Stages of Alcohol Withdrawal

silhouette of man drinking alcohol from a bottle

Alcohol withdrawal affects each person differently.  The process of detoxing from alcohol produces a broad range of symptoms that are categorized into three separate stages.  In most cases, the first stage, early-stage withdrawal can begin as soon as eight hours after the last drink.  The second-stage withdrawal symptoms usually occur within 12 to 24 hours after the last drink.  Third-stage withdrawal can begin as soon as 3 or 4 days after quitting drinking and can last for up to two weeks or more.

To help you understand what to expect during alcohol withdrawal, we will take a closer look at each stage of the process.

Stages of Alchohol Withdrawal and What to Expect

When a person first begins to stop drinking, some minor withdrawal symptoms begin to appear within eight hours or so.  This is known as early-stage withdrawal, and the symptoms can be as follows:

  • nervousness or anxiety
  • feeling “down” or depressed
  • irritability
  • restlessness or jumpiness
  • drastic or rapid mood changes
  • unable to think clearly
  • lack of energy
  • dilated pupils
  • nightmares, sleeplessness
  • headaches
  • rapid heart beat
  • loss of appetite, nausea, vomiting
  • clammy, cool skin
  • increased perspiration

After one to three days these symptoms reach their peak and begin to subside.  However, some people continue to feel these effects a little longer.

Second-stage withdrawal symptoms can begin within 12 to 24 hours after the last drink.  These symptoms will be somewhat stronger than the early-stage symptoms.  Second-stage symptoms often include the following:

  • blood pressure spikes
  • hallucinations
  • continuation of early-stage symptoms
  • grand mal seizures
    • muscle rigidity
    • no control of bladder or bowel
    • trouble breathing
    • uncontrolled tongue or cheek biting

The third-stage of withdrawal can begin within three or four days after the last drink and can last for as long as two weeks.  It is important to note that this is the most dangerous stage of withdrawal for some people, depending on the severity of their alcoholism.  In this stage, the person often experiences DTs (Delirium Tremens) which is a potentially dangerous condition.  Some of the symptoms felt during DTs include:

  • muscle tremors
  • delirium, confusion, disorientation
  • visual or auditory hallucinations
  • rapid mood swings
  • sensitivity to light, sound, or touch
  • paranoia
  • sleeping for long periods
  • fatal change in heart rhythm
  • accidental injuries or self-inflicted wounds
  • fever
  • seizures

It is important to note that a person has an increased chance of experiencing DTs if they have been a heavy drinker for a prolonged amount of time.  Also, if the person has a history of seizures or DTs during previous attempts to withdraw.  DTs can begin within two or three days after the last drink and reach their peak in about five days.

You should be aware that about 15% of people in stage three will die if they do not receive medical attention.  Death is usually the result of a respiratory or cardiovascular collapse.

What Type of Help is Available?

The best option for safe and effective alcohol withdrawal is an inpatient treatment facility.  The benefits of inpatient care include knowing you or your loved one will be monitored 24/7 by highly skilled addiction specialists.  In an inpatient setting, you can enjoy nutritious meals, vitamin therapy, exercise, yoga, massage, sauna, aromatherapy, music therapy, meditation and many other techniques designed to help you relax and heal mentally, physically, and spiritually.  This type of treatment for alcoholism is proven to be the most effective for achieving lasting results.

Learn more about inpatient treatment for alcohol withdrawal by calling our toll-free number today.


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