during substance abuse treatment and in long-term recovery.

Support groups such as Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) provide safe, supportive environments to share what you are going through and hear from others with similar experiences.

People you meet in support groups may become your recovery peers, supporting your recovery journey. They may even help you find new, non-alcohol-related activities.

You can find AA meetings in your local area by visiting the Alcoholics Anonymous website and using their meeting finder tool.

Get Help for Yourself or a Loved One Facing Alcohol Withdrawal

When not treated properly, alcohol withdrawal symptoms can be dangerous and, in some cases, even life-threatening.

Call the SAMHSA helpline at 1-800-662-4357 or visit their online program locator to find alcohol addiction treatment options in your area.

Ready for Treatment?

Centric Behavioral Health, our paid treatment center sponsor, is available 24/7:
Learn More About Centric or For Immediate Treatment Help, Call (888) 694-1249.

Alcohol Withdrawal FAQs

What does your body do when you stop drinking alcohol?

Alcohol withdrawal happens when you stop alcohol intake after you have formed a physical alcohol dependence.

This is your body’s reaction to removing a substance it has come to rely on to function normally.

What are the most serious withdrawal symptoms associated with alcoholism?

Some of the most serious symptoms of alcohol withdrawal that occur in people with alcoholism or alcohol use disorder include:

  • Fever
  • Seizures
  • Confusion
  • Hallucinations
  • Delusions

Some of these dangerous symptoms may result from delirium tremens, a severe form of alcohol withdrawal syndrome.

How quickly do alcohol withdrawal symptoms start?

The onset of alcohol withdrawal symptoms depends on the severity of a person’s alcohol use disorder, when they had their last drink, how often they drink, and the amount of alcohol they drink.

People who engage in heavy drinking regularly may see symptoms begin 6 to 8 hours after their last drink.

Is alcohol withdrawal treatable?

Alcohol withdrawal is treatable. The safest treatment options include medical supervision, such as medical detox programs, due to the risk factors associated with alcohol withdrawal.

Kent S. Hoffman, D.O. is a founder of Addiction HelpReviewed by:Kent S. Hoffman, D.O.

Chief Medical Officer & Co-Founder

  • Fact-Checked
  • Editor

Kent S. Hoffman, D.O. has been an expert in addiction medicine for more than 15 years. In addition to managing a successful family medical practice, Dr. Hoffman is board certified in addiction medicine by the American Osteopathic Academy of Addiction Medicine (AOAAM). Dr. Hoffman has successfully treated hundreds of patients battling addiction. Dr. Hoffman is the Co-Founder and Chief Medical Officer of and ensures the website’s medical content and messaging quality.

Jessica Miller is the Content Manager of Addiction HelpWritten by:

Editorial Director

Jessica Miller is the Editorial Director of Addiction Help. Jessica graduated from the University of South Florida (USF) with an English degree and combines her writing expertise and passion for helping others to deliver reliable information to those impacted by addiction. Informed by her personal journey to recovery and support of loved ones in sobriety, Jessica's empathetic and authentic approach resonates deeply with the Addiction Help community.

  1. Alcohol Withdrawal. Harvard Health. (2019, April 22).
  2. The ASAM Clinical Practice Guideline on Alcohol Withdrawal Management. The American Society of Addiction Medicine. (n.d.).
  3. Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research. (2022, May 18). Alcohol Use Disorder. Mayo Clinic.
  4. Newman, R. K., & Stobart Gallagher, M. A. (2023, July 21). Alcohol Withdrawal. StatPearls.
  5. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. (2023, December). Understanding Alcohol Use Disorder. National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism.

Sign Up For Our Newsletter

Our free email newsletter offers guidance from top addiction specialists, inspiring sobriety stories, and practical recovery tips to help you or a loved one keep coming back and staying sober.

By signing up, you’ll be able to:

  • Stay Focused on Recovery
  • Find Ways To Give Back
  • Connect with Others Like You
Sign Up For Our Newsletter
This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.

Find Treatment Now