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What Are the Side Effects When You Stop Drinking Alcohol?

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Imagine standing on the edge of a forest, preparing to traverse unfamiliar terrain. Just like this metaphorical forest, when you stop drinking alcohol, the side effects can seem daunting and full of unknowns. But worry not, for this guide will serve as your compass, illuminating the path ahead and offering valuable insights into the process of alcohol withdrawal, its potential side effects, and how to best navigate them. Ready? Let’s embark on this enlightening journey together.

Short Summary

  • Alcohol withdrawal can present physical and psychological symptoms, such as anxiety, depression and tremors.

  • Professional medical support is essential for safe alcohol withdrawal management.

  • Tapering off or quitting cold turkey combined with lifestyle changes can lead to a successful journey towards sobriety.

Understanding Alcohol Withdrawal

                                                  A person experiencing alcohol withdrawal symptoms

Ever wondered what happens when a person who is dependent on alcohol suddenly decides to stop drinking? This decision triggers a cascade of events known as alcohol withdrawal syndrome. Much like a clockwork mechanism springing into action, the body responds to the sudden absence of alcohol with a range of withdrawal symptoms. These symptoms, including:

Cravings for alcohol can be as varied as the colors of a rainbow, yet they all signal the same thing: the body’s plea for the alcohol it has become accustomed to due to alcohol cravings, especially when drinking alcohol.

As individuals seek help on their journey to recovery, understanding that these symptoms are the body’s natural response to alcohol withdrawal becomes essential. Beyond being a cry for assistance, they represent the body’s efforts to adapt to life without alcohol. Columbia SC outpatient rehab services can play a pivotal role in recognizing and managing these symptoms effectively, particularly for those who have been grappling with excessive alcohol consumption. With the right medical care and support, these symptoms can be addressed and even prevented, providing a path towards a healthier and more fulfilling life.

But what makes some people experience more severe withdrawal symptoms than others? Let’s delve deeper and explore the science behind withdrawal and the factors influencing its severity.

The Science Behind Withdrawal

When it comes to the science behind alcohol withdrawal, imagine a grand orchestra performing a symphony. In our bodies, every organ and system has a role to play, similar to each instrument in an orchestra. Alcohol, when consumed excessively, disrupts this symphony, causing the brain to adjust its rhythm to accommodate the presence of alcohol. So, when alcohol is suddenly removed, akin to an abrupt pause in the symphony, the body responds with withdrawal symptoms, signaling its struggle to readjust to the absence of alcohol.

This disruption and subsequent adjustment affect various circuits in the brain, especially the reward, stress, and self-control circuits. The result? An out-of-tune symphony, or in other words, a variety of withdrawal symptoms that can be mild or severe depending on the extent of alcohol consumption and alcohol addiction, both of which are key factors in alcohol use disorder.

“Chronic exposure to alcohol results in a compensatory decrease of GABA-A neuroreceptor response to GABA, evidenced by increasing tolerance of the effects of alcohol,” as stated by a study published in American Family Physician. (Alcohol Withdrawal Syndrome, Max Bayard, 2004)

But can these symptoms be influenced by other factors? Let’s find out in the next subsection.

Factors Influencing Withdrawal Severity

When thinking about the factors that influence the severity of alcohol withdrawal, consider a garden of blooming flowers. Just as the growth of these flowers is influenced by factors like sunlight, water, and soil quality, alcohol withdrawal symptoms can be affected by several factors. Some of these factors include:

  • Age
  • The amount and duration of alcohol consumption
  • Overall health
  • The presence of co-occurring mental health conditions

Much like how prolonged exposure to sunlight can cause a flower to wilt, longer and heavier alcohol consumption can lead to more intense withdrawal symptoms. Additionally, individuals with existing physical or mental health conditions may be more susceptible to severe withdrawal symptoms, much like how a flower’s growth can be stunted by poor soil conditions. Older adults, similar to mature plants, may be more vulnerable to experiencing intense withdrawal symptoms due to alcohol abuse and alcohol dependence.

Now that we’ve explored the factors influencing withdrawal severity, let’s move on to examine the common side effects of stopping alcohol consumption.

Common Side Effects of Stopping Alcohol Consumption



As we venture deeper into the forest of alcohol withdrawal, we encounter the side effects of stopping alcohol consumption. These side effects, both physical and psychological, are like the varied flora and fauna of the forest, each with its distinct characteristics and impact on the person experiencing them. From physical symptoms such as tremors, sweating, and headaches to psychological ones like anxiety and depression, the effects of stopping alcohol consumption can be diverse and challenging to navigate.

However, let’s not lose sight of the silver lining. The decision to quit alcohol can also lead to:

  • improved physical and psychological health
  • reduced anxiety
  • better sleep
  • increased energy levels

It’s like emerging from a dense, dark forest into a beautiful, sunlit clearing.

But to fully appreciate these benefits, we need a deeper understanding of these side effects. Let’s delve deeper into the physical and psychological symptoms that accompany alcohol withdrawal.

Physical Symptoms

Attracting our attention first to the physical symptoms of alcohol withdrawal, think of them as the footprints left behind on our journey through the forest. These footprints, while not always visible to the naked eye, tell a tale of the journey undertaken. In the case of alcohol withdrawal, these physical symptoms reveal the body’s struggle to adjust to the absence of alcohol. Symptoms such as:

  • Tremors
  • Sweating
  • Headaches
  • Nausea

Many appear within 12 to 24 hours after the last drink, serving as telltale signs of the body’s journey towards sobriety. Like footprints growing fainter with time, these symptoms typically subside as the body gradually adjusts to the absence of alcohol.

But while the body is battling these physical symptoms, the mind too is going through its own struggle. Let’s explore this further in the next subsection.

Psychological Symptoms

Moving onto the psychological symptoms of alcohol withdrawal, imagine them as the hidden creatures of the forest, often unseen but making their presence known in subtle ways. Much like the rustling of leaves signaling the presence of a hidden creature, psychological symptoms such as:

  • anxiety

  • depression

  • irritability

  • difficulty concentrating

Can often go unnoticed, but are significant indicators of alcohol withdrawal.

Navigating through these psychological symptoms, especially during the withdrawal/negative affect stage, can be quite challenging. However, it’s important to view this time as an opportunity for growth and self-improvement. Embracing these experiences can lead to the development of resilience and effective coping strategies. Along this journey, recognizing the importance of seeking help is vital. If these symptoms persist or worsen, reaching out for support, such as Charleston SC counseling and rehab services, can be a crucial step towards your path to recovery.

Now that we’ve explored the physical and psychological symptoms, let’s understand the timeline and stages of alcohol withdrawal.

Alcohol Withdrawal Timeline and Stages

                                       A person experiencing physical symptoms of alcohol withdrawal

As we continue our journey through the forest of alcohol withdrawal, we come across the timeline and stages of alcohol withdrawal. Think of this timeline as a trail map guiding us through the forest, helping us anticipate what lies ahead and how best to prepare for it. This timeline gives a clear picture of the potential symptoms and experiences someone dependent on alcohol might go through when they decide to stop drinking.

However, much like the trail map, the alcohol withdrawal timeline is not a one-size-fits-all. Each individual’s body reacts differently to ceasing alcohol consumption, making the withdrawal experience unique to each person. So let’s examine the three stages of alcohol withdrawal to better understand this process.

Early Stage (6-12 hours)

As we embark on the early stage of alcohol withdrawal, similar to the first few steps into the forest, we encounter mild symptoms that may appear within hours after the last drink. These include symptoms like insomnia, which is one of the first signs of alcohol withdrawal.

Tremors, a typical symptom of alcohol withdrawal, can be likened to the shaking of leaves in the wind, serving as a warning sign to look out for. As we move further into the forest, or in other words, advance into the subsequent stages of alcohol withdrawal, we will encounter more intense symptoms.

Intermediate Stage (12-48 hours)

A visual representation of the when you stop drinking alcohol side effects during the intermediate stage (12-48 hours), including headache, nausea, and anxiety.

As we traverse deeper into the forest, marking the intermediate stage of alcohol withdrawal, the terrain becomes more challenging, mirroring the increase in withdrawal symptom intensity. This stage, occurring 12-48 hours after the last drink, is characterized by symptoms like:

  • headache

  • anxiety

  • nausea

  • vomiting

These symptoms signal the body’s ongoing struggle to adjust to the absence of alcohol.

Much like the sun’s rays filtering through the forest canopy, providing light and warmth, treatments such as medications to reduce anxiety and nausea, counseling and support groups, can help manage these withdrawal symptoms more effectively.

As we forge ahead, the terrain becomes more challenging, marking the onset of the late stage of alcohol withdrawal.

Late Stage (48-72 hours)

Entering the late stage of severe alcohol withdrawal, we’re deep in the heart of the forest where the terrain is the most challenging. This stage, much like the densest part of the forest, is characterized by severe withdrawal symptoms and potential complications, including delirium tremens and seizures.

Delirium Tremens is one of the most severe consequences of giving up alcohol after prolonged and heavy use. In some cases, it can be fatal if left untreated! “Delirium tremens is fatal in nearly 15% of cases without treatment and 1% in those who do receive treatment.” (Occurrence, Predictors, and Prognosis of Alcohol Withdrawal Syndrome and Delirium Tremens Following Traumatic Injury, Kristin Salottolo, 2017 )

Delirium, like a sudden, turbulent storm in the forest, can cause symptoms such as heavy sweating and high blood pressure, making it one of the most challenging aspects of alcohol withdrawal. As we navigate this stage, we are reminded of the importance of seeking timely medical help and the potential dangers and complications of alcohol withdrawal.

Dangers and Complications of Alcohol Withdrawal

                                             A person with a glass of alcohol and a medical professional

Much like a forest trail fraught with potential dangers, alcohol withdrawal too can pose serious risks, especially when left untreated or improperly managed. These risks include:

  • Seizures

  • Alcohol withdrawal delirium (also known as Delirium tremens or DTs)

  • Hallucinations

  • High blood pressure

  • Rapid heart rate

  • Fever

  • Dehydration

These severe symptoms need close monitoring by medical professionals. Just as a seasoned hiker carries a first aid kit to deal with potential injuries, individuals experiencing severe withdrawal symptoms need medical support to ensure their safety.

The dangers and complications of alcohol withdrawal don’t end here. Two significant risks that we’ll delve into are dehydration and electrolyte imbalances, and Wernicke-Korsakoff Syndrome. Let’s explore these further in the following subsections.

Dehydration and Electrolyte Imbalances

Just as not drinking enough water can lead to dehydration during a long hike, alcohol withdrawal can lead to dehydration and electrolyte imbalances. This is because alcohol is a diuretic, meaning it encourages the body to lose more water than it takes in, leading to dehydration and electrolyte imbalances.

Unfortunately, dehydration and electrolyte imbalances can have dire consequences, including:

  • heat injury
  • urinary and kidney problems
  • seizures
  • death

And much like a hiker must replenish their water supply regularly, individuals going through alcohol withdrawal need to stay hydrated to manage these risks.

Wernicke-Korsakoff Syndrome

Moving deeper into the forest of alcohol withdrawal complications, we come across a potentially dangerous neurological disorder known as Wernicke-Korsakoff Syndrome, which is caused by a deficiency of thiamine (vitamin B1) in the brain, is often associated with chronic alcoholism. The symptoms of this syndrome, like a sudden storm in the forest, can appear without warning and include:

  • confusion
  • memory loss
  • impaired coordination
  • hallucinations

Now that we’ve covered the potential dangers and complications of alcohol withdrawal, let’s explore the various treatment options available.

Treatment Options for Alcohol Withdrawal

                                                  A person with a glass of alcohol and a support group

Navigating the forest of alcohol withdrawal doesn’t have to be a solitary journey. There are various treatment options available to manage withdrawal symptoms and support long-term recovery, much like a compass or a trail map guiding a hiker through the forest. Whether it’s outpatient care, inpatient care, counseling, or joining a support group, each treatment option plays a unique role in the journey towards sobriety.

Let’s delve deeper into these treatment options in the following subsections.

Outpatient Care

Think of outpatient care as your compass in the journey through alcohol withdrawal. It’s an excellent treatment option for those with mild to moderate withdrawal symptoms and involves a program that may include medications such as benzodiazepines.

Outpatient care offers a convenient treatment option, allowing patients to receive care without staying in a hospital or facility, much like a compass guiding a hiker without restricting their movement. The benefits of outpatient care include:

  • Flexibility to continue with daily activities and responsibilities
  • Reduced cost compared to inpatient care
  • Access to a wider range of treatment options and specialists
  • Support from a network of healthcare professionals
  • Daily monitoring and medication management to help manage withdrawal symptoms more effectively.

Inpatient Care

As we traverse the more challenging terrain of severe withdrawal symptoms, inpatient care comes into play. Much like a trail shelter providing refuge from harsh weather, inpatient care provides a safe and supportive environment for managing severe withdrawal symptoms and reducing the risk of complications. Inpatient treatment, typically lasting for five to seven days, can help optimize recovery, much like a hiker taking a much-needed rest in a trail shelter before continuing their journey.

However, even with outpatient and inpatient care, the journey through alcohol withdrawal can be emotionally challenging, which is where counseling and support groups come in. These services can provide the emotional support and guidance needed to help individuals navigate the difficult terrain of alcohol withdrawal.

Counseling and Support Groups

                                            A person with a glass of alcohol and a healthcare professional

Just as a hiker might find solace and encouragement from fellow hikers, counseling and support groups can provide invaluable emotional support during alcohol withdrawal. Counseling can empower someone to cope with the mental and emotional aspects of withdrawal and equip them with strategies for life after withdrawal.

Support groups like Alcoholics Anonymous offer a secure space for people to express their journeys and receive support from others striving for sobriety. Having explored the various treatment options, let’s now look at some tips for safely reducing alcohol consumption.

Tips for Safely Reducing Alcohol Consumption

As we near the end of our journey through the forest of alcohol withdrawal, we come across some practical tips for safely reducing alcohol consumption. These tips, like trail markers guiding a hiker, can help minimize withdrawal side effects and ensure a safe journey towards sobriety. Gradually decreasing the amount of alcohol consumed is the best approach, much like slowing down before the end of a hike to prevent injury.

But what’s the best way to do this? Let’s explore the pros and cons of tapering versus quitting cold turkey, as well as the role of lifestyle changes in the following subsections.

Tapering vs. Cold Turkey

When it comes to reducing alcohol consumption, the choice between tapering and quitting cold turkey can be likened to choosing between a gradual descent and a steep drop on a hiking trail. Tapering allows the body to slowly adjust to sobriety, while quitting cold turkey can be a shock to the system, much like a sudden drop on a trail.

While tapering off alcohol can lessen the intensity of withdrawal symptoms, it may take more time than quitting abruptly. On the other hand, quitting cold turkey can be a swift way to stop drinking, but it may not be suitable for everyone.

A thoughtful consideration of both options can help you choose the best approach for your journey to sobriety.

Lifestyle Changes

                                                A person with a glass of alcohol and a family physician

As we reach the end of our journey through the forest of alcohol withdrawal, we’re left with the importance of lifestyle changes. These changes, like the gear a hiker carries, can support recovery and reduce the risk of relapse. Planning activities that do not involve alcohol, adopting a healthy diet, and regular exercise can all contribute positively to this journey.

Just as a hiker respects the forest and leaves no trace behind, those reducing alcohol consumption are encouraged to make positive lifestyle changes that respect their bodies and minds. These changes can lead to:

  • Improved physical and mental health
  • Better sleep
  • Weight loss
  • Increased energy


As we emerge from the forest of alcohol withdrawal, we carry with us a wealth of knowledge and understanding about this process. We’ve explored the symptoms, dangers, and treatments of alcohol withdrawal, and learned valuable tips for safely reducing alcohol consumption. Just like a hiker cherishing the completion of a challenging trail, let’s celebrate the completion of this enlightening journey through alcohol withdrawal, and remember, every step taken towards understanding and managing alcohol withdrawal is a step towards a healthier, happier life.

Frequently Asked Questions

How quickly does your body change when you stop drinking alcohol?

Within a few days, your body can start to recover from alcohol withdrawal and your quality of life can improve considerably. You may already notice improved sleep and cognitive functioning within a week and continue to experience emotional improvements in the following weeks. these are a few of the stop drinking alcohol benefits timeline.

Why do I feel worse after stopping drinking?

Stopping drinking can lead to high levels of anxiety and difficulty sleeping, making you feel worse in the process.

This is due to an increased sensitivity in the body as it undergoes withdrawal.

Is it good to completely stop drinking alcohol?

Completely quitting alcohol has many advantages, such as improved physical and mental health, increased energy levels, better sleep quality and reversed damage caused by alcohol consumption.

It is a process that requires strategies, but it can bring great benefits to your life.

What are the common symptoms of alcohol withdrawal?

Alcohol withdrawal can lead to uncomfortable physical and psychological symptoms, such as anxiety, irritability, sweating, nausea, vomiting, insomnia, tremors, confusion, and seizures.

These symptoms can range from mild to severe, and can even be life-threatening if not managed properly. It is important to seek medical help if you are experiencing any of these symptoms. Withdrawal can be managed with medications and other treatments, and it is.

What are some psychological symptoms of alcohol withdrawal?

Alcohol withdrawal can cause psychological symptoms such as anxiety, depression, irritability, and difficulty concentrating.


Warren Phillips

Warren is a Licensed Master Social Worker, who specializes in substance abuse and mental health treatment. Clinically, Warren has developed a therapeutic skillset that utilizes a strengths-based perspective, Twelve Step philosophies, Cognitive Behavioral Therapy and Motivational Interviewing.

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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.