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What Does Alcohol Withdrawal Feel Like?

Alcohol Withdrawal

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) explains “ethyl alcohol, or ethanol, is an intoxicating ingredient found in beer, wine, and liquor.” Alcohol is a psychoactive, central nervous system depressant. When an individual drinks alcohol, it enters his or her bloodstream immediately and reaches the brain within five minutes of consumption. The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIH), asserts that “alcohol interferes with the brain’s communication pathways, and can affect the way the brain looks and works.” When a person habitually abuses alcohol, she will likely build a tolerance to the substance, which requires her to increase alcohol consumption to achieve the same effects. When a drug tolerance is built, one’s body begins to rely on the abused substance to function. When the body lacks the previously abused substance, in this case alcohol, it will react accordingly, and withdrawal symptoms will ensue.

Detox Timeline and Withdrawal Symptoms 

Detox, also referred to as detoxification, is the process that rids one’s body of foreign substances. Detox and withdrawal symptoms go hand in hand. Every person is different and will have a somewhat unique combination of withdrawal symptoms along with a varied timeline when it comes to detoxing from alcohol. The National Liberty of Medicine provides the following a general detox timeline, which is divided into four stages:

  • Stage one: withdrawal symptoms begin to manifest around six to eight hours after drinking one’s last alcoholic beverage
  • Stage two: withdrawal symptoms peak between twenty-four to seventy-two hours after drinking one’s last alcoholic beverage
  • Stage three: withdrawal symptoms begin to taper off between five to seven days after one’s last drink of alcohol 
  • Stage four: lingering withdrawal symptoms that continue beyond one week of an individual’s last drink of alcohol

There are a variety of withdrawal symptoms that can manifest during the detox process, and some may linger beyond the acute detox phase. An article published in American Family Physician groups the severity of withdrawal symptoms into three categories:

  1. Mild symptoms: stomach pain, nausea, vomiting, insomnia, anxiety, decreased appetite, tremors, depression, fatigue, mood swings, heart palpitations, mental confusion, and/ or foggy thinking
  2. Moderate symptoms: elevated blood pressure, increased respiration, irregular heart rate, sweating, irritability mental confusions, mood disturbances, increased body temperature
  3. Severe symptoms: extreme agitation, fever, seizures, severe confusion, hallucinations, delirium tremens

The duration of the symptoms as well as the severity will depend on many factors. The personal health history of the individual, the amount of alcohol abused, the potency of the alcohol, the duration of one’s abuse, and if the individual used other drugs simultaneously will all weigh into the withdrawal experience. It is impossible to provide a universal explanation of what it feels like to detox from alcohol, as according to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) alcohol withdrawal is highly variable. 

For Information and Support 

Substance abuse and addiction can be incredibly dangerous and can result in severe short and long-term consequences. If you or someone you know is suffering from substance abuse or addiction, please get help as soon as possible. The earlier you seek support, the sooner you and your loved ones can return to leading happy, healthy, and fulfilling lives. There is no reason to go through this alone, and we are here to help. Please feel free to reach out to us for further information or with any questions regarding substance abuse or addiction. We are available anytime via telephone at: 213-389-9964, or you can always email us at:

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