Medically Reviewed by Dr. Mohammed Saeed, MD.
Alcohol withdrawal symptoms usually occur within 8 hours after the last drink but can occur days later. Symptoms usually peak in the 1st through 3rd day but may go on for weeks. The level of alcohol addiction will affect withdrawal symptoms that can range from mild to life threatening. Because of the danger to the patient, detox has to be supervised by a medical staff.
The 3 Phases of Alcohol Withdrawal Symptoms
- Alcohol withdrawal symptoms phase 1: Anxiety, nervousness, depression, fatigue, irritability, jumpiness, shakiness, mood swings, insomnia, nausea, nightmares, unclear thinking, clammy skin, dilated pupils, loss of appetite, nausea vomiting, and abdominal pain characterize this phase, which begins 8 hours after the last drink.
- Alcohol withdrawal symptoms phase 2: High blood pressure, increased body temperature, unusual heart rate, sweating, and confusion come with phase, which begins 1-3 days after the last drink.
- Alcohol withdrawal symptoms phase 3: Hallucinations, fever, seizures, severe confusion and agitation come with this stage, which tends to begin 72+ hours after the last drink.
All symptoms tend to decrease within 5-7 days. Alcohol detox should be tailored, customized to the addict, by the length of time drinking, the amount used, medical history, presence of co-occurring mental health disorder, family history of addiction, childhood trauma, and stress levels. The use of other recreational drugs in conjunction with alcohol can also influence withdrawal and increase the dangers and side effects.
The most serious form of alcohol withdrawal is delirium tremens (DTs), which occurs in 3-5% in alcohol withdrawal, and it can be fatal without treatment.
DTs may not start for a few days after alcohol leaves the system, and it can occur fast. It is the main reason that alcohol detox should be closely monitored by a medical professional who can continually check vital symptoms and ensure the individual’s safety during detox.
Stopping cold turkey for the alcoholic is dangerous. Alcohol withdrawal can be fatal, as the brain and central nervous system experience a rebound after being suppressed by alcohol repetitively for an extended period of time. The sudden removal of the central nervous system depressant can be life threatening.