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Alcohol Withdrawal Timeline

Understanding the stages of alcohol withdrawal, accompanying symptoms, and treatment.

Once an individual with an addiction to alcohol stops drinking, his/her body will need time to determine and recalibrate to the natural levels of chemicals/functioning.  Based on these factors the decision to stop drinking can cause life-threatening health problems.  Alcohol withdrawal syndrome is different for each person and does depend on how often alcohol was consumed.  If you’re ready to quit drinking altogether, it is highly recommended to find a treatment center that specializes in alcohol addiction treatment.

Alcohol Withdrawal Timeline

Stage One of the Alcohol Withdrawal Timeline

A major advantage to participating in a quality alcohol detox program is that each stage of alcohol withdrawal is addressed by experienced professionals. These experts know exactly what to look for and when. An individual who attempts alcohol withdrawal on his/her own can be subjected to a number of painful, uncomfortable and even dangerous side effects.

The symptoms listed below are commonly associated with the first stage of alcohol withdrawal during the initial 6 to 12 hours following the discontinuation of drinking.

Stage One Symptoms:
  • Anxiety
  • Headaches
  • Insomnia
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Sweating
  • Shaky Hands
  • Agitation

The severity and/or combination of alcohol withdrawal symptoms will differ from person to person. Factors such as age and mental or physical conditions, can influence how alcohol withdrawal manifests. A professional alcohol addiction treatment center will evaluate each patient’s past and present medical history, the degree of alcohol consumption, and family history of addiction to help determine how best to apply treatment.

If a client is in an addiction treatment center that specializes in alcohol withdrawal, he/she will be closely monitored and made as comfortable as possible, while continuing to be provided with the best method of treatment for each particular symptom should it arise.

What Happens in the Next 24 to 48 Hours of Alcohol Withdrawal?

The second stage on the alcohol withdrawal timeline encompasses the 24 to 48 hours after alcohol has been removed from the body. Although the assumption may be that after a day or two the body becomes stronger with the absence of alcohol, this is a misnomer. Stage two is a crucial time in which an individual may be at risk for even greater side effects. It’s also probable that a patient will continue to experience some of the symptoms from stage one (in unison) well into the 48-hour mark.

To piggyback the potential issues associated with alcohol withdrawal within the first 6 to 12 hours, the symptoms below typically manifest within 24 to 48 hours after ceasing to consume alcohol.

Stage Two Symptoms:
  • High blood pressure
  • High body temperature
  • Confusion
  • Respiratory problems
  • Mild to moderate hypothermia
  • Seizures
  • Hallucinations relating to sight, hearing or touch

If a client is in a reputable treatment center, professional staff members will continue to monitor the client during stage two of detox. It’s possible for the individual’s condition to improve after the 48-hour time period, but there is also the potential for symptoms indicative of stage three to occur.

What Happens after 48 Hours of Alcohol Withdrawal?

Stage three describes what may happen in the subsequent 48 hours after the last drink, with the possibility of occurring sooner depending on the severity of alcohol addiction.

The potential symptoms listed below describing stage three can be painful, dangerous and even life-threatening. This is the most severe stage of alcohol withdrawal syndrome, and if left untreated, could lead to death. If, for some reason, the individual experiencing the third stage of alcohol withdrawal syndrome has not sought the care of a specialized alcohol addiction treatment center or medical professional, he/she should do so immediately.

Stage Three Symptoms:
  • Severe disorientation
  • Impaired attention
  • High fever, excessive sweating
  • Seizures or delirium tremens

It can’t be stressed enough that should an individual exhibit signs of stage three alcohol withdrawal, he/she needs medical assistance right away.

How Are Alcohol Withdrawal Symptoms Treated?

The good news is that there are several options for treating alcohol withdrawal symptoms. The best option for treatment is based on the duration, quantity and other factors of a person’s drinking history. Below are some of the common treatment options during the alcohol withdrawal process.

Medication-assisted Therapy: Medication-assisted therapy integrates the use of pharmacotherapy by prescribing medications to decrease alcohol withdrawal symptoms and aid in the process of continued abstinence from alcohol.

Counseling: Counseling addresses the behavioral issues of alcohol abuse and dependence, helping individuals to identify emotional, mental and physical triggers while also providing healthy coping mechanisms and strategies to encourage continued sobriety. Individuals may experience one-on-one sessions, group counseling and/or family counseling during treatment.

Support Groups: Support groups, are peer-supported groups such as Alcoholics Anonymous, Smart Recovery, Narcotic Anonymous and other recovery support entities. These groups typically consist of individuals who share both the affliction of alcoholism and the aim of continuing a life of sobriety by sharing personal experience and common, helpful goals of recovery. A client can benefit from attending a support group at any stage of the recovery process.

Treatment Environments

Alcohol withdrawal can be treated in different types of environments.  The two most common are:

Inpatient Treatment: Inpatient treatment, also called residential treatment, refers to a specialized residential addiction treatment center in which an individual will typically stay on-site for a 30, 60 or 90 day duration. Again, this depends on the individual and his/her drinking history and habits. It is not to be confused with hospitalization.

Outpatient Treatment: Outpatient treatment Outpatient treatment is primarily for individuals who are able to maintain an appropriate level of functioning in life  or may not need 24-hour supervision, monitoring and care indicative of inpatient alcohol addiction treatment. In outpatient treatment, clients commute back and forth for treatment while also being able to maintain other work and family responsibilities.

Overcoming alcoholism is a lifelong process – it doesn’t end at the conclusion of a 30, 60 or even 90-day treatment program, or a handful of recovery meetings or counseling sessions. Individuals who are willing to navigate through the difficult period of alcohol withdrawal and seek the support they need, however, have a strong chance of success in maintaining a life of recovery.  

If you or someone you care for have any questions regarding the alcohol withdrawal timeline, or symptoms or are in need of help, please contact Futures today.

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