Medically Reviewed by Dr. Mohammed Saeed, MD.
Side effects from alcohol withdrawal vary greatly and can range from mild anxiety and irritability to nausea, shaking, headaches, clammy skin, insomnia, and depression. For individuals with a history of heavy alcohol abuse, withdrawal may result in delirium tremens (DTs), which can lead to seizures. Symptoms of alcohol withdrawal usually appear from 6-48 hours after heavy alcohol use stops and may last up to a few weeks.
Should alcohol withdrawal be medically supervised?
Once you decide to quit using alcohol, the first step should be a conversation with your doctor. Alcohol withdrawal can impact the body both physically and mentally and may be affected by pre-existing health conditions. It’s safest to start with a doctor who knows your full medical history. Your doctor can advise you on a treatment plan, which may include outpatient treatment or an inpatient residential treatment program. He or she will have resources to help you and your family make the best choice for your successful recovery.
What can you do to ease the side effects of withdrawal?
- Take time off work and delegate other responsibilities to focus on your goal.
- Find someone you trust to help you through the process.
- Drink lots of fluids, including water and drinks containing electrolytes (Gatorade, Pedialyte).
- Eat nutritious food, avoid caffeine.
- Take vitamin and mineral supplements. Vitamins B, C, and E and minerals like calcium and magnesium may help to remove toxins and lessen symptoms.
- Keep busy – listen to music, walk, read, renew an old hobby or start a new one.
- Practice deep breathing, meditation, and exercise.
- Keep away from people, places, or situations that have triggered problem drinking in the past.
- Attend AA meetings – AA meetings are not just for help with staying on the road to recovery but can also be very beneficial while going through alcohol withdrawal.
What can family do to help when a loved one is detoxing?
Those with a strong support system, both during alcohol withdrawal and on the recovery path, have a significantly better chance at long-term success. Family and friends can help by:
- Encouraging medical supervision.
- Ensuring there is no alcohol in the house.
- Keeping car keys secure.
- Being calm and supportive.
- Not leaving detoxing person alone.
- Attending support group meetings and counseling sessions with your loved one.