Alcohol Withdrawal: What to Expect

What is withdrawal?

Withdrawal can occur if you’re a heavy drinker and stop drinking. The symptoms can be mild to severe. How bad they are depends on:

  • How much alcohol you drink

  • How long you've been drinking

  • If you have organ damage

Withdrawal can start 6 to 24 hours after your last drink. It often eases after a few days. It can be uncomfortable and unpleasant. But most people don’t have serious or life-threatening problems. Long-standing heavy drinkers can have bad symptoms. This can lead to seizures. It may be deadly if not treated right away. These people must be under medical care during withdrawal.

What symptoms will I have?

Withdrawal symptoms can start when you stop drinking. Or if you cut back a lot on your drinking. Most people have mild symptoms, such as

  • Trouble sleeping

  • Headache

  • Vivid dreams

  • Irritability

  • Anxiety

  • Mild stomach problems

  • Tremors or “the shakes”

  • Sweating

  • Fast heartbeat

  • Higher blood pressure

More severe symptoms (called delirium tremens, or DTs) are:

  • Fever

  • Hallucinations

  • Delusions

  • Confusion

  • Agitation

  • Seizures

Can I do this at home?

How you manage alcohol withdrawal depends on your history. If you are a long-time, heavy drinker, have had a seizure during a previous alcohol withdrawal, or been told you had DTs on a past withdrawal, you will need close monitoring. You may be able to stay home while you go through withdrawal. But you need to talk with an expert to make this decision. Work closely with an addiction specialist. Or talk with your healthcare provider. Based on your past drinking and withdrawal symptoms, your provider may be able to tell how bad your symptoms may be.

If you are expected to have mild withdrawal, you may be able stay home. But you’ll need a caregiver to help you. You may also have daily visits and phone calls from a provider, such as a drug and alcohol nurse.

Your provider may give you a type of sedating medicine. It may help keep withdrawal symptoms under control. They may also give you other medicines to ease headaches or nausea. Stay well-hydrated so your symptoms are less extreme.

What happens if I am in a hospital or rehab center?

You may need to stay in a hospital or a treatment center if your provider thinks you may have bad withdrawal symptoms. Or if you have other health problems that can make withdrawal harder. Medical staff can more closely watch you. They can also give you more medicine, if needed. This includes IV medicines, fluids, and vitamins. These may help reduce complications. Ask about a referral for long-term support for stopping or reducing drinking.

Revisor médico: L Renee Watson MSN RN
Revisor médico: Robert Hurd MD
Última revisión: 10/1/2022
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