What is alcohol withdrawal?

Alcohol Withdrawal

Alcohol or drug withdrawal

Withdrawal is the uncomfortable physical or mental changes that happen when a person who regularly uses alcohol or drugs suddenly stops or cuts down on their use. These changes occur because the body is deprived of the alcohol or drugs that it is used to getting.

The symptoms of withdrawal can last a couple of days up to a couple of weeks. They may include nausea or vomiting, sweating, shakiness, and anxiety. How bad withdrawal symptoms are depends on how long the person has used alcohol or drugs and how much they use each day.

Alcohol or drug withdrawal may require medical care. Severe withdrawal symptoms can be deadly.

What are the symptoms of alcohol withdrawal?

Symptoms of alcohol withdrawal may start a few hours after you stop drinking. Or they may not start until a few days after the last drink.

Mild symptoms include:

  • Nausea.
  • Sweating.
  • Shakiness.
  • Diarrhea.
  • Intense worry.
  • Disturbed sleep.
  • Headache.

More severe symptoms include:

  • Vomiting or belly pain.
  • Being confused, upset, and cranky.
  • Changed sensations. You might feel things on your body that aren't really there. Or you may see or hear things that aren't there.
  • Trembling.
  • Being short of breath or having pain in your chest.
  • Having seizures.

Symptoms may peak within a few days. Mild symptoms can last for a few weeks. If your symptoms are severe, you'll need to see a doctor.

How is alcohol withdrawal treated?

You may get medicine to treat the symptoms, whether you are at home or in a medical center. Medicine that treats seizures can also help. Your doctor will explain what types of medicine might help you. You may start with a high dose of medicine and then take smaller amounts over several days. There are also medicines that can help you avoid alcohol while you recover.

How is alcohol withdrawal diagnosed?

The doctor will ask about your alcohol use and your symptoms and do a physical exam. This can help the doctor decide whether you need treatment and what kind would be best.

Where can you find help with alcohol withdrawal?

Behavioral Health Treatment Services Locator.

This service from the national Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration can help you find local alcohol treatment services. Search online at findtreatment.samhsa.gov or call 1-800-662-HELP (4357), or TDD 1-800-487-4889.

How can you care for yourself during and after alcohol withdrawal?

To help yourself get through withdrawal, rest, drink lots of fluids, and eat healthy foods. Make sure there's no alcohol in your home, and try not to hang out with people you used to drink with. Spend time with people who support the changes you're making in your life.

What is alcohol withdrawal?

If you drink alcohol regularly (more than a few drinks on most days) and then suddenly stop or cut down, you may go through some physical and emotional problems while the alcohol clears out of your system. This is called withdrawal. Clearing the alcohol from your body is called detoxification, or detox.

©2011-2024 Healthwise, Incorporated

The content above contains general health information provided by Healthwise, Incorporated, and reviewed by its medical experts. This content should not replace the advice of your healthcare provider. Not all treatments or services described are offered as services by us. For recommended treatments, please consult your healthcare provider.

Specialized emergency services

Find care near you

Comprehensive care

Find an ER near you