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Written by Amethyst Recovery

Amethyst Recovery is a foremost authority on addiction and a trusted online source of substance abuse information. Their expert team of addiction professionals provide well researched content for people in the grip of addiction. All posts are fact checked and sourced.

Understanding Alcohol Withdrawal

When someone drinks alcohol, it affects their brain chemicals, and it impacts the general functionality of the brain and central nervous system. Since alcohol is a depressant, it can cause the central nervous system to slow down, which is why people might feel drowsy or uncoordinated when they drink, particularly in excess. Alcohol also affects neurotransmitters like GABA and dopamine. This is why drinking can feel pleasurable.

As someone’s brain is repeatedly exposed to alcohol and its effects, a reward response can begin. That can lead to a psychological addiction to alcohol. Also possible is dependence. Dependence can occur regardless of whether or not someone is diagnosed as having an alcohol addiction.

Dependence means that if someone were to stop drinking, their body and brain would struggle to adjust and function normally without the presence and effects of alcohol. This struggle to return to normalcy is called withdrawal.

Alcohol withdrawal symptoms can vary from mild to severe. Alcohol withdrawal can be deadly as well. Around five percent of people who go through alcohol withdrawal will experience what are called delirium tremens or DTs. Of those people who experience DTs, one in 20 will ultimately die. Proper medical care and treatment for alcohol withdrawal symptoms can prevent death.

The primary reason people experience alcohol withdrawal is that their GABA receptors in the brain show a decreased level of responsiveness after ongoing exposure to alcohol.

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The Alcohol Withdrawal Timeline

The alcohol withdrawal timeline refers to how long someone experiences alcohol withdrawal symptoms. The signs and symptoms of alcohol withdrawal can be both physical and psychological, and the majority of symptoms occur because of what’s happening in the central nervous system.

For most people, the alcohol withdrawal timeline begins within six to 24 hours after they have their last drink. This can vary, based on the amount of alcohol intake, how long someone has been drinking, and any history of previous alcohol withdrawal.

Treatment

While alcohol withdrawal can be scary to think about, there are alcohol withdrawal treatment options available. Often benzodiazepines are used as one part of treating alcohol withdrawal symptoms.

Certain vitamins and nutritional supplements may be used, as well as over-the-counter medicines when needed. If someone is experiencing severe alcohol withdrawal symptoms, they may require inpatient treatment such as a medical detox program.

There isn’t one answer as to how long alcohol withdrawal will last, but there are general guidelines that you can consider.

How Long Does It Last?

For most people, the symptoms of alcohol withdrawal will begin anywhere from six hours following the last drink up to a few days later. Most alcohol withdrawal symptoms will peak within 24 to 72 hours, and start to subside within a week. For some people, there may be lingering symptoms for several weeks.

For someone to be classified as going through alcohol withdrawal syndrome, they should display at least two symptoms from the following list:

  • Shakes or hand tremors
  • Insomnia
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Hallucinations—auditory, visual or tactile
  • Psychomotor agitation
  • Anxiety
  • Tonic-clonic seizures

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Duration

For some people who are very severe alcoholics, some symptoms of alcohol withdrawal can begin within two hours after they have their last drink. For most people, within 48 hours the symptoms of alcohol withdrawal will usually start to lessen and get better.

However, it’s possible that severe symptoms can start to occur after 48 hours including delirium tremens. Severe symptoms may last for four to 12 days.

Stages

The following is a sample of what the stages of alcohol withdrawal can look like for some people:

  • Within 6 to 12 hours after the last drink, some of the milder symptoms of withdrawal might start to occur. These can include shakiness, tremors, headache, increased sweating, nausea, vomiting and anxiety.
  • 12 to 24 hours after someone stops drinking, a more severe alcohol withdrawal stage may begin. Symptoms at this time can include tremors, agitation, confusion and possible hallucinations.
  • Within 24 to 48 hours after the last drink, there is a risk of seizures developing. The other symptoms from previous stages will also likely continue during this time.
  • For some, within 48 hours symptoms will start to improve. If not, the later stage of alcohol withdrawal may include delirium tremens, the inability to distinguish hallucinations from reality, extreme confusion, high blood pressure, and

Can it Be Even Longer?

While 7 to 12 days is the typical alcohol withdrawal duration, is it possible that the alcohol withdrawal length can be longer? The answer to that is yes.

There is something called protracted alcohol withdrawal syndrome. Protracted alcohol withdrawal syndrome extends the alcohol withdrawal length. A person is no longer in the acute stage of alcohol withdrawal, and symptoms will start to gradually decline in severity, even though they will persist.

Sometimes people may have symptoms of protracted withdrawal for up to a year after they stop drinking.

These symptoms might include cravings, the inability to feel pleasure which is known as anhedonia, problems with senses, disorientation and continuing nausea, vomiting and headaches. Insomnia is also a common symptom of protracted alcohol withdrawal.

Withdrawal Remedies

Sometimes people will search for alcohol withdrawal remedies they can do at home. This is not advisable and can be dangerous or deadly. Individuals who don’t have severe alcohol dependencies may be able to detox at home, but they should only do so under the guidance of a medical professional.

For many alcoholics, this isn’t an option at all, and they will require either inpatient or some form of intensive outpatient detox. Alcohol detox and withdrawal can be very severe. During a medical detox, patients are constantly monitored and cared for, to help prevent severe or life-threatening symptoms.

There are certain vitamins and nutritional supplements that may be important as someone is detoxing from alcohol, but there aren’t surefire alcohol withdrawal remedies that serve as a cure-all. It’s very important to seek medical advice and care.

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Drugs

Doctors may prescribe certain alcohol withdrawal drugs to a patient, whether they’re being treated on an outpatient or inpatient basis. Alcohol withdrawal drugs may be simple over-the-counter medicines to treat symptoms as they occur. Other medications may be prescription alcohol withdrawal drugs.

Some alcohol withdrawal drugs approved by the FDA specifically for the treatment of alcohol abuse-related issues include:

  • Antabuse is a brand-name medication that isn’t necessarily a withdrawal treatment but is designed to help people avoid relapsing or returning to alcohol abuse. If someone takes Antabuse and they then relapse and drink again, they will become very ill as a result. Antabuse creates a type of aversion therapy.
  • Campral is a brand-name medication that is believed to inhibit the actions of certain brain neurotransmitters in the central nervous system. It can help reduce alcohol cravings in some people.
  • ReVia is also a brand-name medication that can help reduce alcohol cravings.
  • Benzodiazepines have long been the standard alcohol withdrawal drug. Benzodiazepines are a class of central nervous system depressants that can help treat a variety of alcohol withdrawal symptoms. Some of the symptoms benzodiazepines can help treat include anxiety, seizures, and insomnia. However, benzodiazepines are also drugs of abuse, so they have to be carefully monitored when they’re used in a situation of alcohol withdrawal.
  • Clonidine, which is a medication used to treat high blood pressure, may help with many of the symptoms of alcohol withdrawal. Clonidine is best suited to people with mild or moderate withdrawal symptoms and it can improve mood, reduce blood pressure and sweating and help with anxiety and irritability.
  • Some anticonvulsants may be administered as alcohol withdrawal drugs including gabapentin. Anticonvulsants can help prevent or control alcohol withdrawal-induced seizures.
  • Muscle relaxers like baclofen may be used to help reduce cravings in some people as they go through alcohol withdrawal.
  • If someone is experiencing hallucinations, they may be given

Vitamins

When someone regularly abuses large amounts of alcohol, it not only affects their brain function and brain neurotransmitters. It can also deplete their body of important vitamins and nutrients. Nutrition can be an important part of treating alcoholism.

There are also certain nutritional supplements and vitamins that can be especially helpful during alcohol withdrawal.

Alcohol withdrawal vitamins aren’t a remedy or treatment for symptoms and don’t replace medical care, but they can be beneficial when administered along with other necessary medical care.

Some important vitamins during alcohol withdrawal and recovery include:

  • Both vitamins A and C are often depleted in people who struggle with alcohol. Vitamin A plays an important role in keeping the nervous system healthy and vitamin C is integral to immunity. As you’re going through withdrawal from alcohol, it can weaken your immune system and supplementing with vitamin C can be helpful as a person is detoxing from alcohol, as can vitamin A.
  • Vitamins B1 and B2, which are also known as thiamin and riboflavin, help the body use nutrients and convert them to energy. As someone is going through alcohol withdrawal, vitamin B1 supplementation can help reduce fatigue and improve mental clarity. Vitamin B2 can be helpful to reduce common symptoms of withdrawal including tremors and headaches.
  • Vitamins B3, B6 and B9 are helpful to improve how alcohol is metabolized by the body, and these B vitamins can also help the adrenal glands function properly. Anxiety and alcohol cravings may be reduced with proper B vitamin supplementation.

Get Help For Alcohol Dependence Today

If you would like to learn more about detoxing safely from alcohol and the treatment options that can free you from the confines of alcoholism, contact Amethyst Recovery Today.

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