alcohol withdrawal

Alcohol Withdrawal Timeline – What to Expect


If you or a loved one has decided to stop consuming alcohol, you may be curious about what to expect after that last drink. I remember Googling this information on at least ten different occasions, so we’ve put together a comprehensive alcohol withdrawal timeline for you.


Casual drinkers may never experience any withdrawal symptoms, but an individual who has become physically dependent on alcohol will often experience serious withdrawal symptoms.


Disclaimer: Alcohol withdrawal can be dangerous and comes with the risk of death. We never recommend detoxing without the supervision of a medical professional.



Onset of Alcohol Withdrawal

In most cases, alcohol withdrawal begins within eight hours of the last drink. Some individuals begin experiencing alcohol withdrawal symptoms sooner.

Alcohol Withdrawal: 6 to 12 Hours

6-12 hours after alcohol cessation, many individuals begin experiencing the following symptoms:

  • Minor hand tremors
  • Sweating
  • Headaches
  • Stomach upset
  • Loss of appetite
  • Anxiety and stress
  • Trouble sleeping
  • Severe restlessness
  • Irritability
  • Unable to think or speak clearly (trouble putting sentences together, cloudy thoughts)

Individuals who are severely dependent on alcohol may also begin developing serious symptoms within six hours, such as tremulousness, seizures and hallucinations. Tremulousness is often referred to as “the shakes” and is often accompanied by anxiety, headaches, nausea and night sweats. Individuals who experience seizures may also lose consciousness while violently shaking.

Hallucinations can be tactile, visual or auditory. Many individuals may feel as if they have bugs crawling all over them. Hallucinations related to alcohol withdrawal typically show up within six to 48 hours after cessation and may last for weeks.

Alcohol Withdrawal: 12 to 72 Hours

Seizures and hallucinations may continue to occur during this time and other symptoms, such as disorientation, increased heart rate, high blood pressure and increased temperature may occur. Withdrawal symptoms typically worsen and peak at this time.

Alcohol Withdrawal: 72 Hours to a Week

Though not everyone experiences it, one of the most serious and dangerous withdrawal symptoms of alcohol withdrawal is delirium tremens, or the DTs. The DTs may begin at 72 hours or anytime within 10 days of alcohol cessation. This symptom is described as a change in consciousness level. You may experience confusion, grand mal seizures, heart attacks, rapid heart rate, strokes and continued hallucinations. It can be fatal, and is in up to five percent of cases. Typical individuals who experience the DTs are:

  • Those who have a history of heavily abusing alcohol
  • Older individuals
  • People who have poor liver function
  • Individuals who experience severe withdrawal symptoms at the start of their withdrawal

Medical attention is necessary for those who experience the DTs because they are extremely dangerous. There is no way to stop the DTs, but symptoms can be managed by medical personnel.

Other symptoms experienced previously tend to taper off between days five and seven, often decreasing in intensity.

Alcohol Withdrawal: After the First Week

Some symptoms, especially psychological ones, will continue after the first week, but may lessen in intensity, especially if treatment is sought.

DIY Detox: Overcoming Alcohol Addiction

Making the decision to stop consuming alcohol is a brave one, and a goal that can be accomplished. Be prepared for the symptoms you might experience throughout withdrawal and seek medical help if necessary for your safety.

After Detox: Choosing Addiction Treatment

Detox should not be confused with addiction treatment. Many families and individuals mistakenly think that checking into a week long detox will prepare them for recovery. Nothing could be further from the truth. Detox is nothing more than the removal of alcohol from your system. The reason many people go right back to drinking after detox is two-fold:


  1. The body is not producing “feel good hormones” on it’s own: While a person is providing alcohol to the body as a way to calm down, cope, or “check out” from reality, the brain stops producing any of the “feel good” hormones on it’s own. This means a person feels exceptionally “raw” and “emotionally vulnerable” in early sobriety. If a person doesn’t understand that this is normal and they can expect to go through that “emotionally raw” period, it may drive them right back to alcohol.

  2. Empty toolbox: I like to look at recovery like a toolbox. Therapy, group meetings, self care, meditation, prayer, daily surrender….All these things provide a person with tools for recovery. There is no ONE tool that will keep a person sober. It is a combination of tools that forms healthy patterns of behavior, and over time, strengthens a person’s recovery. No one has these tools right out of detox, so expecting an individual to leave detox, return home and live in happy recovery is unrealistic. Often, a person needs a life disruption, such as addiction treatment, in order to gain the tools necessary to live a fulfilled life of recovery.

If you or someone you love is ready to say yes to a new life, Gracious Care Recovery Solutions would be honored to walk with you on your recovery journey. Give us a call today. We are ready to help.

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