Alcohol withdrawal symptoms

Alcohol Withdrawal – side effects and benefits of reducing or quitting alcohol

If you are a drinker that has decided it is time to cut back or quit drinking, alcohol detox is one of the first steps toward changing your relationship with alcohol. However, you may be apprehensive due to potential withdrawal symptoms. This week we will explore alcohol withdrawal symptoms, the benefits of reducing or quitting alcohol, and creating a plan.  

What is alcohol withdrawal?

Alcohol is a depressant that, after long-term use drinking, months or years, the body begins to rely on. Over time, some of those chemicals that the brain naturally produces begin to rely heavily on alcohol to maintain their production. Because of this reliance on alcohol to help produce these chemicals, when a person suddenly quits or significantly reduces alcohol consumption, the body needs time to adjust. The brain tries to compensate by accelerating this adjustment process and it’s this process that causes alcohol withdrawal symptoms. 

Alcohol withdrawal can produce a broad range of uncomfortable physical symptoms that range from mild to severe across a timeline and can include psychological effects. Symptoms tend to emerge around 6 hours after the last drink, with a peak between 24-72 hours. Some milder symptoms will diminish over 24-48 hours.  

 

Milder symptoms include:  

  • Headache  
  • Sweating  
  • Anxiety  
  • Irritability 
  • Restless sleep  
  • Nausea  
  • Sensitivity to light and sound   
  • Difficulty concentrating 

 

People who have been heavy drinkers for many years are more likely to develop more serious symptoms, also known as Alcohol Withdrawal Syndrome or AWS. These symptoms require immediate medical attention and include: 

  • Tremors 
  • Seizures 
  • Hallucinations 
  • Disorientation 
  • Delirium Tremens (DTs) 

The severity and intensity of withdrawal symptoms will depend on your personal drinking history, including the amount of alcohol consumption, level of alcohol dependency, your drinking pattern, length of time in that pattern, and any previous relapses. 

You can check your risk of alcohol dependency levels by doing the HSM Alcohol and Wellbeing Self-assessment here. It’s anonymous and will generate a result for you in real-time. 

Alcohol withdrawal symptoms timeline

Alcohol withdrawal symptoms follow a timeline, with uncomfortable symptoms peaking around 10-30 hours after your last drink. The good news is that most people’s discomfort starts to decrease after 48 hours. 

Alcohol withdrawal symptoms timeline

Because of these potential symptoms, many people are apprehensive about reducing or quitting drinking. When planned safely, many of the symptoms associated with alcohol withdrawal can be managed with the help of medical professionals to achieve your goal of changing your relationship with alcohol. 

Benefits of cutting back or quitting alcohol

Cutting back or quitting alcohol has many benefits that can improve your quality of life. Keeping this in mind along the way can help you stay motivated. 

  • Better quality sleep 
  • Improvement in mood 
  • Improved self-regulation 
  • Increased energy  
  • Clearer thinking and decision making 
  • Improved concentration 
  • Improved interpersonal relationships 
  • Reduced risks of long-term health complications 
  • Saved money  

Start with your Doctor

It is always a good idea to see your medical doctor if you are thinking about quitting or cutting back on alcohol, especially if you are a heavy drinker. Your doctor can discuss with you in detail which course of action best suits your circumstances, and they can support you with a plan.  

Create a plan

One of the best ways to stay on track is to have a plan. Having a clearly defined plan that you can return to can keep you motivated and remind you of your progress. Here are six tips you might find useful. 

1. Your ‘why’ – list all the reasons you want to cut back or quit drinking. For example, you might value quality of life and for you that might mean you want to improve your health, strengthen your relationship, save money. 

2. Set your drinking goal – you might be aiming to abstain from alcohol all together or limit your alcohol intake to no more than 2 to 3 standard drinks at any given time, or commit to 3 alcohol free days per week. It is important to discuss what’s best for you with your doctor. 

3. Track your progress – use an Alcohol Tracker, a daily diary or journal your progress.  

4. Know your triggers – Don’t give in to peer pressure, keep alcohol out of your range, and keep busy doing activities that align with your values.  

5. Be persistent – Cutting back or quitting alcohol can be difficult but worthwhile towards achieving your long-term goals. That journey can look quite different for each person and can be quite a rollercoaster at first. You might need to dig in deep and utilise your resilience and grit. 

6. You are not alone – turn to your support network, like those who have your back no matter what, those who will walk beside you, and who will not hold judgement. Ask your family, friends, peers and counsellor for their support. Join a community like Hello Sunday Morning’s Daybreak online peer community for inspiration, motivation and connection. 

 

Finally, before embarking on alcohol detoxification, Hello Sunday Morning highly recommend you seek your doctor or addiction specialist’s support and advice. They will guide you through the best treatment options for you and can help you manage uncomfortable symptoms so that you can lead a productive life that is not directed by alcohol. 

12 Comments

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  • Dear Dominique,
    Many thanks for your article.
    It is very clear and well set out.
    Dealing with withdrawal symptoms can be a major issue. Getting help from your GP is a great first step.
    Thanks again for the support the HSM team and its community provide.
    MW

    By Mark Warren
    |
    July 30, 2022
    • Thank you very much for your feedback Mark and all the best.

      By Dominique
      |
      August 1, 2022
  • The self-assessment link above appears to be broken. Would you mind correcting it? Thanks

    By Simon
    |
    July 30, 2022
    • Hi Simon, the link is now fixed. Thanks for letting us know!

      By Hello Sunday Morning
      |
      August 1, 2022
  • Fabulous information Iwork in detox not personally impacted but people in my life have been very sugnificantly. Best thing is starting, talk to people around you who care its not your fault this happened. They will learn with you . Can be so hard to get past stigma prob first step is recognition of problem , find support HSM is wonderful well done.

    By Anonymous
    |
    July 30, 2022
  • I’m coming up to five months without and am still feeling the occasional need but not strongly. I’ve tried to replace the craving with exercise; getting all those feel good hormones from somewhere else. My doctor warned me that after fifty years of abuse it could be more than six months before I adjust and that is proving to be the case. But it is revelatory, and when the idea pops up it easily dealt with by imagining the next several hours of drinking and the next day. It is unpleasant. I remember where things are, am calmer, enjoy the day much more. I am simply in the moment more and can let it be what it is. Conversations are easier, funnier. My house is cleaner, more organised. Projects are happening. Even my chemotherapy has the curiosity of an adventure. I had stopped alcohol seriously a couple of weeks before finding out about the cancer. Of course it helped me to stop.
    I don’t regret any of this whatever the outcome.

    By Geoff
    |
    July 30, 2022
    • Way to go, Geoff. Thank you for your encouraging story and hope your treatment goes from strength to strength.

      By pippa
      |
      July 30, 2022
    • Well done for giving up so easily! And best of luck with your treatment.

      By Jane
      |
      July 30, 2022
    • Great comment on pausing to observe the alcohol craving & re-routing it towards a productive, helpful activity like exercise (or anything similarly constructive).

      Good luck with your treatment!

      By Cam
      |
      July 31, 2022
  • Great article. I’m not ready to quit yet but HSM has certainly brought an awareness of my drinking to the forefront of my mind. I am drinking less and feeling so much more confident that I can beat this.

    By Helen
    |
    July 30, 2022
  • Are these ‘withdrawal’ symptoms exaggerated? Allen Carr in his seminal ‘The Easy Way to Control Alcohol’ states that he treated hundreds, if not thousands, of people with one kind of drug addiction or another (but mostly alcohol) and found the whole thing of alcohol withdrawal symptoms to be as he put it a ‘red herring’. I wonder how many people have been put off quitting drinking through fear of mostly imaginary ‘withdrawal symptoms’. Just saying.

    By Gordon Milne
    |
    August 4, 2022
    • Taking your quiz was the first step that led me to my GP. From there, specialist counselling and medication.
      So here I am 5 days sober and I know my journey has begun. I have cravings but know they are just part of the change. I know am not alone.
      Thanks for sharing everyone.

      By Wendy
      |
      September 12, 2022
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