If you’ve been drinking alcohol heavily for years, months, or even weeks, you might experience both mental and physical problems when you stop or just cut down your use. This experience is called alcohol withdrawal; your symptoms can range from mild to severe to life-threatening. However, if you only drink once in a while, it’s not likely that you’ll have withdrawal symptoms when you stop. Still, if you’ve experienced alcohol withdrawal once before, there’s a higher likelihood that you’ll go through it again the next time you quit.

Our team at Magnolia City Detox can help you detox from alcohol and learn about what happens during withdrawal.

Withdrawal symptoms happen because your body has become physically dependent on the substance. If you suddenly quit drinking coffee after drinking 10 cups a day, you may get withdrawal symptoms in the form of headaches.

Alcohol is a central nervous system depressant that alters the way your brain works. That is, drinking alcohol causes your brain to produce more GABA (a chemical messenger in your brain that makes you feel calm and euphoric) and less glutamate (the chemical messenger that makes you feel excitable).

To accommodate this change, your brain eventually starts to produce less GABA and more glutamate to try to balance it out. When you suddenly stop drinking alcohol, your brain can’t catch up and you feel the effects of the neurotransmitter (chemical messenger) imbalance. This is what brings on the withdrawal symptoms such as anxiety, jumpiness, and tremors.

Whether you go through withdrawal when you quit drinking depends on several different factors including

  • How much you usually drink
  • How long you’ve been an alcohol drinker
  • How suddenly you stop drinking
  • Other health issues you may have

How Long Do Alcohol Withdrawals Last?

Withdrawal happens when you stop drinking alcohol suddenly after drinking for an extended and consistent period of time. Any type of withdrawal is uncomfortable, but alcohol is one of the very few substances that have a potentially fatal withdrawal period. But it is possible to get through alcohol detox safely if you get the proper treatment and don’t try to quit cold turkey alone.
alcohol detox timeline

Symptoms and Stages of the Alcohol Detox Timeline

Symptoms of alcohol withdrawal range from mild to severe. Your symptoms will depend on how much you drank and how long. How long and how severely you feel withdrawal symptoms depends on your situation. Most people get over their symptoms in about a week. Even though your symptoms don’t follow this particular timeline, many people go through withdrawal in three stages:

Stage 1 begins within 6 hours of quitting and may last up to seven days. Usually, the first symptoms are uncomfortable but mild. They include:

  • Tremors
  • Anxiety
  • Mood change
  • Nightmares, insomnia, and other sleep problems
  • Jumpiness
  • Fatigue
  • Appetite loss
  • Dilated pupils
  • Sweating
  • Headache
  • Shaky hands
  • Nausea and vomiting

The majority of people will recover from detox after experiencing these symptoms.

This stage starts within the first 48 hours and may also last up to a week. The second stage usually peaks between 24 to 72 hours after the last drink. However, about 10% of people who enter this stage without treatment will get more serious and even life-threatening symptoms. These include:

  • Fever
  • Faster breathing
  • Severe sweating
  • Confusion
  • Hallucinations
  • Seizures

While serious, seizures from alcohol withdrawal are rarely fatal and usually happen before delirium tremens (DTs). Reports show that about one-third of people who begin having seizures during withdrawal will develop DTs. This means it’s an important symptom to watch.

If you haven’t experienced any severe symptoms after 48 hours, it’s likely that you’ll only have mild symptoms. Still, there is a possibility that you’ll experience them later on, in which case you’ll need immediate medical care.

Stage 3 starts in 48 hours and usually lasts two to four days. However, it may linger for up to a week. Approximately 50% of people who have seizures during withdrawal will eventually develop DTs. Most people who do start between 48 to 72 hours after they quit drinking. This means that the first few days after you quit are the most dangerous and critical of the alcohol detox timeline. It’s especially important that you get medical care during this stage particularly if you’re experiencing symptoms of DTs. Symptoms of DTs include:

  • Visual and audio hallucinations
  • Confusion
  • Racing heart
  • Rapid changes in mood
  • Bursts of energy
  • Severe sweating
  • Fever and/or hyperthermia (chills)
  • Grand mal seizures (these can cause muscle contractions and loss of consciousness)
  • Agitation
  • Fatigue or sleepiness
  • Heart failure

Although DTs aren’t fatal most of the time, the mortality rate is as high as 25% for people who get DTs. But this number is notably lower for people who get medical care. Having DTs is considered a medical emergency so if you notice these symptoms call 911 or go to the hospital immediately.

Sometimes, people who go through alcohol withdrawal may have symptoms for longer after quitting drinking. It may last from a week to months and is called post-acute withdrawal syndrome. Symptoms of PAWS include mood problems and continued trouble sleeping. Unfortunately, this fourth stage can last from six months to 2 years.

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10 Benefits of Quitting Alcohol

If you struggle with alcohol use and want to quit, use these potential benefits to motivate you:

Alcohol plays a part in at least 50% of all serious trauma injuries and deaths from drownings, homicides, and burns. Also, it’s involved in 40% of all fatal falls and traffic accidents, as well as suicides. Just cutting down on your alcohol use by one-third can lower your risk of being injured in an accident or injuring another person.

You may have heard that a regular glass of red wine or other alcoholic beverage might be good for your heart. Well, that may be true for light drinkers (less than one drink per day). If you drink more than that, cutting down or quitting may lower your blood pressure, fat levels, and chances of heart failure.

Alcohol is toxic to your liver cells whose job is to filter toxins. Heavy drinking (at least 15 drinks for men and eight or more for women per week) can lead to fatty liver, cirrhosis, and other issues. Fortunately, your liver can repair itself and even regenerate. This means it’s always worth drinking less or quitting.

A serving of wine has about 120 calories and a regular beer contains about 150. On top of that, alcohol increases your appetite, makes you more impulsive, and makes you less able to resist high-calorie items. If you stay away from alcohol, the numbers on your scale may start to drop. You may even consider a special alcohol recovery diet to help develop better eating habits.

Drinking socially in reasonable amounts can lift your mood and help you connect with others. But if you’re drinking alone or consuming multiple drinks per day, it can be an unhealthy habit. If you can’t control it, it may lead to alcohol use disorder (AUD). When you give up drinking, you can focus on relationships, work, and health. Reducing alcohol consumption might also ease depression, and anxiety, and increase your self-esteem.

A little alcohol may make some couples friskier, but any more than a drink or so a day can have the opposite effect. This is especially true if you abuse or are addicted to alcohol. Heavy alcohol use can make it difficult for men to keep an erection and decrease sex drive for women.

Although alcohol might make you drowsy at first, once you fall asleep, it can actually wake you up repeatedly throughout the night. Also, it disturbs the important REM stage of sleep and can interfere with your breathing. You may also be getting up more frequently in the night to use the bathroom.

Even just one night of drinking too much can weaken your body’s germ-fighting power for up to 24 hours. Large amounts of alcohol over time can hinder your immune system and your body’s ability to repair itself.

If you’ve been drinking a lot and your blood pressure is too high, giving up alcohol might help you bring your numbers back down to normal. Alcohol can increases the levels of a hormone in your blood that constricts vessels. This will raise your blood pressure, so even reducing your alcohol consumption can improve blood pressure.

Dependence on alcohol makes it harder to remember things. After a while, heavy drinking can impair your perception of volumes, and distances, or slow and harm your motor skills. It even makes it harder for some people to recognize other people’s emotions. When you quit, your brain can regain some of those abilities.

Is It Safe to Detox Without Help?

Clearly, the safest way to detox from alcohol is with the supervision of a healthcare provider. If you go to a hospital or detox facility, you are assured that qualified professionals are always around to help you be comfortable and as safe as possible throughout the process, You should be especially careful of going through withdrawal without medical supervision if you have a high risk of developing DTs. Factors that elevate your risk include:
how long do alcohol withdrawals last
  • You have been drinking alcohol every day for a long period of time. (Some people might even call you a “lifetime drinker.”)
  • You have had DTs before while detoxing.
  • You have been having seizures or you have a history of seizures.
  • You have an infection.

Are There Any Medications That Help

Medications are the front-line treatments for serious alcohol withdrawal and may even save your life. They include:

  • Benzodiazepines–This class of anti-anxiety medication is often prescribed to treat DTs and help your brain adjust to the abrupt absence of alcohol. It can help prevent the onset of more serious withdrawal stages.
  • Anticonvulsants–These help prevent seizures.
  • Vitamins–It’s common for people with AUD to have nutrient deficiencies.
  • Disulfiram–If you’re trying to achieve abstinence but worried about a relapse, or had relapses before, disulfiram deters drinking by causing unpleasant symptoms if you drink alcohol.
  • Acamprosate–People who have successfully achieved abstinence from alcohol may use acamprosate to help prevent a relapse.
  • Naltrexone and nalmefene–These drugs are also used to prevent a relapse or limit the amount of alcohol consumed.

Magnolia City Detox Provides the Support You Need

Have you tried to detox from alcohol on your own or help a loved one through withdrawal? It’s a major battle and you really need professional supervision and support.

The Magnolia City Detox continuum of care will be your support from the beginning with medical detox and a therapeutic stabilization period to make sure you’re prepared for treatment. We also provide a residential treatment program and a dual diagnosis program if you’re struggling with substance abuse and your mental health. You can learn more about these services below.

What’s a Residential (Inpatient) Treatment Program?

In a residential program, you’re able to live at the treatment facility and concentrate on getting yourself well. There are no triggers or distractions from your previous life to derail your recovery. Residents are safe and secure and take part in a structured therapy program.

What’s a Dual Diagnosis Program?

A dual diagnosis is when an individual has an addiction and a co-occurring mental condition. Unfortunately, this is a common occurrence because many people with underlying mental conditions such as depression will turn to alcohol to try to ease their symptoms. It’s essential to have both conditions treated at the same time. Magnolia City Detox is prepared to do that.

Whatever you choose, Magnolia City Detox in Conroe, TX, has an experienced, caring, and understanding professional staff who look forward to helping people and families like you. Contact us today and get started on a completely confidential evaluation of your situation. You have plenty of questions and we are happy to provide answers.

Dr. Olaniyi O. Osuntokun

Dr. Olaniyi O. Osuntokun is a Neurology & Psychiatry Specialist based in Conroe, Texas, and Lafayette, Indiana. He has extensive experience in treating Individuals with substance use disorders and addiction. He earned his medical degree from University of Ibadan College of Medicine and has been in practice for more than 20 years.

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