The journey away from an alcohol addiction can be long and challenging. No step is harder than deciding to commit to recovery. Many prospective patients are afraid to dive into treatment for fear of what the process will entail. So what does alcohol withdrawal really feel like.
How Alcohol Withdrawal Begins
Alcohol withdrawal can begin as soon as the last sip of alcohol is completely metabolized by the body. While that sounds complicated, the reality is that it can happen in about eight hours. Once the body realizes that there is no alcohol in the system, the very first symptoms will begin to appear.
The quickness of withdrawal often comes as a surprise to patients as well as their loved ones. After all, not all alcoholics drink alcohol at eight-hour intervals. However, most patients have actually experienced some level of withdrawal before. In fact, many people experience this almost daily!
Take, for example, a person who drinks heavily each night. They may wake up in the morning and feel terrible, but manage to go about their daily responsibilities. By the time evening rolls around, they feel tired, have a headache and perhaps even feel nauseous. Once they start drinking, however, those symptoms disappear.
This example is one familiar to many people who struggle with alcohol addiction. The time in between drinking that is packed with unpleasant physical reactions is, essentially, the beginning of withdrawal. That’s why the symptoms go away as soon as these individuals start drinking again.
While many patients are familiar with the first signs of alcohol withdrawal, they may not be familiar with what happens next. In a detox or addiction treatment program, patients will continue to avoid alcohol. That means the symptoms will worsen over time.
The initial alcohol withdrawal symptoms that appear eight hours after the last drink will develop rapidly. By 24 hours, they are very noticeable. These symptoms typically peak at 72 hours and will then lessen. However, some patients can experience feelings of withdrawal days, weeks or even months later, in some cases.
The Physical Symptoms of Alcohol Withdrawal
The easiest way to describe the physical alcohol withdrawal symptoms is to compare them to the flu. Just like the flu, alcohol withdrawal can be uncomfortable. Also like the flu, it impacts everyone differently.
The most common physical alcohol withdrawal symptoms include nausea and abdominal pain. Many patients, particularly in the first day or two of withdrawal, don’t have an appetite at all as a result.
When the body begins the process of alcohol withdrawal, there can be a number of hidden symptoms that patients don’t expect. The cardiac system, as one example, undergoes a lot of stress during a detox. That translates to symptoms such as an increased heart rate and increased blood pressure.
It is common, and even normal, to struggle with temperature fluctuations during withdrawal. Some patients feel flushed and warm, but it is also possible to feel chilled and have goosebumps on the skin.
Many patients also experience restlessness. It is normal to have the desire to pace or to fidget during a withdrawal from alcohol. This is a way to relieve the stress of cravings, and some patients find that it helps them focus on something other than discomfort.
Only a handful of patients will suffer from DTs, or delirium tremens. If DTs occur, it can mean pronounced physical symptoms and the risk of more severe reactions. DTs may cause seizures as well as a high fever.
Not all patients will have the same physical withdrawal symptoms. How severe withdrawal will be has a lot to do with how severe the addiction was. Individual attributes like age, weight and mental health can also play a role in determining withdrawal symptoms.
How Withdrawal Can Feel on a Psychological Level
Not all alcohol withdrawal symptoms are physical. In fact, many are emotional and psychological in nature. While these may not get as much attention as their physical counterparts, it is just as important to prepare for them.
Insomnia is one symptom that isn’t visible, but can impact the comfort of patients. The discomfort and restlessness of withdrawal often keep patients up at night. When sleep is possible, it may not feel completely restful. A lack of sleep can often be frustrating, and it can worsen other physical symptoms at the same time.
Those with mental illnesses may also find that their mental health worsens during withdrawal. Alcohol withdrawal is a stressor, and it can temporarily enhance some of the side effects of a mental illness. Patients suffering from depression, anxiety or similar conditions may need extra attention during this time.
Even patients who have never struggled with mental health disorders may notice certain symptoms. Feeling depressed, anxious or even paranoid is normal during withdrawal. Fortunately, these symptoms are often temporary. Once withdrawal is complete, many mental health symptoms will disappear entirely.
During the final stages of withdrawal, often around 72 hours into the process, it is possible to experience severe symptoms like hallucinations or mental confusion. While this doesn’t happen to all patients, it can be very disorienting if it does occur.
In rare cases, patients may have suicidal thoughts. Alcohol withdrawal can be overwhelming, but it is important to remember that the process is short. The majority of people who feel suicidal during withdrawal feel completely differently just a few days later. Thankfully, completing withdrawal in a safe environment means that patients can’t hurt themselves or others.
When Will Withdrawal Stop?
The million dollar question is: When will alcohol withdrawal symptoms stop? Ultimately, this depends on a number of factors. However, most patients find that symptoms end just a week into the process.
Around 72 hours into withdrawal, symptoms start to fade. While they don’t disappear overnight, they do reduce in severity. That is about three days into withdrawal.
After those three days, many patients still feel uncomfortable for an additional two or three days. However, every day feels better and more manageable than the last. This helps patients stay on track because it is clear that the end is approaching.
The majority of patients withdrawing from alcohol see all symptoms gone entirely after 10 days. Knowing that there is an end to the process can be very encouraging.
The exact length of a withdrawal from alcohol will depend on how long a person has been drinking. It will also be impacted by how much alcohol is consumed daily. Individuals who are older, or who have health problems, may find that withdrawal lasts longer. Even with all these variations, however, 10 days is still nearly always the upper limit for withdrawal length.
Patients in an alcohol addiction recovery program should also be familiar with PAWS. PAWS, or post-acute withdrawal syndrome, is a milder version of withdrawal that can appear several weeks or months after patients achieve sobriety.
After withdrawal ends, many patients experience a honeymoon phase where recovery seems positive and even enjoyable. After two months, however, many patients start to experience PAWS. While this is not as severe as the initial withdrawal, it can be accompanied by symptoms.
Common PAWS symptoms can include stronger cravings, restlessness, and anxiety. Rapid heart rate, sweating and a small chance of seizures or tremors is also possible. Thankfully, most of these last symptoms are rare.
The Importance of Help Throughout Alcohol Withdrawal Symptoms
No two individuals will go through the same alcohol withdrawal or subsequent recovery. Different factors affect the severity of the detox process. These unique factors should also help a qualified treatment center determine the next treatment steps. That’s why it’s important for a facility to offer dynamic, customized addiction treatment.
At Healing Springs Ranch in Tioga, Texas, patients can take advantage of transformative, individualized treatment. During the intake process, our compassionate staff takes the time to get to know each individual. They’ll discuss your addiction history, as well as any physical or mental health issues. Most importantly, we collaborate with each prospective patient to discover what they seek to achieve through recovery. While sobriety is a common goal for most individuals struggling with addiction, we can also help them achieve secondary goals like stronger family relationships or added financial stability.
In most cases, we recommend that clients start with a professional detox program to combat dangerous alcohol withdrawal symptoms. Healing Springs Ranch has partnered with a qualified detox facility to ensure you’re stable enough to begin life-changing, individualized treatment.
After Overcoming Alcohol Withdrawal
After completing a detox program and overcoming most alcohol withdrawal symptoms, we’ll help you transition into the next level of care to address the underlying reasons behind your addiction. That transition generally involves residential treatment for 30–90 days on our beautiful, 50-acre, lakefront property. Although staff and patients can collaborate to adapt treatment plans, our core curriculum includes:
- Relapse Prevention and Life Skills
- Dialectical Behavioral Therapy
- Cognitive Behavioral Therapy
- Steps to Recovery
- Vocational Mentoring
- Trauma/Mental Health Education
Although we promote schedule and routine with a set amount of therapy hours, patients will also have a say in how their days are structured.
At Healing Springs Ranch, we also acknowledge the importance of family. Our comprehensive family program helps everyone involved understand addiction. This extensive weekend program also gives families the chance to see how their loved ones are progressing. Our program aims to re-establish families and strengthen their bonds.
During the treatment process and addiction counseling, therapists can also identify and treat any warning signs of co-occurring mental health disorders. If needed, dual diagnosis treatment can be a part of an individual’s treatment plan. This type of program prevents any psychological problems during withdrawal, and it can also be a step toward lasting recovery.
Knowing what to expect from alcohol withdrawal can prepare you for the next step. At Healing Springs Ranch, you can begin your journey to sobriety. Call 866-656-8384 to begin the journey on the right path to recovery.