Kicking the bottle is not only hard; it’s also scary. Alcohol is a foolproof crutch for a lot of us. Our hang-ups and insecurities go out the window after a few stiff drinks, and we feel a lot better about ourselves and about life itself. We use alcohol to face the day and to function. For a lot of us seasoned boozehounds here in the USA, the idea of quitting drinking is downright terrifying. But a lot of that fear comes from not knowing what will happen when we stop drinking. What new hell are we stepping into? And how long will it last? That’s why we’ve put together this alcohol withdraw timeline.
If you’re prepared mentally for what is to come, the chances of your sobriety’s success are significantly increased. You can quit drinking; and we’re here to help.
What Is Alcohol Withdrawal?
Alcohol withdrawal is the combination of side effects and symptoms resulting from the cessation of alcohol intake. The side effects of alcohol withdrawal are both physical and psychological. The symptoms are wide ranging, and we’ll break these down and cover them in the next section of this alcohol withdraw timeline.
Alcohol withdrawal generally only affects full-blown alcoholics, so if you only drink every now and again, then you don’t have to worry about the alcohol withdraw timeline.
The alcohol withdraw timeline is broken down into three main stages: 1, 2, and 3. It can get a little confusing as stages 2 and 3 can come and go out of order, but overall these stages accurately represent the hellish roller coaster ride that is going through alcohol withdrawal.
Have you ever noticed that your hands are trembling before you have your first drink of the day? That’s alcohol withdrawal. But other symptoms can be less obvious. Suddenly have an intense craving for a candy bar? That can be alcohol withdrawal, too. Let’s take a look at the symptoms.
As mentioned previously, noticing a slight or even pronounced trembling of the hands is a symptom of alcohol withdrawal.
Anxiety is an extremely common symptom of alcohol withdrawal. It is especially profound in those who are prone to anxiety in the first place. And a lot of us who suffer from that particular affliction have a tendency to turn to the bottle in the first place.
This is a symptom that is relatively widespread when going through withdrawals from a number of substances—alcohol included.
You may very well find yourself flying into rages at the slightest provocation, or plummeting into abysmal lows for no apparent reason.
Sudden profuse sweating is also a symptom. You may be going about your day as usual and realize that you’re pouring with sweat and it’s not even hot.
Headaches are another common symptom of not only alcohol withdrawal, but withdrawal from most addictive substances—even caffeine.
Nothing sends one off to dreamland like a belly full of liquor, so it’s not surprising that insomnia is a symptom of alcohol withdrawal.
Nausea can come on strong due to alcohol withdrawal.
It is not uncommon to be physically sick due to withdrawal.
Seeing and feeling things that aren’t there. Hallucinations are a more serious symptom of alcohol withdrawal.
Again, a more serious symptom, but not unheard of.
Confusion and disorientation can come on if one is withdrawing from alcohol.
Increased Heart Rate
Rapid heart rate is another withdrawal symptom.
Increased Blood Pressure
Blood pressure can increase due to alcohol withdrawal.
The onset of a fever can be directly linked to alcohol withdrawal. It is not uncommon to feel as if you’ve come down with something, when coming down.
Commonly referred to as the ‘DTs’, delirium tremens are a combination of extremely severe symptoms, including vivid hallucinations and delusions. Luckily, they only occur in roughly 5% of people. They can be fatal, so if you experience them, get to a hospital.
Alcohol Withdraw Timeline
Now that we’ve covered the various symptoms of withdrawing from booze, let’s get into the alcohol withdraw timeline itself. It usually takes around seven days for the withdrawal process to abate. Though this will vary on a case-by-case basis. For some unlucky ones, it can last months.
Preliminary Stage: Zero Hour
You may not realize it, but the alcohol withdrawal process begins the moment you take your last drink. Symptoms will probably not be present for another several hours, but they are on their wicked way.
Stage One: Eight to Twenty-Four Hours
The first wave of symptoms will begin. These may very well include:
The symptoms that come on during the beginning of this stage will probably worsen toward the end of it. Hallucinations may also start to afflict the addict.
Stage Two: Twenty-Four To Seventy-Two Hours
This stage of withdrawal starts at the twenty-four hour mark. Delirium tremens may develop from forty-eight to seventy-two hours. Symptoms generally peak during this stage and may include:
Stage Three: Forty-Eight to Seventy-Two Hours
The stage three symptoms are essentially the same as the symptoms of stage two, but a lot more severe. This is the stage where delirium tremens is most likely to rear its extremely ugly heads.
This is also the stage where you really need to be closely monitored. Ideally by a medical professional, but if you’re going through the alcohol withdraw timeline at home, have someone close by who can dial 911 if needed. Seizures can become more violent and heightened blood pressure can lead to cardiac arrest. It’s not the most common side effect of alcohol withdrawal, but it’s definitely better to be safe than sorry when it comes to life and death, right?
Wind Down Stage: Five to Seven Days
This is the wind down stage in the alcohol withdraw timeline. And thankfully, it’s all downhill from here. Well, as downhill as it can be for any recovering alcoholic.
As far as symptoms go, most physical side effects will dissipate or lessen considerably. The psychological, however, may still be as strong as ever. If they are, you can always look into counseling, or talk therapy. Just being able to verbally express what you’re going through will help considerably.
If counseling isn't your thing, there are always AA meetings. The whole ‘God’ side of it may not be to everyone’s taste, but these guys know what it’s like to be a recovering alcoholic. AA can be a great support network, and don’t find it to your liking, you don’t have to go back. Just do what feels right for you and your recovery.
Getting Through the Alcohol Withdraw Timeline
Don’t Go It Alone
The more people who are supportive and understanding around you, the better. The harsh truth is that you’re going to need help getting through that alcohol withdraw timeline. There’s a period in there that can get pretty ugly—to say the least. Having people around can help ease the suffering and help you gain perspective during particularly heavy periods. The withdrawal symptoms won’t last forever, but it feels like they will while in their throes.
Do whatever it takes to distract yourself from the thought of drinking. Buy a new video game, read a good book or take the dog for a walk. It may sound stupid compared to the hell you’re going through, but every little distraction helps.
Take a Cold Shower
If you start to find yourself growing unnaturally hot, feeling nauseas, or just intensely craving a drink—take a cold shower. It should help settle you down.
You’ll likely be sweating a lot as your body will be getting rid of the toxins in its system, and you’ll need to stay well-hydrated. Also, having a glass of water at hand will have somewhat of a comforting effect. Reaching for a glass, despite what it’s filled with, will help curb some of those cravings for a drink.
Check Yourself into Rehab
While not an absolutely necessity in giving up the drink, checking into a clinic can increase your chances of success.
As stated in the introduction to this alcohol withdraw timeline, kicking the bottle isn’t easy. The good thing is that the longer you’re off the booze, the easier the process will become.
It may feel like quitting drinking is impossible. We’ve all been there. But if you can make it through the first few days, you can make it to the end. It may take several attempts, but don’t let that discourage you—if it works, it works, if it doesn’t, it doesn’t. That’s life. But if you keep at it, you'll eventually make it through to the other side—and boy, does that feel good!
Thank you for taking the time to read this alcohol withdraw timeline. Look after yourselves, and good luck.