What Are Alcohol Withdrawal Symptoms?

Alcohol withdrawal symptoms occur after a person has drunk alcohol excessively over an extended period, normally lasting several months or years. A person will develop different symptoms of withdrawal as they go through the process.

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Symptoms can impact different people in different ways and vary in severity. Depending on how long it has been since your last drink, different side effects may occur.

Six Hours

After six hours, a person will start to develop mild symptoms of alcohol withdrawal. Some of these include but are not limited to: 1 

Twelve to Twenty-Four Hours

Once a person hits half a day to two days, they might experience more serious alcohol withdrawal symptoms. Some of these are: 1 

Forty-Eight to Seventy-Two Hours

Finally, once two to three days have passed, some of the most severe symptoms can kick in. The worst form of alcohol withdrawal is delirium tremens. This issue is a syndrome that affects the brain and central nervous system. Some other symptoms within this timeframe are: 1 

Why Do People Experience Alcohol Withdrawal Symptoms?

Multiple factors cause alcohol withdrawal symptoms inside of a person that struggles with alcohol abuse. Normally, the symptoms are more severe the longer a person has been misusing alcohol.
Alcohol withdrawal symptoms

Nervous System

One significant reason that a person experiences withdrawal symptoms are due to the central nervous system. As a person excessively drinks alcohol, the body becomes dependent on it.

Over time, this dependence causes the brain to need alcohol to function properly. When a person suddenly no longer drinks alcohol, the central nervous system cannot adapt to the absence of alcohol. 2


Dependence is when the brain becomes physically or psychologically dependent on a substance. In the case of alcohol withdrawal syndrome, the brain has become physically dependent on alcohol to continue to function at a normal level. Once a person is no longer consuming alcohol consistently, the brain will have a strong reaction due to its dependence on the substance.2

Alcohol Withdrawal Syndrome (AWS)

Once dependence kicks in, a person will develop alcohol withdrawal syndrome. AWS is an umbrella term for all the symptoms that come from alcohol withdrawal. A person can experience several different factors including nausea, anxiety, hallucinations, fatigue, and even seizures.2 If it goes untreated, alcohol withdrawal syndrome can be fatal.

How Long Does Alcohol Withdrawal Last?

Several different factors determine the period it takes for a person to get through alcohol withdrawal. Symptoms could begin to stop within five days, but some people struggle with it for several weeks.3

Eight Hours After Last Drink

People tend to start developing minor symptoms within eight hours after their last drink. They will continue to get worse over the next few days. Normally, the seventy-two-hour mark is the peak of severity regarding the alcohol withdrawal symptoms a person is experiencing.3  

Lasts One week to Several Weeks

Although it is rare, alcohol withdrawal syndrome can last for several weeks and up to a month. Normally in these scenarios, a person will continue to hallucinate and show an increased heart rate. If withdrawal effects last longer than seventy-two hours or are moderate, it is best to seek medical attention.

Who Is at Risk of Alcohol Withdrawal Syndrome?

Several factors determine how severe alcohol withdrawal syndrome might be for a person. Many times, the length and severity of a person’s addiction guide will determine the severity of the withdrawal. In addition, the amount of dependency a person may have on alcohol can also cause more severe symptoms. Alcohol addiction is the most common addiction in the United States.

Binge Drinking

If a person regularly binge drinks, they are more likely to develop a dependency, which will lead to withdrawal once a person quits. People who binge drink are the most at risk for developing alcohol withdrawal syndrome.4  

Medical History

A person who has health issues might also experience more severe forms of alcohol withdrawal syndrome, especially if they have heart, liver, or kidney issues. Because of this factor, it is crucial that a person seek medical attention if they are struggling with alcoholism.4  

Family History of Alcohol Abuse

Finally, if alcohol abuse runs in the family, a person is more likely to also struggle with alcoholism. There may be a natural dependence that is genetic or a predisposition. Due to this aspect, a person with a family history of alcoholism will also be more likely to struggle with withdrawal symptoms when quitting.4  

Alcohol Withdrawal Stages

There are three main stages when it comes to alcohol withdrawal syndrome. Normally, symptoms become more severe as a person progressively gets further away from their first drink before they tend to dissipate after approximately five days.

Stage 1: Mild

The mild stage of alcohol withdrawal takes place six to twelve hours after a person stops drinking. They may be more agitated or moody. They might also struggle with tremors, anxiety, and migraines.

Stage 2: Moderate

The next stage is the moderate stage. This normally happens around twelve to twenty-four hours after a person’s last drink. Tremors tend to become worse. A person may develop seizures or struggle with disorientation. Excessive sweating and increased heart rate might also occur.

Stage 3: Severe

During stage three, around two days after a person’s last drink, they will experience the worst symptoms yet. This stage is when someone is the most susceptible to life-threatening symptoms. Seizures, high blood pressure, hallucinations, and extreme fevers can occur.

A person may also struggle with insomnia or other sleep disorders. In the worst cases, a person may develop delirium tremens.

What Is Alcohol Detox?

Alcohol detox is the first stage of treatment of alcoholism. This is the step-in treatment where a doctor waits for all the alcohol to leave your body. A person must go through detox if they are struggling with alcohol addiction.

First Stage of Alcohol Addiction Treatment

Alcohol detox is the first stage of alcohol addiction treatment. During this time, it is best to have your condition monitored by a health care professional.5  

A person will go through the symptoms of withdrawal during the detox process. Many times, people will check into an inpatient facility to carry out the rest of their recovery from alcohol abuse.


An inpatient treatment center is a great place to work through the withdrawal process. When a person goes through the detox process in an inpatient facility, they can start the recovery process surrounded by professionals, attend therapy and counseling sessions, and explore support options.5  

Treatment for Alcohol Withdrawal

Inpatient facilities are a great place to go through the detox. However, inpatient facilities are not the answer for the entire recovery process. Here are a few different treatment options to help a person throughout the different stages of their recovery.


Counseling is a great place to go to discuss day-to-day difficulties in recovery. It will give you a safe spot to talk through the daily stresses in life that may be triggering.

Treating Underlying Problems

In counseling and recovery, you can seek treatment for underlying problems. Sometimes, mental health issues, trauma, or other factors can set someone up for alcohol addiction. By working through these things, a person can identify those underlying problems and start to work on them.


Alcoholics Anonymous is a fantastic recovery program that is based on the Twelve Steps. This program helps a person to start working on their recovery and maintaining sobriety. AA also gives people a healthy community and resources to prevent relapse.


Detox, as stated before, is the process where the body is ridding itself of all alcohol in the system. Going to a detox facility is a great place to seek treatment and therapy to help with underlying behaviors.


Some doctors might prescribe medication to help minimize side effects from alcohol withdrawal syndrome. By combining medication with therapy, a patient can receive great outcomes.


Cognitive-behavioral therapy is a great option to help teach a person how to identify their underlying behaviors and new ones to replace them. It can reduce stress as well by teaching the client new stress techniques. Using multiple forms of treatment can help strengthen a person’s ability to recover from alcoholism.

Alcohol withdrawal symptoms can be fatal and difficult to overcome. However, it is not impossible to work through the detox experience. By seeking out treatment options, millions of people have successfully done it. If you are struggling with alcohol addiction, please reach out to a medical professional for advice and the next steps.