An alcohol use disorder can lead to an addiction and severe withdrawal symptoms.

Alcohol Withdrawal: Timeline, Symptoms and Treatment

Millions of Americans suffer from an alcohol use disorder, and more than 80 percent of the US adult population has admitted to drinking at some point in their lifetime, according to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA). With so many people struggling with alcohol misuse, the process of alcohol withdrawal is common and essential to the recovery of many Americans.        

Twelve-step programs, such as Alcoholics Anonymous (AA), can be a great way to initiate the recovery from alcohol. Though the withdrawal period may be tough to combat, the long-term benefits are essential for the journey to recovery.           

The stages of alcohol withdrawal are broken down into three stages: mild, moderate, and severe. The stage a person is in depends on the severity of the addiction and how long their bodies take to become independent from the crippling substance. Within those stages, the first 12 to 24 hours of withdrawal, as well as the medication used to treat the symptoms are crucial for the physical and mental repair of the abuser.           

Clients who experience mild to moderate alcohol withdrawal will find that their symptoms will subside within 24 to 48 hours of their last use of alcohol, according to an NIAAA manual, “Treatment of Alcohol Withdrawal.” But some side effects can linger longer than others. If this is the case, medical professionals are prepared to treat any harmful side effects that may cause the client to go into a state of delirium, hallucinations, or pain.           

Despite the wide range of physical and mental consequences of alcohol withdrawal, a person with an alcohol use disorder should get immediate help from a medical professional. If you are suffering from an addiction or abuse disorder, the withdrawal phase will rid your body from any unhealthy dependence of toxins obtained from the continuous use of the drug.

Timeline, Stages of Alcohol Withdrawal Syndrome           

Alcohol withdrawal syndrome (AWS) can occur within a person who decides to greatly reduce their alcoholic intake or a client who is detoxing from the substance at a treatment facility.           

In both scenarios, AWS is a serious medical problem that can be treated properly at any medical facility. The different phases of alcohol withdrawal timeline may not escalate the same within each person.

According to NIAAA’s treatment manual, “the symptoms of AWS reflect overactivity of the autonomic nervous system, a division of the nervous system that helps manage the body’s response to stress.”

Basically, the body develops a tolerance to alcohol when it’s overconsumed, causing the nervous system to malfunction and react in a hyperexcitability state when alcohol is no longer suppressing the brain’s reactions, according to WebMD.

For some people, the timeline of their side effects of alcohol withdrawal will begin almost right away within the first couple of hours of withdrawal.

Yet, as each stage of alcohol withdrawal syndrome progresses, one may notice that their side effects will become milder as the brain is readjusting to their new state of equilibrium.

Stage One (mild). Stage one usually occurs within the first six to 24 hours. Within this stage, a client may experience minor symptoms because they may still have an increased blood-alcohol level, according to the WebMD article, “Alcohol Withdrawal.”

These alcohol withdrawal symptoms include:

  •         Shaky hands
  •         Sweating
  •         Anxiety
  •         Nausea
  •         Vomiting
  •         Insomnia
  •         Headache

A client who only experiences the symptoms of stage one may not have been suffering from an alcohol use disorder as long as clients who suffer from stage two or three.

Although these symptoms will likely dissipate after the first day, if they progress or become more severe, then you are in stage two of AWS.

Stage Two (moderate). This stage manifests within 24 to 48 hours of a person’s last alcoholic beverage. According to the article published by the American Family Physician, “Outpatient Management of Alcohol Withdrawal Syndrome,” the symptoms in this phase are associated with abnormal vital signs.

These alcohol withdrawal symptoms include:

  •         High blood pressure
  •         Respiration
  •         Increased body temperature
  •         Confusion
  •         Mild hypothermia

According to the article, a person can progress to stage two or stage three if no medical assistance is provided.

If these symptoms remain stubborn and progress, then a person may be in danger of slipping into the third stage of AWS, which is characterized by seizures.

Stage Three (severe). According to the American Family Physician, in the third stage of the alcohol withdrawal timeline, a person will begin to experience disorientation.

A person who is experiencing this stage should seek medical help immediately. But if a client at a detox facility is in stage three of AWS, then medical professionals will use the intervention of different medications to suppress these symptoms.

These alcohol withdrawal symptoms include:

  •         Moderate symptoms (phase one)
  •         Seizures or delirium tremens
  •         Disorientation
  •         Impaired attention
  •         Visual and/or auditory hallucinations

Since this stage is the most severe of alcohol withdrawal, the seizures could result in death. People who are more prone to this stage are people over the age of 30, with an increased amount of days since alcohol consumption, and a previous history of seizures, according to the American Family Physician article.

An outpatient program is recommended for people who are at risk for stage three of alcohol withdrawal. Once admitted, the client will be relocated to a quiet environment as not to set off any more anxiety or symptoms. The client will also be assessed by a medical staff so that a treatment plan can become effective immediately.

Medical Treatment for alcohol withdrawal      

According to WebMD, many doctors will considerbenzodiazepinesa class of prescription drugs used to treat anxiety, seizures, and insomniato treat severe symptoms of alcohol withdrawal. 

Since benzodiazepines affect neurotransmitters in the brain, these drugs work to reduce the activity between the neurotransmitters         

Some of these drugs include:

  •         Valium
  •         Librium
  •         Ativan
  •         Serax

Another useful prescription drug that is used to treat clients with a milder form of AWS is the anticonvulsant drug, Tegretol. This drug is used as an alternative to benzodiazepines because it is not as addictive and it’s not a sedative.

According to WebMD, doctors may even consider adding on to the client’smedicine regimen of benzodiazepines, depending on the severity of the symptoms.

Some of these drugs may include:

  •        An antipsychotic drug to relieve hallucinations and agitation
  •         A beta-blocker to reduce heart rate and blood pressure of those suffering with a coronary artery disease
  •         Clonidine (Catapres) to reduce blood pressure
  •         Phenytoin (Dilantin) to help with an underlying seizure disorder

If you, or a loved one, are suffering from an alcohol use disorder and are looking to begin withdrawal from alcohol, then admission into a treatment center will assure your medical safety during the process. Since a client may not be aware of which symptoms they are most susceptible to, an outpatient facility center will make sure they are in a comfortable atmosphere with medical professionals who will assist with any medical emergencies during the process.

Alcohol withdrawal can be dangerous, but any form of substance abuse is life-threatening and should be treated immediately. At Drug Treatment Center Finder, our specialists are available 24-7 to help you find a treatment center that will best assist you throughout your alcohol withdrawal. Call 855-619-8070 today to start your lifelong journey of sobriety, free from any substance dependence.