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4 Stages of Alcohol Withdrawal

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Key takeaway:

  • Alcohol addiction is a serious Substance Use Disorder (SUD) that can have devastating effects on health and relationships.
  • Alcohol withdrawal is a process that occurs when heavy drinkers suddenly stop or reduce their alcohol intake.
  • Alcohol withdrawal can be divided into four stages: mild, moderate, severe, and delirium tremens (DTs).
  • Mild symptoms include anxiety, agitation, and insomnia; moderate symptoms include increased heart rate, sweating, and nausea.
  • Severe symptoms can include hallucinations, seizures, and fever, while delirium tremens are characterized by confusion, tremors, and extreme agitation.
  • Alcohol withdrawal symptoms can be life-threatening and require medical intervention and supportive care.
  • Seeking professional help, such as going to a rehab facility like Lantana Recovery, can provide guidance, support, and access to medications to ease the detox process.
  • Support groups and healthcare professionals can provide emotional support and advice throughout the journey to sobriety.

Alcohol addiction is a Substance Use Disorder (SUD)that can have devastating effects on an individual’s health, relationships, and financial stability. SUD is a chronic disease characterized by the use of psychoactive substances, which impairs overall health and requires treatment. 

Alcohol withdrawal is a process that can be divided into four stages: mild symptoms, moderate symptoms, severe symptoms, and delirium tremens. Understanding the stages of alcohol withdrawal is essential for effective treatment.

So in this article, we will discuss these four stages of alcohol withdrawal to help you overcome alcohol and drug addiction effectively.

Alcoholism And Alcohol Abuse

Alcoholism, also known as alcohol use disorder, is a pattern of uncontrolled drinking that includes certain symptoms like the inability to control your drinking, feeling sick when you don’t drink, dependency on alcohol or drugs to function, and use of alcohol despite clear evidence of physical, emotional, social, and spiritual problems caused or exacerbated by its use.

Alcohol abuse, on the other hand, is a less severe form of alcoholism. People with alcohol abuse still have some control over their drinking, don’t feel the need to drink every day, and only experience minor negative consequences from their drinking. But people with alcohol abuse are at risk of developing alcoholism if they don’t get help.

People who abuse alcohol may not be physically addicted to it, but they may still struggle to control their intake. Both alcoholism and alcohol use can cause serious health problems such as liver disease, relationship issues, poor mental health, and financial difficulties. According to a study published in the journal Alcohol, excessive use of alcohol or alcoholism lead to substantial brain neuroadaptations and changes.

Both alcohol abuse and alcohol withdrawal can also strain relationships with family and friends. family therapy may be beneficial for individuals struggling with alcohol use or alcohol withdrawal, as it can help to improve communication and strengthen relationships. Moreover, it can also help to identify and address the underlying mental health issues that may be contributing to heavy alcohol use.

If you or someone you know is struggling with either condition, it is important to seek professional medical advice for quitting alcohol.

4 Stages of Alcohol Withdrawal

Stages Of Alcohol Withdrawal

Alcohol withdrawal occurs when a person who drinks alcohol excessively suddenly stops or significantly reduces their alcohol intake. The exact symptoms and severity of alcohol withdrawal depend on a number of factors, including how much and how often the person has been drinking, previous history of drug abuse, how much time has passed since their last drink, their age, and their overall health.

People with alcoholism often have trouble controlling their drinking and may continue to drink even when it causes problems in their life. “Alcohol withdrawal (AW )is a feature of alcohol use disorder that may occur in up to half of individuals with chronic, heavy alcohol consumption whenever alcohol use is abruptly stopped or significantly reduced” (Polygenic influences on the behavioral effects of alcohol withdrawal in a mixed-ancestry population from the collaborative study on the genetics of alcoholism (COGA), Benca-Backman et al., 2023.)

However, there are generally four distinct stages of alcohol withdrawal: mild, moderate, severe, and delirium tremens (DTs).

Mild Alcohol Withdrawal Symptoms

Mild symptoms include anxiety, agitation, and insomnia. These mild symptoms start typically appear 6-12 hours after the last drink and resolve within a few days.

Moderate Alcohol Withdrawal Symptoms

Moderate symptoms include increased heart rate, sweating, and nausea. These typically appear 12-24 hours after the last drink and resolve within a week.

Severe Alcohol Withdrawal Symptoms

Severe symptoms of alcohol withdrawal include hallucinations, seizures, and fever. These typically appear 24-48 hours after the last drink and some severe symptoms can last for several weeks.

Delirium Tremens

Delirium tremens, also known as DTs are characterized by delirium (a state of confusion and disorientation), tremors (shakiness), and extreme agitation. In severe cases, they can lead to seizures, heart failure, and death.

If you or someone you know is experiencing DTs, it is important to seek medical help immediately. Treatment typically involves supportive care – such as fluids, electrolytes, and medications to control seizures and agitation – along with alcohol detox.

Severe alcohol withdrawal can be a life-threatening condition and it occurs in people who have been drinking heavily for a long time and suddenly stop. Severe withdrawal symptoms include confusion, agitation, hallucinations, and seizures. If left untreated, delirium tremens can be fatal. Seeking professional help is essential if you are struggling with alcohol addiction and want to quit safely.

Alcohol Withdrawal Timeline

The withdrawal timeline and stages of alcoholism can vary greatly from person to person, and even the same person can have different timelines for experiencing withdrawal symptoms. However, there are certain symptoms that are common across most alcohol withdrawal timelines.

The first phase typically begins about six to 12 hours after the last drink, and common symptoms include anxiety, shaking, sweating, and nausea. The second phase usually peaks around 24 to 48 hours after the last drink, and more severe symptoms include hallucinations, high blood pressure, and increased heart rate. The third phase of extreme symptoms typically begins 72 hours after the last drink and can last for weeks or even months.

Seizures are the most serious symptom of this final stage, and they can be fatal if not treated immediately. Other common symptoms include insomnia, depression, and irritability.

Alcohol Rehab Near You

If you or your loved one is looking for a nationally recognized and respected addiction treatment center in South Carolina, Lantana Recovery is a specialized alcohol rehab in Charleston. Lantana Recovery provides part-hospitalization rehab services and outpatient rehab services to people struggling with addiction. 

Alcohol Withdrawal Symptoms

Alcohol withdrawal refers to a group of symptoms that may occur when a person who has been drinking heavily suddenly stops or reduces their alcohol intake. These symptoms in the alcohol detox process can range from mild to severe, and in some cases, they can be life-threatening.

Common alcohol withdrawal symptoms include:

  • Anxiety
  • Irritability
  • Tremors
  • Sweating
  • Nausea
  • Mood Swings
  • Auditory hallucinations
  • High blood pressure
  • Severe confusion

More severe withdrawal symptoms may include auditory hallucinations, seizures, and delirium tremens (DTs). DTs are a serious condition that can occur in people who have been drinking heavily for long periods of time and are characterized by confusion, high blood pressure and heart rate, fever, and hallucinations.

If you and someone you know are experiencing withdrawal symptoms, it is important that the patient seeks immediate medical attention. As some of these alcohol withdrawal symptoms in their most severe form can be life-threatening.


Treating Alcohol Withdrawal Symptoms

The first step to treating alcohol and drug addiction is complete alcohol detox. However, during the detox process, most people experience both physical alcohol withdrawal symptoms as well as psychological. In some cases, people experience withdrawal symptoms that can be severe and require medical intervention for treatment.

Alcohol addiction is a serious medical condition that requires continuous supervision of a medical professional and a supportive environment. Especially during the detox process as it can sometimes lead to the most severe form of alcohol withdrawal such as heart palpitations, high blood pressure, and tactile hallucinations.

If you or someone you know is struggling to stop drinking, there are many health risks associated with quitting alcohol cold turkey. Going to a rehab facility and seeking treatment from a medical professional for help ensures that you will be monitored and have access to medications that can help ease the process.

Additionally, a healthcare professional can provide you with support and guidance throughout the entire alcohol detox process. Trying to quit alcohol on your own might be difficult since certain withdrawal symptoms, such as mild anxiety, mood swings, sleep disturbances, and tactile hallucinations, might be hard to handle.

While doing alcohol detox, it’s important to seek medical care from a healthcare professional. This is because quitting alcohol can be difficult, and without professional help, you may not be able to overcome your addiction safely. Professional help can provide you with guidance and support throughout the entire process, which can make quitting much easier.

When in a rehab facility, you can go to support groups that can provide you the emotional support and advice to stop drinking. These groups comprise individuals working to control their alcohol use and certified medical professionals. If you or someone is experiencing withdrawal symptoms while trying to restrict alcohol use, it is important to rush to the nearest treatment center before it progresses to extreme symptoms.

Alcohol detox is a dangerous and challenging process but it is often the primary requirement to quit drinking alcohol. Most symptoms of alcohol withdrawal are mental and psychological which means that most patients feel their mental health deteriorating while trying to quit drinking.

Alcohol Detox

The Bottom Line

Alcohol withdrawal can be a difficult process and the assessment for alcohol-related physical problems, mental health problems and social support should be undertaken routinely, but there is hope for those who are struggling. With the right support, individuals can successfully detox and begin the journey to a sober life.

The first step is to reach out to medical professionals at Lantana for help while experiencing alcohol withdrawal symptoms. There are many resources available to those who are struggling with alcoholism, and seeking professional assistance is an important step in the right direction. With the right support from medical professionals, you can overcome alcoholism and attain lasting sobriety.


Alan Goodstat

Alan completed a postgraduate degree in social work from Columbia University in New York City and is a licensed clinical social worker in FL, NJ, NC and SC. Over the past 30 years he has worked in various leadership roles in privately held organizations and private equity portfolio companies.

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Located on the historic peninsula of Charleston, South Carolina, Lantana Recovery takes a modern approach to Substance Use Disorder treatment, offering intensive clinical care while also immersing our clients in local Charleston culture.