Alcohol withdrawal is physical symptoms and emotions you have if you drink heavily or frequently and suddenly stop drinking. You are most likely to have withdrawal problems 1 to 7 days after your last drink, or if you drink much less alcohol than you usually drink.
If you abuse alcohol, you may have withdrawal if:
The effects of alcohol withdrawal vary greatly. Most people with mild to moderate alcohol dependence have one or more of these symptoms:
Some people who are dependent on alcohol have a life-threatening condition called delirium tremens (DTs) when they stop drinking alcohol. This is a medical emergency. The symptoms may include:
Your healthcare provider will review your symptoms, examine you, and ask about your medical history and memory.
You may have one or more of these tests:
If you abuse or are dependent on alcohol, you must first admit that you have a problem. Some people know they have an alcohol problem but deny that they need help to stop drinking. When you can admit that you have problem and admit you need help, call your healthcare provider.
Many people who abuse or are dependent on alcohol have trouble admitting that they have a problem. Others may then have to confront those who abuse or are dependent on alcohol about the need for treatment.
Detoxification is also known as "drying out." It means that you stop using alcohol completely. Detoxification can be done as an outpatient, or in a hospital or drug treatment facility. Which choice is best for you depends on how much and how long you have been drinking. It also depends on other medical problems that you may have.
Treatment for withdrawal symptoms may include:
Detoxification may take 3 to 4 days.
After detoxification, treatment may include social, medical, and psychological therapies.
Self-help support groups such as Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) and Rational Recovery can be helpful. AA looks at alcohol abuse and dependence as a disease. RR looks at alcohol abuse and dependence as a choice. At local chapter meetings you can meet others and get support to help you avoid alcohol. Meetings are open to anyone who has a drinking problem and wants to become and stay sober. Al-Anon meetings can help support families of people who abuse alcohol.
The severe shakes and hallucinations of delirium tremens (DTs) may last 1 to 5 days. Alcohol has long-lasting effects. It can take weeks or months before you feel more clear-headed, less depressed, less anxious, and have more energy. DTs can be fatal if not treated.
If you abuse or are dependent on alcohol, the most important thing you can do is to admit the problem and ask for help. If you decide to stop drinking alcohol or are in a situation in which you cannot drink (such as in a hospital), ask for medical help. You may not need hospital treatment for withdrawal symptoms, but you should be where someone can get help for you if you need it.
While you are being treated for withdrawal:
If you are physically dependent on alcohol, you will have withdrawal symptoms when you quit drinking. Seek treatment so that you can withdraw safely and with much less discomfort.