What to Expect When Withdrawing from Alcohol
Updated: November 1, 2020
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So, you’ve made the decision to stop drinking or are looking to help someone stop drinking. This is an amazing first step towards recovery from alcohol abuse or addiction. The fear that comes along with quitting alcohol is normal. People might be are scared to quit drinking because all they can think about is the alcohol withdrawal symptoms they are going to experience. Everyone experiences alcohol detox in their own way. With this being said, there are some things that you can expect when detoxing from alcohol.

Importance of Detoxing from Alcohol

Pouring alcohol in sink

The first part of treatment for an alcohol addiction is the detox stage. During this stage, the alcohol will be flushed out of the body. For most people, the symptoms of withdrawal are going to subside between 1 to 2 weeks after beginning detox. However, for some people, this can take a bit longer. This is usually dependent upon how severe your alcohol use disorder has been. After detoxing from alcohol, it is important that you consider other courses of treatment such as counseling, recovery activities, and other support options.

Alcohol depresses the body. After your body starts relying on alcohol, it will take time to readjust to life without alcohol. When your body is getting readjusted, you will likely experience withdrawal symptoms including nausea, headache, irregular heartbeat, hallucinations, and fever. Some people think that the withdrawal symptoms are going to be terrible and that is why they avoid detoxing. If you get help from addiction treatment professionals, they will help you manage the symptoms throughout the detox process.

Alcohol Withdrawal Symptoms

There are certain symptoms that you can expect when you are going through the alcohol detox process. These can range from mild to severe to life-threatening. Some symptoms of alcohol detox that you might experience include the following:

  • Nausea
  • Sweating
  • Anxiety
  • Headaches
  • Insomnia
  • Tremors
  • Disorientation
  • Hallucinations
  • Seizures
  • Delirium tremens (rare – usually occur 2 to 5 days after taking the last drink and could be life-threatening)

Some of the alcohol detox symptoms are more severe. You can’t predict what symptoms you are going to have. For this reason, it is beneficial to attend an alcohol detox center for supervision and support. These professionals will be there 24/7 to help you through the detox process. They will do what they can to make your withdrawal symptoms less uncomfortable.

Timeline for Detoxing from Alcohol

The symptoms that you experience when detoxing from alcohol can occur 2 hours after you take your final drink. For some people, it takes a bit more time than this. However, the expected timeline for detoxing from alcohol is the following:

  • 2 to 12 hours – Generally, during this time frame, the first symptoms will begin. They are usually mild. However, they can become more severe with time. These symptoms might include shaking, anxiety, irritability, nausea, and headaches.
  • First day – When you get near the end of your 1st day sober, your symptoms might become more severe. In addition to the symptoms you have experienced in the first day of your sobriety, you might have additional symptoms such as hand tremors, disorientation, and even seizures.
  • Second day – Like the 1st day of your detox, your more severe symptoms will likely continue in your 2nd day, as well. Panic attacks and hallucinations are common at this time, as your body rids itself of alcohol.
  • 3rd to 7th day – During this time frame, your symptoms might come for a while and then disappear and possibly come back again. If your body is going to have delirium tremens or other life-threatening issues, this is usually when that happens.
  • After the 1st week – After you have completed your first week of sobriety, most of your symptoms should taper off. However, some of your symptoms might persist. If this happens, they should only be minor and often you can be prescribed medication to help with them.

Even after most of your withdrawal symptoms have tapered off, you might still have PAWS (post-acute withdrawal syndrome). This usually consists of lack of energy, anxiety, delayed reflexes, and sleeping issues. Sometimes these only last months. For others, they might last a year or so. This is why it is important to continue your sobriety in a recovery program or with a lot of support.

Medications That Might Be Used While Detoxing

If you choose to get help from an alcohol detox facility, there are multiple medications that could be used to assist in the alcohol detox process. These medications can help to make the withdrawal process more comfortable. In addition, the medications can help your body to adjust, reducing the risk of serious problems during the detox process. Benzodiazepines are often used to help treat anxiety, muscle spasms, and insomnia. Valium and Librium are the two most commonly used benzodiazepines used in alcohol detox facilities. Naltrexone can be used to help ease the cravings you experience while detoxing. Acamprosate is often used to help the brain to function properly after someone stops drinking alcohol. It can help to ease alcohol cravings, too. Disulfiram can be used to cause adverse effects if you drink alcohol. For instance, if you drank alcohol when taking disulfiram you might experience body weakness, nausea, facial flushing, headaches, and other adverse effects. The purpose of this is to make drinking alcohol unattractive.

These are some of the medications that could be used to help you detox from alcohol. Not everyone needs medications when they are going through the alcohol detox process. However, if you were to attend an alcohol detox facility, the medical professionals can create a treatment plan that is tailored to your specific needs. They can make sure you are getting the proper treatments you need to overcome your alcohol use disorder.


You can’t know exactly what is going to happen when you choose to overcome your alcohol use disorder. However, the information that you have read above gives you a good idea of what you can expect when detoxing from alcohol. If you have further questions about what your detox process will be like, be sure to contact an alcohol detox facility today. You can get the answers you are looking for and begin your journey to sobriety and recovery.