If drinking is becoming a problem—alcohol use is interfering with work or relationships, you regularly drink more than you plan to, or you drink more than you used to—then treatment for alcohol use disorder is a critical step to stopping alcohol dependence. But what happens to the body when you stop drinking? What does it feel like to stop drinking? How long does alcohol withdrawal last?
These are questions you might be asking if you are coming to terms with the reality that your drinking is not healthy. How will you deal with alcohol withdrawal if you decide to stop?
We’re glad you want to know because understanding alcohol withdrawal is an important part of successful treatment. When you know what to expect, you can go into treatment committed to stopping drinking. That said, every person is different. How often and how long you’ve been drinking will impact what it feels like to go through alcohol withdrawal.
The good news is, on the other side of withdrawal is an opportunity to get healthy again. So, while alcohol withdrawal symptoms can vary from shakiness and anxiety to life-threatening Delirium Tremens (DTs), if you go through withdrawal under medical supervision, you will land on the other side of detox in a place where treatment is successful.
Let’s talk more about how long alcohol withdrawal can last and how to deal with alcohol withdrawal.
How Long Will I Experience Alcohol Withdrawal?
There are basically three different stages of dealing with alcohol withdrawal and typically begin within 6 hours to a day after the last drink. The stage and severity of alcohol withdrawal you experience depend on how much, how often, and how long you drank. Typically, withdrawal symptoms decrease within five to seven days, but the psychological side effects can last several weeks and beyond without proper treatment. Here are some general guidelines.
Stage 1 – within 8 hours of the last drink: This usually includes anxiety, and you may experience abdominal pain. Insomnia is common.
Stage 2 – within 24 to 72 hours after the last drink: Your blood pressure can rise, along with body temperature. Your heart rate may fluctuate, too. You might feel confused.
Stage 3 – 72 hours to 7 days: This is when hallucinations may set in, and some people will experience seizures. Agitation is common.
That depends on your alcohol use and how long you’ve been drinking. Someone who has been drinking heavily for a long period of time is more likely to experience withdrawal symptoms. You know you’re experiencing withdrawal if you crave a drink to relieve symptoms of shakiness, nausea, anxiety, insomnia, restlessness, sweating, or increased heart rate. You can feel agitated or overly excited—anxious or depressed. More severe withdrawal symptoms range from hallucinations and confusion to generalized tonic-clonic seizures and Delirium Tremens (DTs), which can be fatal without treatment. DTs involve sudden, severe mental and nervous system changes because the body is so used to functioning with alcohol in the system that it struggles without it.
Do You Need Alcohol Detox?
You’ll be more likely to deal with withdrawal symptoms if you’ve been drinking heavily and/or for a long period of time—or if you’ve experienced withdrawal symptoms before. That is why detoxing in a safe, supportive environment with a medical professional is so important. Detox is basically a safe zone where you can go through withdrawal symptoms knowing that medical and counseling professionals are by your side. Choose an alcohol rehab facility that can provide detox, treatment, and aftercare so you can go through the entire process with the support you need to stop drinking successfully.
Without detox, withdrawal symptoms may become so severe that a person will choose to drink to put their systems at ease. The mental and physical side effects of withdrawal can be powerful. But in detox, you’ve got the attention you need right there so you can commit to alcohol treatment. Withdrawal is more successful and safe in a detox environment.
Dealing With Alcohol Withdrawal
How can you cope when going through alcohol withdrawal? While detox is the best option for some people, recovering in an outpatient program may suit others. There’s no right answer for how to deal with withdrawal. Again, withdrawal symptoms will depend on the frequency and amount of alcohol consumed, along with a person’s history and environment. For one, the best way to deal with withdrawal is to go into an alcohol rehab facility that offers detox. For another, reducing alcohol consumption is possible while managing minor withdrawal side effects.
As you go through alcohol treatment, here are some ways to deal with alcohol withdrawal:
Think positive. You got this. You can beat this. Give yourself plenty of positive affirmations, and surround yourself with people who will support you and bring you up during this difficult time.
Distract yourself. What can you do besides drink? How about treating yourself to a movie or going for a walk—exercise releases feel-good endorphins that can help battle stress, anxiety, depression, and irritability.
Reach for a hobby. Or, try something new. The idea is to find ways to spend the time you would have been drinking by doing something positive instead. Maybe that’s watching Netflix, reading a book, knitting, yoga, joining a local club, or volunteering. Replace that drinking time with an activity that will keep you engaged and feeling positive.
Call in the support. Lean on a family or friend who will support you when you’re going through alcohol withdrawal. If relationships are severed, seek out alcohol counseling—it’s confidential and can lead to resources and even relationships with others going through the same struggle. You don’t have to deal with alcohol withdrawal alone. In fact, you really shouldn’t. Ask for and accept help.
How Will You Handle Alcohol Withdrawal?
If you know you’re drinking too much or having a tough time stopping drinking, ask for help. Beachway Therapy Center is here for you, and we can answer any questions you have about alcohol rehab and alcohol withdrawal. There’s no obligation, and your call is completely confidential. (A real person will answer the phone.)