Alcohol Withdrawal Timeline

Renaissance Recovery logo

By: Renaissance Recovery

Medically Reviewed by: Diana Vo, LMFT

Last Updated: 7/1/2021

An image of a girl going through the Alcohol Withdrawal Timeline

Authored By: Joe Gilmore

Table of Contents

While the alcohol withdrawal timeline will vary depending on the severity of the alcohol use disorder, most symptoms present over five to seven days.

Data from SAMHSA (Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration) indicate that over 28 million U.S. adults had alcohol use disorder in 2020. The same data shows that less than one in ten are connected with professional addiction treatment.

If you have been reluctant to initiate your recovery through fear of detoxing, today’s guide highlights the alcohol withdrawal symptoms timeline so you’ll know what to expect.

Research suggests that roughly half of those diagnosed with alcohol use disorder – the clinical descriptor for alcoholism – experience unpleasant withdrawal symptoms during detox.`

What can you expect from alcohol withdrawal, then?

What to Expect During an Alcohol Withdrawal

AWS (alcohol withdrawal syndrome) refers to the physical and emotional withdrawal symptoms that present when a heavy drinker moderates or discontinues the use of alcohol.

Mild AWS is characterized by these symptoms:

  • Anxiety
  • Fatigue
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting

Those who experience severe AWS may experience:

  • Hallucinations
  • Delirium
  • Life-threatening seizures

Why do withdrawal symptoms manifest during alcohol detox, though?

Well, the sustained consumption of alcohol typically triggers lasting changes to the CNS (central nervous system).

As a CNS depressant, alcohol has a sedative effect in the brain. Chronic or heavy drinking exposes you continuously to these depressant effects. Your brain will respond by producing chemicals to mitigate this imbalance, counteracting the sluggish feeling that episodes of heavy drinking can induce.

Consuming alcohol regularly will cause your brain to produce higher levels of the neurotransmitters – chemical messengers – norepinephrine and serotonin. If you eliminate alcohol, your brain becomes overstimulated. Alcohol withdrawal symptoms are a physical and emotional response to this temporary imbalance.

The symptoms of alcohol withdrawal present over three distinct stages:

  1. Mild AWS
  2. Moderate AWS
  3. Severe AWS (delirium tremens)

1) Mild AWS

These are the most reported symptoms of mild alcohol withdrawal:

  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Appetite loss
  • Headaches
  • Depression
  • Anxiety
  • Tremors
  • Abdominal pain
  • Gastrointestinal issues
  • Insomnia

2) Moderate AWS

If you experience moderate alcohol withdrawal, the above symptoms will manifest in addition to:

  • High body temperature
  • Rapid heartbeat
  • Increased perspiration
  • Shallow breathing
  • Heavy sweating
  • High systolic blood pressure levels
  • Confusion
  • Irritability
  • Mood swings

3) Severe AWS (delirium tremens)

Research shows that approximately 5% of those who detox from alcohol will experience severe withdrawal, otherwise known as DTs (delirium tremens). DTs can involve fatal seizures if untreated.

Anyone liable to develop severe AWS should avoid abruptly quitting alcohol at home. A supervised medical detox will mitigate complications and minimize the chance of relapse in early recovery.

Many variables influence the alcohol withdrawal timeline and the severity of symptoms, such as:

  • Duration of alcohol abuse.
  • Amount of alcohol consumed.
  • Physical health conditions.
  • Co-occurring mental health conditions
  • Stress levels.
  • Family history of alcohol abuse and addiction.

Not everyone will experience all of these symptoms. While every case of alcohol use disorder is different, the detox timeline is similar.

Timeline of Alcohol Withdrawal

These are the symptoms you can expect to encounter during the three stages of alcohol withdrawal outlined above:

  • Mild AWS: Symptoms include headaches, GI disturbances, anxiety, insomnia, and heart palpitations.
  • Moderate AWS: Mild hyperthermia, raised heart rate, confusion, abnormal breathing, and high blood pressure, in addition to the symptoms of mild AWS.
  • Severe AWS: Disorientation, attention issues, hallucinations, seizures, and the symptoms of mild and moderate AWS.

The duration and quantity of alcohol abuse directly impacts the alcohol detox and withdrawal timeline. Any underpinning physical or mental health conditions will also influence how long alcohol withdrawal lasts.

Although all cases of alcohol detox are unique, the following timeline is indicative of what to expect during withdrawal.

 

An infographic of the Alcohol Withdrawal Timeline

6 hours after last alcoholic drink

Expect to experience minor alcohol withdrawal symptoms during the early phase of detox.

12 hours to 24 hours after last alcoholic drink

The first day of sobriety is when hallucinations can present.

24 hours to 48 hours after last alcoholic drink

Tremors, headaches, stomach upsets, and other minor withdrawal symptoms linger. These symptoms should peak after 24 hours, then dissipate after just four or five days.

48 hours to 72 hours after last alcoholic drink

Delirium tremens, commonly abbreviated to DTs, is the most severe form of AWS impacting around 5% of people detoxing from alcohol. In the event of seizure, DTs can be fatal. Anyone expecting to experience severe AWS should always consider a medical detox. Quitting at home alone is simply too dangerous.

72 hours after last alcoholic drink

Symptoms of AWS will peak by this phase of alcohol detox for most people.

How Long Does it Take for Your Body to Return to Normal After Alcohol?

While there is no fixed blueprint for alcohol detox and withdrawal, most case of AWS involve symptoms that subside after no more than five days.

In the event of PAWS (post-acute withdrawal syndrome), symptoms can sometimes persist for a month or more.

Alcohol Detox at Renaissance Recovery

Detoxing from alcohol at home is inadvisable and could be dangerous or life-threatening. Avoid these complications by reaching out to Renaissance. We can connect you with licensed medical detox centers throughout Southern California.

With access to FDA-approved medications to streamline cravings and withdrawal symptoms, as well as clinical and emotional care, you will build the firmest foundation for ongoing recovery.

We offer treatment programs for alcoholism (alcohol use disorder) at the following levels of intensity:

If you cannot get to our Orange County treatment facility, consider our virtual IOP. This allows you to connect with therapy and counseling via video calls.

All Renaissance Recovery treatment programs for alcohol addiction draw from the same evidence-based and holistic interventions:

  • MAT
  • Psychotherapy (CBT or DBT)
  • Group counseling
  • Individual counseling
  • Family therapy
  • Experiential adventure therapy

To detox from alcohol as safely as possibly, and to benefit from structured and supportive treatment without the cost or the restrictions of residential rehab, call 866.330.9449 today.

An image of someone who is Giving up alcohol for lent
Addiction and Recovery

Giving Up Alcohol for Lent

Each year, Ash Wednesday signals the first day of Lent. Lent is the 40-day period leading up to Easter. Lent is traditionally viewed as a

Read More »
An image of a brain scan of Wet brain syndrome
Addiction and Recovery

Wet Brain Syndrome

Wet brain syndrome is the non-clinical term for WKS (Wernicke-Korsakoff syndrome). WKS is a brain disorder that is associated with the acute deficiency of thiamine

Read More »
an image of a client

Pat C

“I owe my life and my happiness to these people. October 8th, 2019 marked two years of sobriety for me, and prior to finding Renaissance I hadn’t had 24 hours sober in nearly 20 years.”

an image of a client

Paige R

“They truly cared for me and the other people that I served with! From this group, I have made 8 new brothers and friends for life! We have continued on, after the program, to take care of each other”

an image of a client

Courtney S

“Great staff who took the time to get to know me. They have a lot of experience in this field and have first hand experience with what I was going through. IOP is outstanding and really built up a ton of great relationships and found this program to be a ‘breath of fresh air’.”

Diana Vo, LMFT

Diana is an addiction expert and licensed marriage and family therapist who has been in the field of mental health for over 10 years.

Joseph Gilmore

Joseph Gilmore has been in the addiction industry for three years with experience working for facilities all across the country

Use Our 24 Hour text line. You can ask questions about our program, the admissions process, and more.