Alcohol Withdrawal

Medically Reviewed By Kayla Loibl | Last Edited:  August 24 ,
| 4 Sources

Heavy drinkers often experience alcohol withdrawal symptoms once they stop drinking. This condition can also be experienced by so-called frequent drinkers. The severity of this can vary from person to person, and will often depend on the length of time the person has been drinking as well as how chemically dependent they have become.

In almost all cases, any person who has become chemically dependent will face some type of alcohol withdrawal symptoms once they stop drinking. This can include both physical and emotional discomfort.

  • On the physical side, one of the main issues the person must address is the feeling that they simply must have a drink. This is much the same as is felt by those who are attempting to quit smoking. The chemical craving for both is strong, and often leads both classes of people to return to their habit of either smoking or drinking.

For long-time drinkers, the best way to get through the struggles of alcoholism withdrawal is by seeking out professional help. It must be understood that this is a chemical addiction and medical assistance may be required in order to reach a satisfactory result.

It should also be understood that some persons who are highly addicted may even face serious health issues during the process. Some of these issues can be life threatening.

What is Alcohol Withdrawal?

Alcohol withdrawal refers to the physical and/or emotional symptoms that occur after a person who is physically dependent on alcohol stops drinking.

There are four types of alcohol withdrawal:

  • Seizures - these seizures can be extreme and require immediate medical attention. In most cases, they will occur in those who have severely abused alcohol for several years. A seizure from alcohol withdrawal lasts more than five minutes or it continues after any part of the body is stimulated (rolling over one's eyes, hand grabbing).
  • Delirium Tremens - this condition involves hallucinations as well as confusion along with fever and shakiness. This condition can last for about three weeks. It requires professional help to alleviate its effects on the individual.
  • Alcoholic hallucinosis - this type of withdrawal is rare and occurs in those who have been very chemically dependent for many years and suddenly stop drinking. This condition involves seeing, hearing, or even feeling things that aren't really there.
  • Anxiety/tremor - this condition involves often severe shakiness with anxiety as well as the need to drink alcohol. It usually occurs within 12 hours after the person stops drinking. Once again, it requires medical attention in order to help calm the symptoms experienced by the person.

Alcohol Withdrawal Symptoms

Alcohol withdrawal symptoms can vary from individual to individual. They will usually depend on the length of time you drank heavily, what type and how much alcohol you usually drink, as well as your body's response to alcohol once it has been consumed by the digestive system.

The symptoms may also be a direct effect of the abuse itself. For instance, those who have had chronic liver problems due to their drinking may experience severe abdominal pain during alcohol withdrawal.

On top of that, some long-time drinkers may actually experience hallucinations after they stop drinking entirely for a period of time. This can happen because in essence their nervous system becomes over stimulated by chemicals within the brain which have essentially become used to having an external source of stimulation (i.e.,alcohol).

Those who have had serious issues with alcohol addiction may also experience depression during withdrawal, along with severe emotional upsets. They can even become suicidal at times and need to be monitored closely in order to avoid any self-inflicted harm.

It is important for the person experiencing alcohol withdrawal to understand that they are not alone. Millions of people from around the world face these same symptoms each year due to alcohol addiction.

The following are some of the withdrawal symptoms commonly reported:

  • A feeling of anxiety.
  • Feeling nervous for no reason.
  • Shakiness in the hands or legs.
  • Irritability
  • Emotional outburst.
  • Feelings of depression.
  • Uncommon sense of fatigue.
  • Inability to focus thoughts clearly.
  • Nightmares

Alcoholism withdrawal symptoms may also include:

  • Headaches
  • Vomiting
  • Nausea
  • Sweaty palms
  • Trouble sleeping
  • Rapid heart rate
  • Tremors
  • Dilated pupils

In severe cases, the alcohol withdrawal symptoms may include:

  • The DT's: This is also known as delirium tremens.
  • DT's may include hallucinations and confusion.
  • Fever
  • Excessive feelings of agitation.
  • Convulsions
  • Periods of Black Out.

As mentioned above, heavy drinkers may experience the DT's. This usually occurs somewhere between six and forty-eight hours after the person stops drinking. The individual may begin to hallucinate, and these hallucinations can be either visual or auditory. The person may report the presence of strange odors as well.

During alcoholism withdrawal, the DT's may last for a few hours or they can last for weeks. It is advisable to seek medical assistance once a person lapses into the DT's. This is one reason that persons who decide to quit drinking notify someone that they trust to either be with them or at least check in on them on a routine basis.

If the person should experience convulsions or seizures during this phase of alcoholism withdrawal, medical assistance is vital, and often the person will not be able to call for assistance on their own.

Family and friends should note that there is no known medical treatment for the DT's. They should also understand that strokes, grand mal seizures, and heart attacks can occur with the DT's, any of which may be deadly.

It cannot be said enough that persons in this condition should never be left alone. If you are not sure what to do, contact a local medical facility for guidance.

There is good news, however, in that with medical supervision, these issues can be addressed. For those who are less addicted, proper diet along with medically approved doses of Thiamin can reduce many of the discomforts associated with rehabilitation.

For those who are more severely dependent, certain medicines can be prescribed to help with the physical as well as emotional issues associated with alcohol withdrawal symptoms. 


It is important for individuals who are either experiencing alcohol withdrawal themselves or who have a loved one in need of help, to remember that not only are they NOT alone, but also that with proper medical care and diet changes it is very possible to get over the hump and begin to feel better.

If you or your loved ones have been battling with alcohol withdrawal, there are many treatment options to help you. Reach out to a dedicated treatment provider today for more assistance.

Lead Writer/Reviewer : Kayla Loibl

Licensed Medical Health Professional 

I am a Mental Health Counselor who is licensed in both New York (LMHC) and North Carolina (LPC). I have been working in the Mental Health field since 2015. I have worked in a residential setting, an outpatient program and an inpatient addictions program. I began working in Long Island, NY and then in Guelph, Ontario after moving to Canada. Read More

More on alcohol withdrawal on our main alcoholism withdrawal page

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