How Long Does Alcohol Withdrawal Last?
The health risks of excessive drinking are widely known and well-publicized. From increasing the chance of developing physical ailments like cirrhosis and high blood pressure to concerning mental health conditions like anxiety and depression, heavy drinking undoubtedly takes a toll on the body. However, the benefits of quitting alcohol can be understood much faster than many people realize. Better-looking skin, improved sleep patterns, weight loss, a clearer mental state, and strengthened immunity are achievable goals within the weeks and months following someone ceasing to drink.
At Lake Ave Recovery, we understand the challenges that many face when embarking on their recovery journey. Alcohol withdrawal is a serious challenge for many. One of the most frequently asked questions by those interested in ending their unhealthy relationship with alcohol is, “How long does alcohol withdrawal last?” Symptoms of alcohol withdrawl, including severity and duration, vary person to person so it is important to understand the types of behaviors that can lead to alcohol withdrawal, why it occurs, some signs and symptoms, and details on treatment options.
Who Experiences Alcohol Withdrawal?
By now, everyone has heard the phrase “in moderation” used for many things. For example, eating red meat sparingly, or in moderation, is generally deemed OK by doctors and nutritional experts. With consuming alcohol, there’s a very clear definition for drinking in moderation. Here’s what the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Dietary Guidelines for Americans has to say: “Adults of legal drinking age can choose not to drink, or to drink in moderation by limiting intake to 2 drinks or less in a day for men and 1 drink or less in a day for women, when alcohol is consumed.”
So, what does it mean to drink outside of moderation or to excess? According to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA), those behaviors are known as binge drinking and heavy alcohol use. Binge drinking is best characterized as excessive drinking in brief spurts—consuming five or more drinks for males and four or more drinks for females in about two hours. Meanwhile, heavy alcohol use involves both the amount consumed and the frequency. The NIAAA defines heavy drinking as consuming four drinks on any day or more than 14 drinks per week for men and more than three drinks on any day or more than seven drinks per week for women.
As the NIAAA warns, “Binge drinking and heavy alcohol use can increase an individual's risk of alcohol use disorder.” Overcoming an alcohol use disorder involves detoxing, the process of cleansing the body of any and all alcohol, which typically results in experiencing alcohol withdrawal. Anyone who has developed a dependency on alcohol is subject to suffering through withdrawals when they stop consumption.
Why Does Someone Experience Alcohol Withdrawal?
The first thing to know about why someone might experience alcohol withdrawal is that alcohol has a depressive effect on the body. Not only does it slow brain function, but it affects the central nervous system’s ability to communicate and send messages between nerves. The more one drinks, the harder the nervous system works to adjust to the changes.
The body’s goal is to feed the brain and empower it to remain in an awake state, and alcohol use causes that process to go into overdrive. Eventually, when the flow of alcohol stops (like during detox), the brain remains in that altered state, and the body is unable to adapt. The result is what we know to be alcohol withdrawal.
What Are The Symptoms Of Alcohol Withdrawal?
The symptoms of alcohol withdrawal can vary from person to person, so what one person feels after abruptly stopping drinking may differ from the experiences of another. However, some commonalities can occur. Some of the more common physical symptoms include shaking, sweating, elevated heart rate, nausea, and vomiting. On the mental side, it’s not uncommon for alcohol withdrawal to cause someone to feel irritable, restless, or depressed.
In severe cases of alcohol withdrawal, hallucinations, seizures, and delirium tremens (DTs) can occur. When someone is undergoing a case of the DTs, it’s not uncommon for that person to have extreme disorientation and uncontrollable restlessness. In these cases, and any that are punctuated by repeated vomiting or hallucinations that make the person a danger to themselves or others, medical attention should be sought immediately.
How Long Does Alcohol Withdrawal Last?
A literature review from 2013 in the Industrial Psychiatry Journal included a comprehensive explanation of the timeline that generally occurs with alcohol withdrawal.
In its coverage of the Industrial Psychiatry Journal article, Healthline reports that most minor symptoms begin to emerge about six hours after the person’s last drink. Of note, Healthline also writes that someone with a long history of heavy drinking could be at risk of having a seizure as soon as six hours after stopping drinking.
Between 24 and 48 hours after stopping drinking, minor symptoms are likely to persist. This is when sensations like headaches, shaking, and gastrointestinal issues, including diarrhea, may be at their worst if the person only has a mild case of alcohol withdrawal. For these people, hours 18 to 24 are usually the peak time for symptoms.
People who experience the DTs generally have them between 48 and 72 hours after their last drink. Studies show that the DTs can last up to five days, and it has a mortality rate of up to 37% if not treated properly.
For people with severe alcohol withdrawals, the 72-hour mark tends to be the most agonizing. This is when symptoms reach a fever pitch, and the appetite to drink becomes stronger than ever as the body yearns for what it believes will provide relief. Though it’s rare, some alcohol withdrawal symptoms—like rapid heart rate and illusions—have lasted as long as a month.
What Determines How Long Alcohol Withdrawal Lasts?
The reasons behind how long alcohol withdrawal symptoms last are as varied as the actual symptoms. Some of the most influential factors include how often, how much, and how long someone drank. Additionally, the person’s medical history and overall health, including comorbidities, and the prevalence of another substance use disorder will all impact how long the symptoms last.
How Does Lake Ave Recovery Handle Alcohol Withdrawal?
At Lake Ave Recovery, we understand the importance of detoxing in a safe,comfortable, and dignified environment while under medical supervision. From the first time you reach out to us, we are passionate about finding you a supportive environment where you can begin your recovery journey. Treatment for Substance or Alcohol dependence begins with medically supervised detox. The symptoms of alcohol or drug withdrawal can be severe, and it is crucial you are placed in the right hands during this early stage of recovery. In patient detoxification programs are designed for more intensive treatment of drug and alcohol use. People may need treatment at an inpatient program if attempts at counseling or outpatient rehabilitation have failed. Some patients experience severe symptoms of withdrawal, including delirium tremens associated with alcohol withdrawal. In these cases, inpatient treatment is warranted to protect the patient’s health until he or she reaches a more stable state. Inpatient detoxification involves the process of assisting a patient during a period of alcohol withdrawal. Whether it be an inpatient detox or rehab center in Massachusetts, we will remain in contact with you and your medical personnel in order to ensure you are receiving comfortable and effective care. We will continue to serve as your liaison until you are ready to leave detox and/or rehab to continue treatment in Lake Avenue Recovery’s discreet and dignified outpatient setting.
Why Choose Lake Ave Recovery for your Alcohol Recovery Needs.
If you or someone you love is struggling with an alcohol use disorder, Lake Ave Recovery can help. Our one-of-a-kind treatment experience offers people with addiction disorders of all kinds a chance to find a program that works for them. We have a day, evening, outpatient, and intensive outpatient program,each with a unique structure. If you’re afraid of experiencing alcohol withdrawal, we can even help place you in a detox program prior to you joining us at Lake Ave Recovery. Contact us confidentially for instant insurance verification and a same-day clinical assessment.
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