Stages of Alcohol Withdrawal

Written by Chloe Nicosia

Understanding the Stages of Alcohol Withdrawal

Chronic and excessive use of alcohol comes with a specific effect: physical dependence. It happens as alcohol begins to affect and control functions that the brain normally controls on its own. External control renders the brain’s native, internal control redundant, and cause the brain to become dependent. In any attempt to withdraw from alcohol, then, it is as if it is an essential brain chemical removed. It can take a while for the brain to readjust to normal function again. In the meantime, it goes through various stages of alcohol withdrawal, symptoms capable of causing great harm.

The alcohol withdrawal timeline isn’t a precise series of events. Instead, it follows a rough set of stages that last different periods of time in different individuals. The aim of alcohol detox treatment is to allow addiction professionals to follow the patient through these stages of alcohol withdrawal, and offer treatment wherever necessary.

How long does alcohol withdrawal last?

Much depends on the individual in question, and the specific kind of addiction seen. In addictions that have lasted mere months, or addictions experienced by young, healthy people, withdrawal may last no more than two or three days. Addictions that have lasted years, that involve large quantities of alcohol, alcohol mixed with other drugs, or a fragile state of health, longer periods of withdrawal are often seen, alongside of detox courses that last a month or longer.

Since the process can be unpredictable, it can come with symptoms that aren’t easy to foresee. Inpatient detox tends to make a lot of sense.

The alcohol withdrawal timeline

Stage 1: In most cases, the symptoms of alcohol withdrawal begin within hours of the last drink taken. Withdrawal can begin with feelings of anxiety, agitation, depression and nausea. In medical detox, addiction professionals watch over symptoms as they arise, and offer a number of possible lines of treatment. Alcohol itself is the drug of first resort — patients are tapered down, rather than allowed to quit cold turkey. Anxiety can be helped with shots of benzodiazepines, seizures with drugs such as topiramate and depression with antidepressants.

Stage 2: The first stage continues over the first 24 to 48 hours. Alcohol withdrawal day 3 often begins with deep cravings. In detox, the patient is administered one of different possible drugs. Acamprosate is approved by the FDA in the treatment of alcohol cravings, but is only started after a few days of abstinence. If it is determined that is no trace amount of alcohol left naltrexone is an effective alternative, as well.

Stage 3: Alcohol withdrawal day 4 can begin with deeper cravings, and some of the most worrying symptoms of withdrawal. With the tapering of alcohol consumption well on its way, these symptoms may include delirium tremens, a condition that involves severe hallucinations. It can be a life-threatening condition and require close medical supervision. Along with the possibility of seizures and cardiac arrest, delirium tremens is one reason why alcohol withdrawal is usually best performed on an inpatient basis.

The alcohol withdrawal timeline: the second stage

Past the first week, many symptoms of alcohol withdrawal begin to diminish. They tend to remain at significant levels for as long as 14 days, however.

Post-acute withdrawal symptoms may be a challenge in some attempting to quit well-established addictions. In a small percentage of patients, symptoms such as depression, anger, tremors and anxiety may persist for weeks or months. It may be necessary for the patient to stay in care over several weeks.

Finding quality treatment

Quality addiction treatment isn’t something you can take for granted at every rehab. It takes a thorough search, something best done on an information-rich database. Better Addiction Care offers deep research abilities on the website, with a great deal of information on every rehab in every neighborhood, complete with photos, descriptions, price and patient reviews. A quick look can pay off as you try to find effective care.